Learning the Ropes

boy climbing a rope maze

Hang with me on this devotional. We will ground this with Scripture. Today’s feature picture is a snapshot of one of my grandsons climbing a rope maze. According to Google, learning the ropes means “to understand how to do something. To be acquainted with all the methods required.” I think that learning the ropes means more.

Learning the Ropes

Please take a second look at my grandson. He needs more than methods; he needed the skill to perform the methods for finding one’s way through that rope maze. Each day we wake up, facing a new rope maze. The day may be small variations to previous mazes which we’ve conquered or, like 2020, each day we faced dramatically new mazes, unprecedented in our lifetime.

We may want to shout, “Enough, already!” but enough is not within our control, neither is already. Our emotions must be subjugated to what we know. Yet, if we haven’t tried to grasp the facts, then we enslave our feelings to inferior knowledge. Those are the actions of a fool. Do we want to play the fool?

Valuing Our Talents

Now you may say, “I have no talent, except failure.” Many times, we are unable to discern our talents. Why? Because they come easily to us. We think, “Anyone can do that.” It disheartens me when I think of the people I’ve known who wasted their gifts, for they perceived no value in them.

I once knew a young man that was an amazing guitarist. I played “at” guitar but for him, a guitar was a natural extension of his soul. He and I met once so he could give me some pointers. I was like a child at the feet of Michelangelo. He created art while I tried to imitate his work with playdough. Yet, the last time I saw him he was a cook at a restaurant. Now being a cook might be a person’s calling, so that’s where he or she should be. Yet, for this guitarist, he squandered his talent, for he did not see his talent as something worth investing in.

You may be the same as my guitarist friend. Don’t be. Build friendships built on honesty, and ask them what they see as your talents, do the same for them. Make acquaintances with people that have grown their talent into skill. Learn their journeys. Whatever you do, don’t be complacent. That’s how the frog was boiled in a pot of water.

Transforming Talents into Skills

So how is it that some people know the ropes while others continually trip over them? Great question! Humans possess highly diverse talents. But aptitude only takes us so far. Education and exercise of our capabilities help to transform our talents into skills.

“If you want something you’ve never had
You must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

Thomas Jefferson

To know the ropes for any venture, be it vocational or avocational, we must purposely build our knowledge and ability for the ropes of that venture. That word ability can be exchanged with skill.

Advancing Our Skills

Our talents may not be the ticket to wealth, so we should consider the social or spiritual values of our talents.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

Martin Luther King, Jr

There seems to be sound science behind the idea that it takes thousands of hours of practice (learning and exercise) before a person becomes a master in a skill built upon their talent. Creating skills takes time. Nearly all trade unions require extensive classroom and on-the-job training before a novice qualifies as a tradesperson. And it takes many more years of work and testing before a tradesperson qualifies as a master of their craft. It takes sacrifice to achieve those qualifications. The unwillingness to commit to delayed gratification is probably the most potent killer of skills.

I didn’t even start playing the piano until I was about 13 or 14. I guess I must have had a little talent or whatever-you-call-it, but I practiced regularly, and that’s what counts.

George Gershwin

We will learn the ropes when we discover our talents and invest in them. We should invest as if they are of great value, for they are. Still, we must remind ourselves that they are a gift from God.

I know a man that has an astonishing ability in art. He possessed an exceptional talent for drawing and painting. He painted a mural for his high school, and often, when he went to a restaurant, he would take a napkin and draw a picture of the server. He’d give it to them, and they nearly always, instantly, cherished it because it was so good. Yet, he, too, has spent his life working in a factory without ever using his talent for anything more than amusement. Factory work is a blessing, but you can also cultivate and use your gift for God.

A Balanced Life is not the Enemy of Skill

A balanced life is crucial for our health, but balance rarely includes flipping channels on a TV, endlessly playing games on the Internet, or surf-shopping on Amazon. Reading the Bible and classic books, developing a circle of friends and acquaintances that encourage us to stretch our skills and strengthen our character, and building our inter-personal skills is valuable, regardless of the talents which we are honing.

We must not hone our skills only upon the high-profile and overtly successful people, for many of God’s greatest masters of their crafts live in corners of society, tucked away from the bright lights and crowds. We need these masters, too, yes even more so, to transform our talent into skill.

Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.

Billy Graham

The Responsibility is on us

No doubt, many of us are familiar with Isaiah 42:8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” We know that where God guides, He provides. Many of us know the testimonies of Andraé Crouch, who God instantly gave the ability to play piano for his dad’s church and that God also, instantly, gave the gift for playing the piano to Annie Herring (2nd Chapter of Acts).

Still, God usually puts the onus on us to develop the qualifications to which He calls us. That’s the reason for Christian universities, seminaries, medical schools, and such. We also see skills recognized in Christ’s parable of the talents.

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

Matthew 25:14-15 (ESV)

The servants didn’t get the same opportunity or responsibility but were given “according to his ability.” Referring to a previous statement, “That word ability can be exchanged with skill.” And, as we’ve learned, talent is honed into skill over a period of time. As God’s Word states:

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 (CSB)

Making it Personal

Learning our talents, investing our energy into our talents, learning from others that have the skills we strive for, those are the keys to learning the ropes, but there is no substitute for spending time with God. Praying to the Father in the name of Jesus under the unction of the Holy Spirit is the only way to gain the skill that God has called you to. Don’t believe anyone that tells you that there is a shortcut.

Photo by me 🙂


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