APPRECIATING THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
At the heart of the gospel is the premise that every person has inherent value and worth -- more than that -- they are loved by God. Your life is meaningful and you have a purposeful role to play in God's mission for mankind
One of the most beautiful things God has imparted to humanity is our capacity for creativity. This creativity is expressed through a diverse range of talents and passions in each of us. These talents or strengths can be considered gifts from God and are even evident in people’s lives whether they are followers of Jesus or not. They are the unearned grace of Imago Dei. We should affirm and encourage everyone in their natural strengths and abilities that we recognise God has given them. Not only does it benefit the common good, but it calls others into a purposeful relationship with God for a greater good.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Gift wrapped in the Spirit
A young man named Daniel and his friends were only teenagers when they were taken from their homeland and brought to serve the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. God had already endowed them with significant intellectual and spiritual gifts. “To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.” (Daniel 1:17).
Although Daniel was given the name of Nebuchadnezzar's god, the pagan king confessed that evidently, the ‘spirit of the holy god’ lived in him. (Daniel 4:7-9). When Daniel and his friends offered their lives and abilities to God for his purposes, the Holy Spirit enhanced what He had already endowed them with. “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (Daniel 1:20)
“Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
When someone becomes a follower of Jesus, they don’t lose those gifts God has already created them with. Rather, those gifts are enhanced as the Holy Spirit sanctifies them and adds his anointing (power).
For example, an A++ over-achiever, soon-to-be apostle named Paul, was a gifted leader and teacher. His natural talent was nurtured under some of the best tutors of his time, notably Gamaliel, yet he used his gift for persuasion and dazzling leadership style to legitimise murder in the name of God.
After he encountered Jesus however, his theology was shattered. As his life was transformed by the Holy Spirit, those gifts God created him with were now sanctified. His strong leadership and sharp turns of phrase were now used for championing the truth and defending the gospel with incredible effect.
It was Paul who went on to illuminate the difference between a life lived in the flesh (serving ourselves) compared to life in the Spirit (serving God) in his writings to the early churches. Now an apostle, Paul was a great proponent of accepting and developing the unique abilities that God had graced each of us with (1 Corinthians 12). He points out that a diverse range of talents is both healthy and necessary.
When we understand and embrace who God has created us to be, we can create proud-dad moments for Him as we fulfill the purpose He intended for us (Philippians 2:1-8). And it can be a whole lot of fun.
"When God writes His words on my heart I am compelled to put pen to paper. I come alive when I sense the Spirit pouring out His love in and through me and seeing it spill out on the page." - Rachel Rodger, Writer
It takes humility to appreciate and value the gifts we all have, but that doesn't mean we have to endure it drudgingly. We can experience the thrill of doing what we are designed to do. Scottish runner Eric Liddle put it this way: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
An extraordinary life
Not only has God given each of us ordinary natural talents we can surrender to the Holy Spirit to super-size under his anointing, but He also offers us supernatural gifts that offer us an extraordinary life.
I once sold a very ordinary dinner table. It had fond family memories scratched and hacked into it but it was time to let it go and a happy buyer on Trade Me thought it was perfect for the break room for the lads. When Kev came to pick it up we started a friendly conversation about family and life. Suddenly I felt the Holy Spirit say, 'linger and listen'. The topic turned to faith and
Kev said when it came to being sure of the existence of God, he was the kind of person who needed to see something to believe. Then, as he started talking about some trouble he had with his knee requiring expensive surgery, I realised the Holy Spirit wanted me to pray for him.
Nah-uh. No way.
Ah, yes, and do it now.
He's a stranger. He's going to think I'm crazy.
He's sharing a need. I meet people's needs. Pray for him.
I don't have the gift of healing. It's not my strength.
* silence *
Holy Spirit help me!
* nudge *
As the guy was about to go, I fumbled out the words; ‘Hey, I'm a Christian, and I know God loves you, how about I pray for you...’ To my surprise, Kev said he’d really like that. So, at my direction, he placed his hand on his knee and I prayed for Jesus to heal it. The first time, the pain only improved marginally, so we prayed again.
A few moments later Kev looked up at me in shock. "You won't believe this," he said, "but my knee just clicked." The pain had receded from 8/10 to 2! I laughed and told him I could believe it - God is full of surprises. He couldn’t stay for coffee but I encouraged him to talk to Jesus and keep praying on the way home. That stranger gave me a BIG hug goodbye and later I received an email from him, expressing his appreciation. Something extraordinary had taken place.
God's goodness and greatness
Every good gift is from God, so if you discover any goodness coming out of you give God some credit (James 1:17). It is fair to say, however, that Paul pays particular attention to the greater 'spiritual gifts'. These are supernatural gifts that God has given us to demonstrate God's presence and power. Paul expresses how important it is that we are not ignorant or misinformed about what they are and how they are to be used (1 Corinthians 12:1).
Primarily, they serve to provide proof that Jesus is who He says is. Hebrews 2:2-4 says; "This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will."
In other words, the spiritual gifts are significant because:
a. they testify that salvation and deliverance are found in Jesus and
b. they demonstrate the power of God and that the kingdom of God is for real, plus
c. they enable all of us to play our part, whether we feel ready or not.
So, what are they and how do we use them?
