Everybody my parents’ age knows the popular 1956 song “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Years later, when asked about the writing of the song, musician and television personality Steve Allen told Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show that felt he could hardly take credit for it, since he had received the first few lines of lyrics, as well as most of the tune, in a dream.
Allen’s admission was striking. It got me mulling several things on and off for years. (1) What is this thing we call “creativity” and what are creative “gifts”? (2) If a song (or poem, or novel, or other work of art) is handed to a person directly, can he take any credit for its creation? (3) If this is the way it is with personal gifting, can a person be commended for gifts any more than he can be commended for his eye color? Come to think of it, how is the gift of creativity different from the gift of eye color?
In partial answer to the mystery, the apostle Paul said:
“What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
The context is his four chapters thus far of chastisement of the church people in Corinth, who seem bent on hero worship and on and comparing each other to each other, with invidious comparisons. Paul’s question was rhetorical, of course, demanding the response: “Nothing.” And in case we didn’t get that, Paul supplied the correct answer:
“If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”
So in the sense that Steve Allen “received” the popular song—indeed, lock, stock, and barrel!—then he was right to say he couldn’t take any credit for it. On the other hand, of course, we do not discount the value of human blood, sweat, and tears altogether, because it is often at the end of a long struggle in the area of our gifts that we get a “breakthrough.” This is true whether the breakthrough appears quite out of the blue, or seems to be the more natural result of finally arriving at the end of a painstaking calculation.
Archimedes’ discovery of how to precisely measure the volume of objects seems in one sense to have come suddenly and serendipitously as he stepped into the bathtub. But from another perspective it was not out of the blue at all, but the well-deserved fruition of months of obsessive thinking about the problem. Inventor Thomas Edison’s quip, “I have not failed; I have just found 1,000 ways that don’t work,” illustrates our point: He would not have found out how to make a light bulb work if his relentless drive had not first brought him through countless ways that a light bulb decidedly does not work.
Eye color, height, whether one is an extrovert or introvert, whether one is a genius or a slower learner, whether one can sing or can’t carry a tune in a hand basket—these are out of our hands and apportioned by God for His own purposes (see Acts 17:26-27). What is in our hands—and what men will be judged for—is what we did with what God entrusted us with in this temporal dispensation. Let us strive to hear Him say:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much …” (Matthew 25:23).
As yet, we have little idea what far-flung future realms of privilege and stewardship are hinted at by that glorious promise. This, indeed, could be the start of something big.