I’ll never forget the Christmas of 2001 when our first son was finally old enough to participate in holiday traditions. On Christmas morning he jumped up and down anticipating the thrill of opening the packages peeking out from the top of his stocking. He tore into the first gift and held the prize high above his head, shouting with glee: “BIG BOY UNDERWEAR!!” Our ploy to make potty training alluring seemed to be working. He ran to his bedroom and returned moments later to model them proudly.
Underwear, again, appeared among his gifts again the next Christmas. His reaction was not quite as exuberant. Every year since then, both of our boys have continued to receive this “gift,” more for the sake of tradition than anything else. With each phase of development, their reactions have been age appropriate. They’ve gone from glee to embarrassment to annoyance to resignation to amusement. As long as stockings are hung on the mantel, underwear will be one of the gifts inside them.
Until a few years ago, I used to view spiritual gifts in a similar light to my boys’ perspective on receiving underwear. I thought my spiritual gifts were practical and useful, but not especially exciting. The problem wasn’t with the Giver however, but with me. I had confused spiritual gifts with my natural abilities.
I am good at organizing people and events. This isn’t meant to sound proud—I say it in the same way I would tell you I have brown hair and hazel eyes. It is just a fact about me. Because of this, I served different church ministries in a variety of administrative roles such as organizing logistics for committees, events, Bible studies, students and children. I didn’t particularly derive joy from my service, however I valued the impact each of these ministries had. I knew I could add to their effectiveness by helping them run smoothly. Since administration was a spiritual gift, I assumed I had it.
The problem was, I was serving Jesus without Jesus. My organizational skills were part of my makeup, but not something that made my heart beat faster or caused me to lean into God for strength, wisdom and guidance. I was using my natural abilities for kingdom purposes, but it wasn’t exhilarating for me because my true spiritual gifts hadn’t been activated. Since learning more, I’ve seen people who have the gift of administration and I can recognize the difference. They get as excited about organizing and overseeing things as I do about teaching and encouraging others.
In light of this, Beth Moore’s comments make perfect sense to me:
“Your ministry is the ever-accruing collection of your life works for the glory of God…You won’t be satisfied until you are living it out because God wired you with a compulsion to do it…The more we ignore His will for our works, the more discontented and out of sorts we’ll be.” (Children of the Day, p. 142)
Scripture tells us that each person who accepts Christ receives the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we receive spiritual gifts. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:4 & 11, NIV) The gifts God gives us are to be used to glorify Him and to build up our fellow believers. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10, NIV)
Discovering I had the spiritual gifts of encouragement and teaching guided me in recognizing when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to different ministry opportunities. It was freeing when I realized declining to serve somewhere opened an opportunity for a person with gifts that were better suited for it. Instead of focusing on pleasing people, I considered how I could best please God. I stopped trying to fill open slots where needs were greatest and started praying for God to lead me to the places He wanted to use the gifts He’d given me.
The main difference between using my natural abilities and spiritual gifts is that when I’m serving in an area where I’m gifted, it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t dread preparing a Bible study lesson or have to “gear up” to spend time encouraging someone I’m mentoring. It can be time consuming and challenging, but it also energizes me. I’ve also learned that my gifts only serve others well when I rely on God’s strength and wisdom instead of my own.
I think this is what Paul, Timothy and Silas meant when they wrote:
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, NIV)
There can be a temptation, however, to opt out of certain things because they don’t involve the use of our specific gifts. Sometimes God has unplanned ministries in which He’s calling us to serve. It could be a neighbor in distress or that emotionally needy person who is drawn to you. God has a way of dropping opportunities in front of us and inviting us to respond. In those times, we need to rely on Him for an extra measure of grace. God regularly uses challenging situations to stretch our faith and our dependence upon Him. In fact, the Bible tells us He has prepared them for us:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)
Other opportunities to give and serve are just part of being obedient to God’s word and have nothing to do with our spiritual gifts. We don’t get to take a pass on things like helping the needy or giving financially by saying we don’t have the gifts of compassion or generosity.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, NIV)
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, NIV)
Some acts of obedience are difficult and costly while others bring joy and delight. In either case, the choice to obey honors God and brings Him glory.
If you’re like I was and you’re just guessing at what spiritual gifts you have, can I encourage you to find out? Take Beth Moore’s words to heart: “Your spiritual gifts are means by which you have been distinctively and divinely equipped to manifest God’s presence and power.” (Children of the Day, p. 143). Start by reading Romans 12:4-8,1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Peter 4:8-11, then get resources to help you understand spiritual gifts and talk with a pastor to determine what yours might be.
If you attend church at CPC, take the S.H.A.P.E. assessment online and find out how God has uniquely designed you. If you don’t attend CPC, pick up a copy of the book S.H.A.P.E Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life by Eric Rees. You’ll discover more about who God has made you to be so that you can activate your gifts and discover the joy of using them to further God’s kingdom.
Whether it’s natural abilities, spiritual gifts, unplanned ministries or acts of obedience, every good thing starts at the same source: God. Click on the link for a great reminder of this with the song “Every Good Thing” by The Afters.
Moore, Beth; Children of the Day; 2014; Lifeway Press; http://www.lifeway.com
Rees, Erik; S.H.A.P.E. Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life; 2006; Saddleback Resources; http://www.saddlebackresources.com