"It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done" (Samuel Johnson, 1770).
Potential has to do with something that can happen but has not yet happened. It has to do with possibilities: unrealized and undeveloped. While it is good to have the capacity to do many things, potential alone is not enough to accomplish what is necessary.
Christians have great potential. We have the potential for growth, to convert many people to the Lord, to make a strong impact on the communities around us. There are great possibilities; the future looks fantastic from this viewpoint.
But the potential is not enough! Just because we have the ability to do something does not mean that we will do it. A congregation with great potential is no guarantee that they will make the most out of it. Remember, while something is still potential, it has not happened. What a tragedy it would be if, given the possibilities before so many Christians, these potentials were never realized!
Potential is realized when we press on with diligence to grow. We must act on our abilities and improve upon them. It takes work and commitment, not just recognition that we "can" do many things. The one-talent man had the ability to gain another, but his laziness marked him forever as never reaching his potential (Matthew 25:14ff).
Sometimes people boast about their former days. "These seats used to be filled up." "We used to have so many classes going." "We used to be known for our singing." So? What are we doing now and where are we headed? The potential will never be seen by resting on the past. Paul understood this: "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12-14). Paul did not think in terms of glorying in his past accomplishments or moping about his failures. His potential for perfection would only be realized through continually pressing toward the goal. Shall we expect less now?
God has provided for a local church to grow and be what He wants it to be (Ephesians 4:11-16). Teaching takes place, saints are equipped to serve and edify, unity is accomplished, maturity is accomplished, and the church grows as each individual member does his or her part. However, as long as there are Christians who do not do their share, the total potential of a congregation will not be seen. A church may accomplish much and be known for its faithfulness, but it will never attain its full ability as long as there are some who do not act as they ought. One or two people cannot work for everyone else. "... the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).
Not everyone does the same work. One person may not have abilities that another may have, and vice-versa. But God expects each person to do what he/she can do. Potential means nothing unless we are willing to act on it.
There is a sense in which we will never reach our full potential on this earth. We must avoid the attitude that says, "I did it; I'm perfect" (see Revelation 3:14-22). If we become satisfied with our spiritual lives so that we do not work for further growth and knowledge, we are in serious trouble. So, while we recognize that we have potential, let's always be striving to grow and mature. If we will, our capacity for heaven will be attained when this life is over (II Timothy 4:7-8).
So ask yourself, "What have I done?" Then ask, "What am I able to do?" Are you working hard toward fulfilling your abilities?