When I was at school, students were tested for something called ‘aptitude.’ Google informs me that aptitude tests are ‘structured systematic ways of evaluating how people perform on tasks or react to different situations. They have standardised methods of administration and scoring with the results quantified and compared with how others have done at the same tests.’ So, for example, numerical, verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, computer, lateral thinking and homonyms (!) tests are all ways of assessing aptitude, or natural ability. It will surprise no-one to learn that my aptitude test revealed I was pretty good in the homonyms/literacy department, adequate in the computer department, and moderately dire in the numerical area. Appended to a printed summary of the test’s findings was some career advice: nurse, teacher, doctor, civil servant, secretary, policewoman, window dresser, accountant (that was a surprise).
According to the aptitude test, I was capable of doing all sorts of things.
BUT (I told you I liked them big)…
Nobody ever asked me what I was motivated to do. Nobody asked me what I love or where my heart was at or expressed any interest in what truly makes me come alive. Nobody asked me what I do when I’m on my own or not at school. Nobody posed these questions to my friends and family, the community around me, people who know me possibly better than I know myself. What a difference that would have made. What different horizons might that have opened up.
The fact is, it’s possible to be competent at many things but lack the motivation to do them. We’re not motivated by our aptitudes. Being able to type 60wpm doesn’t make me want to be a typist. We are motivated by other things: purpose, self-expression, a dream, a challenge, a fire in the belly, love.
There are some big ‘buts’ in Scripture as it turns out. I like these too. In Luke 18:19-25 a rich ruler approaches Jesus to find out if he has the aptitude to inherit eternal life. Permit me to paraphrase: ‘You know the tests,’ says Jesus, ‘how do you score?’ ‘Very highly,’ replies the man. ‘True,’ replies Jesus, ‘but aptitude won’t help you gain eternal life. There’s one key thing you don’t have: freedom to lay down your wealth and what you think you know, and come follow me.’ The man had aptitude in buckets and the buckets had become baggage. Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matt. 6:21). This man’s heart, and therefore his life, was tied down. He had wealth, success, self-definition – useful things to go far in this world, lousy things to go any distance in the kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul wrote, ‘If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing’ (1 Cor. 13:1-2).
Having the aptitude to get a job is of some value. But… In God’s economy, of greater value by far is discovering where your heart is at, or possibly where it’s not, and of greater value than all is heeding the call to go on a long walk with Jesus.