In recent days I have received several emails dealing with spiritual gifts. Unfortunately, due to constraints on my time, I’ve been unable to spend a lot of time answering these. Today I want to spend just a few moments at least sharing some basic biblical teaching on the spiritual gifts. Much of this is drawn from my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment where I have an entire chapter dealing with gifts in general and the gift of discernment in particular.
Often when I hear people speak of spiritual gifts they do so in this manner. “I have the gift of [insert gift here] and my church has no way for me to serve in that way.” Or “I know what my gift is and I am looking for ways to use it.” To these people I would suggest that they may have an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of the way the gifts work. The way to properly exercise spiritual gifts is not to be willing only to do what you’ve determined is your gifting, but to do anything that the church needs to have done, and to do it with joy and excellence. And as you do that, you may find that God gifts and equips you for something far outside your comfort zone.
The Bible seems to indicate that Christians will typically know how they have been gifted. There is certainly nothing that would hint at the modern methods of discovering gifts through surveys or assessments. And yet, while most Christians know that the gifts of the Spirit are given to God’s people, they continue to struggle with identifying the ways in which God has gifted them.
Because gifts are given for the benefit of the body, it seems likely that where there is a need, there will be someone with the gifting to fill that need. If a church has a desperate need for a person with the gift of teaching, it seems likely that someone within the church has been given such a gift and may fill the need, at least for a season. Similarly, if a person is a member of a church where there is no opportunity to exercise a certain gift, it may be that this church needs to create opportunities for that; in extreme cases, the person needs to seek a church where his gifts can be of service to others. The leaders of churches should seek to ensure that they are providing opportunities for members to exercise the full spectrum of gifts.
Wayne Grudem writes, “Though the lists of gifts given in the New Testament are not exhaustive, they certainly provide a good starting point for churches to ask whether at least there is opportunity for these gifts to be used.”
For those who continue to struggle with identifying how they have been gifted, here are five principles that will prove helpful:
Begin with Prayer
God promises to give wisdom to any who ask for it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Thus we should begin our search for gifting by asking God to make it plain to us how he has gifted us and how he desires that we serve him by serving others. We must ask for wisdom in seeing how God has gifted us and in opening our eyes to opportunities to serve him.
Look for Passion
Where God has given a gift, we can expect that he will also give passion. A good place to begin when considering spiritual gifts is to see where God has given desire and passion. A person who is passionate about having people into her home may well have a gift of hospitality; a person who loves to organize events may be gifted with a kind of leadership; a person who is passionate about the truth of God may be gifted with discernment. Those who look for their gifting should look to what interests them and what makes them feel passionate. As they look to their passions they may just find their gifts.
Another way of seeking gifting is to ask other believers, especially those in spiritual leadership over you. Simply ask other Christians, those who know you best and who lead and guide you, where they feel you should serve within the church. Ask them to prayerfully consider your gifting. Their wisdom and guidance may surprise you.
Christians should try different opportunities to serve within the church. As we attempt different things and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can expect that he will reveal passion and gifting in ways we may not expect. There is a danger in doing only those things that we are comfortable with or serving only in the ways we think we are most talented. Think of Moses, a frightened and timid man being called to lead a nation, or the apostle Paul with a thorn in his flesh being called to take the gospel to all the nations. God does not always gift us in ways we are comfortable with or in ways we might expect. By attempting different gifts we can look to those where God brings blessing and success and perhaps see that we have a special gifting in these areas.
The Bible does not tell us that all spiritual gifts are given at the time of conversion or that, once given, they are given permanently. As we grow in our knowledge and love of the Lord, we should continue to seek ways of serving him. We may be surprised to find that our gifting changes along with the needs of our local church. We may find that God wishes us to emphasize different gifts now from those we emphasized in the past. So keep serving God and keep searching for his gifting in your life. If confusion continues, take heart, wait patiently for God’s wisdom and guidance, and serve him whenever and wherever possible. He will answer your prayers.