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working,
but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
(1 Corinthians 12:1)
There is no consensus on exactly how many spiritual gifts there are and you will find a number of different lists and explanations available. Some teachers will compile one list of all the gifts mentioned throughout the Bible, while others will collate just the gifts mentioned in the New Testament.
For an interesting summary of the historical origins of spiritual gift profiling check out this article by Gary McIntosh).
For my own thoughts on the various spiritual gifts and how to understand them, visit this page on the hint.holler website.
Of course, the Holy Spirit can give any spiritual gift He chooses at any time. He isn't limited to a scholastic catalogue of spiritual gifts - He can make them up on the spot! If you have the Holy Spirit, then you have spiritual gifts. If you make yourself available to Him, He will make them available to you if you ask. This means we can serve and minister in any situation because we already have Him working in and through us to bless others.
A most excellent thing
Even better, we can minister more effectively when we learn to use our gifts with excellence. Paul makes this point:
“Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
Entrepreneur and author Jordan Raynor pursues this ethos with a passion. He currently devotes his own ministry to helping Christians 'do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others'. He interviews Christian businesspeople, pastors, athletes, writers, producers, health professionals, and politicians who are all using their God-given strengths to serve others. Each of them has chosen to invest in years of training to develop their natural gifts from interests to intensive skill. Because they have wanted to serve God with excellence, they are now experts in their fields. And who doesn't want their neurosurgeon to know exactly what's he's doing right?
"Because the gospel frees us from the requirement to win, we gain a deep desire to master our work and proclaim the excellence of God in the process." -- Jordan Raynor, Author
In the same way, we need to invest time and practice into learning how to use the spiritual gifts. It got a little bit wild in the early church as people discovered the excitement of healing, prophecy, signs, and wonders. And to be honest, it can still get a little kooky in the church today. However, when there is a commitment to excel in the spiritual gifts, we should do so in order to bring glory to God, not our own super-spiritual status.
There is order, not chaos. There is joy, not jealousy. There is life, not lunacy!
We need to mature in our understanding of how to minister using the various gifts. For example, giving a prophetic word does not need to be delivered in the King James translation for it to be considered authentic. If we were to take that position, then we should all prophesy in Aramaic because that is the language Jesus spoke!
We can learn how to listen to the Holy Spirit and give Him the freedom to direct us. As we have grace for one another to practice and make mistakes, it gives us the opportunity to grow in confidence and faith. We need to be learning from one another and hang out with people who are already demonstrating an effectiveness and fruitfulness in using any of the spiritual gifts. Then they will become a healthy, normal part of our everyday life as Christians.
But here's an important point about excelling using the spiritual gifts God gives us.
It's not about how perfectly you do something, it's about how passionately you love someone.
The Way of Love
I learned this lesson many years ago. I once led a Lifegroup of amazing young women. After my second daughter was born I felt it was time to pass on the leadership of the group but no one felt they could step up and do this. I prayed about each one of them and God showed me there was one in particular who He wanted to give the role to. Nicola was the most compassionate, humble, loving woman but she did not consider herself a leader, in fact, she preferred to literally sit at the feet of teachers and take copious notes. Somehow I convinced her she was the right person to lead this group, and she bravely accepted, even though her primary gifting was not leadership.
A few months later one of our young women tragically died in a car accident. It was devastating for all of us. At the time I was unable to meet the needs of the heartbroken young girls as I had a newborn baby, but I watched with awe and pride as Nicola led that group through a difficult season of grief with extraordinary leadership and deep love. God's grace was all over her.
What is important to remember is not to become so focused on cataloging giftings or defining personality types that we lose sight of the goal - glorifying God and demonstrating His love to others. Remember:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit… Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:1 &12)
Read that again: "since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.”
"Of course, the church is tasked with recognizing and utilizing congregants’ gifts, and the enneagram and other analysis tools can be useful toward that end. But ultimately, God’s desire is to see us look less toward ourselves and more toward the Spirit’s work in our gathered midst." - Megan Hill, Author
We need to cultivate a lifestyle where we are dependent on the strength of the Holy Spirit rather than our natural gifts. God may call us into situations that we feel ill-equipped for, move us out of our comfort zone, or decide to train us to use new gifts. Living by faith surrenders all that we have to Jesus with the desire to bring glory to God and build His church.
A life led by the Holy Spirit will take us into situations where we can minister effectively regardless of our primary giftings. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do good work and ministers through us according to His wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:11).
For example, we are encouraged to ‘practice hospitality’ (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9-10) and ‘be generous on all occasions’ (1 Timothy 6:18) regardless of whether we have the gift of ‘hospitality’ or ‘giving.’
This is simply the expression of the character of Christ in our lives.
(If you have any concerns about managing either, just remember how the Holy Spirit turned a few crusty loaves and some kippers into a feast for a few thousand. You'll do just fine.)
Jesus is our example of allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through Him to serve others. As a result, He fulfilled the promise in Isaiah 61 that He would set the captives free and heal them. He passed this assignment on to us and promised the Holy Spirit would come and fill us with power to do even more amazing things (John 14:12).
So, whether you are just discovering your gifts, redefining what it means to serve God with your strengths, or developing greater competency in those you already practice, let your motivation always be one of love. And remember these words of the apostle Peter:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.
* All scripture is quoted from NIV translation unless noted
** Quote from Megan Hill's article, "Put Down That Spiritual Gifts Quiz" in Christianity Today, 2020
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