Apr 04, 2017

Spiritual Gifts: Understanding God's Thoughtful and Special Assignments

 

What are your spiritual gifts and how are you putting them to use?

Two assumptions underlie this question. One, that you know what your spiritual gifts are, and two, that you are actively using them. The inability to answer either begs further reflection. What are your spiritual gifts? How should you use them and to what end?

The purpose of spiritual gifts

The apostle Paul shares several insights which get to the importance and practice of spiritual gifts:

  • 1 Cor. 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
  • 1 Cor. 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
  • 1 Cor. 12:4-6, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them"

Unique spiritual gifts are given universally by the Spirit to every believer for a divine purpose: to edify and enable the body to minister to each other and to the world. They are given so that we might participate in blessing others and so the world may see the love of Christ at work in the church. Using these gifts is essential for the church to be a complete picture of God’s kingdom on earth. Therefore, failure to use them for their intended purpose limits the church’s ability to minister effectively.

Paul, in 1 Cor. 12, uses the illustration of each gifted believer acting as a unique body part to highlight their importance to the whole body. A lack of engagement results in a loss of function and effectiveness. We have an obligation to use the abilities God has granted us for the common good. Further, we need the ministry of others that come through the practice of their gifts. Have you ever given a particularly thoughtful and fitting gift to a relative or friend only to never see them use that gift? The waste of that gift and lack of enjoyment from it is heart-breaking! We grieve God when we take our gifts for granted and we deprive ourselves of satisfaction when we fail to participate in them.

The process of discovering and practicing your gifts

Our gifts are varied in their manifestation, who receives which, and when they are revealed. These are not innate talents or skills, but God-given and God-powered (not self-powered) abilities granted to build others up. Scriptural examples, while not exhaustive, include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, discernment, prophecy, encouragement, teaching, and hospitality. That they are God-given means God directs our special function in the body. This is not a list of opportunities we enroll in, rather, we are called to unwrap, discover, and appreciate God's thoughtful and special assignments.

If we don’t know what gifts we’ve been given, we can’t put them into practice. At the Journey, we do encourage taking a few sociological tests to help identify areas of giftedness, but this isn’t the be-all and end-all. Assessments inquire of what we know and have experienced to date, confirming suspected strengths or areas of previously successful ministry. But qualities in which we’ve had little experience in or exposure to are often best discovered by trying out new opportunities. Trial and error can help guide our discovery process, just as we come to find new hobbies! While uncharted territory can be uncomfortable, what’s the worst that may come by serving in a ministry we come to find we're not gifted in? Besides, scripture does not indicate we are to only serve in areas of giftedness. Minimally, we'll receive joy and fellowship with other church members, while opening the door to the receipt of further gifts.

Patience to identify and, at times, to use our gifts is also important. Volunteering in a different capacity each week at church may give us knowledge of what help the church needs, but months spent serving with the same people and submitting yourself to what that role requires can bring deeper revelation. Time is a tool God can use to show us how He is growing a gift and place us in circumstances where others can observe and confirm His work in us.

The metric: good fruit in me, good fruit in others

Many years ago I was asked to help as a children’s teacher for an evening bible study and this request was far outside my comfort zone. I, in my 20’s, had no previous experience caring for children, yet alone teaching them, but I availed myself to the opportunity. Over several years I came to love engaging children and teaching them. I saw God working through me for their growth in a very powerful way that brought about an increase in my dependency and faith in the Lord. It may be through your service in new and different ministries that God gives you a clearer understanding of his gifts and how they can be used in different capacities to reach others. In addition, God’s giving of gifts may arrive at various times so we should be watchful, even if we know some of our gifts, for the granting of others in our future.

Another means of discovery can come from the guidance of other believers. Feedback from others within the church can give us a better understanding of the Spirit’s empowerment in our life. If you’re the only one who thinks you’re gifted in a particular manner, you’re probably not. Remember, these gifts are intended to edify others. They are not primarily meant to edify ourselves. We may hear of the God-given difference we're making in the lives of others through others. What encouragement or compliments have you received from others, and how might these reflect God-given qualities? What areas of ministry are you seeing success in by bringing glory to God or building others up?

Personal reflection for rightly using our gifts

Let's return to the original question: What are your spiritual gifts and how are you putting them to use? Once God has revealed these gifts to you, you have a responsibility to use them and use them for their intended purpose. What is your motivation for being hospitable, or teaching, or gaining knowledge, or any other gift? Is it to edify others and participate in the body of Christ? Are there times when your focus is on comfort, or recognition, or praise? Are you reliant on the Holy Spirit's power in your areas of giftedness, or are other forces in play?