Imagine receiving a birthday gift, beautifully wrapped and personalised for you, and then putting it away in a drawer, unopened, unused and forgotten. What a waste, you may think, and how ungrateful that would be. Yet many of us do exactly that with the gifts God has given us.
A key aspect of discipleship is being able to identify the gifts that God has given us, and then in obedience and faith to use them for his glory – serving the church and the world. I fear though that many of God’s people sit on their gifts, and fail to use them, either through ignorance (they don’t realise they have any gifts), fear (they worry what others think of them) or unworthiness (they feel unworthy of such a privilege). Like the servant in the parable of the talents, they choose to dig a hole in the ground and hide what they have been given (Matthew 25:14:18).
Over the next few days I hope to share some thoughts about how we can identify our gifts and use them for God’s glory and the benefit of others. I will look at them in three ways: gifts we have (natural gifts), gifts we are given (gifts of grace), and gifts we receive (gifts of the Spirit). I hope you will keep reading.
NATURAL GIFTS – gifts we have
God made us with his purpose in mind, a truth clearly stated in Jeremiah 1:5 and Ephesians 2:10. He formed us in our mother’s womb, preparing us in such a way that we would be able to serve him. This means that he gifted us in advance for the work he had in mind for us. These are natural gifts because they are part and parcel of who we are, and they emerge as we grow and develop as human beings. Think about people who are practical, musical, sporting, artistic, caring, studious and so on. Each has a natural gifting that they can choose to use and develop if they so wish.
In this sense these gifts have been given to us, and remain in our possession, whether we are believers or not. However, we can offer them back to God for him to use as he chooses. This is what we are called to do in Romans 12:1, where we are invited to offer ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’.
I think of a friend who is very musical. That in itself did not make him a musician, but he became one because he studied and practiced and performed. He plays in several bands, but he also plays at church with amazing anointing because he has offered his natural gift back to God. When he is playing he using his gift for God’s glory and for the blessing of others. He enjoys it because he is doing what God made him to do, whether he is playing at a pub gig or in the worship group on Sundays.
What natural gifts have you been given? How might you use them to serve God and bless others?
GIFTS OF GRACE – gifts we are given
A major emphasis of the apostle Paul is that the local church functions like a human body – there are many parts, and each has a different role to play. Everyone is needed, and everyone is gifted in some way; no-one is superior, and no-one is inferior.
In Romans 12:3-8 he develops this thought and speaks about the contribution each person can make: “We have different gifts according to the grace given us (v6).” Here he speaks about gifts that are given us by God at our new birth, again for the purpose of serving him and others. His list is not meant to be exhaustive but it includes for example prophesying, teaching, serving, encouraging, giving, leading and showing compassion.
Some of these are natural gifts that are enhanced by the anointing of God. For example a person may have the gift of teaching others (for example history, or maths, or science) but at their conversion that gift is added to by the Holy Spirit so that the person is enabled to teach the Bible with insight and understanding given by God. Likewise, compassionate people may find that their natural gifting is enhanced by God so that their caring is an expression of the love and mercy of God, and they are enabled to consistently care for the neediest of people in the most difficult of situations.
Other of these grace gifts, however, we receive for the first time at our conversion. The apostle Peter in his list of gifts mentions that of speaking (1Peter 4:9-11). This gifts seems to cover different ways of communicating the gospel message, and many believers can testify that before their conversion they had no such ability. They only began speaking publicly after they came to Christ.
What both Paul and Peter stress is that whatever gifts we have we should use, and do so for the glory of God, knowing that it is by the grace of God that we have such abilities.
GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT – gifts we receive
In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Paul speaks about gifts that are given to us spontaneously by the Holy Spirit, as and when we need them. We are not in possession of such gifts, they come to us when the situation requires us to exercise them. The Holy Spirit ‘gives them to each one, just as he determines (v11).’
The context is that of a church meeting, and the presence of God is made real through the operation of these supernatural gifts – words of wisdom and knowledge; of faith, healing and miraculous powers; of prophecy, discernment and speaking in tongues. These are the so-called charismatic gifts and they cause us to come alive to God – what he is saying, what he is doing. Their purpose is to awaken both believers and others to the reality of God, so that people exclaim, “God is really among you!” (1Corinthians 14:25).
Our part in this is to make sure we are open to the Spirit of God, and to earnestly seek that God will use us in this way. The apostle advises us, ‘Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (14:1).’ This will lift us out of the deadening formalism that can so easily settle over Christian gatherings, and lift us into the realm where we are expectant that God will be speaking and acting whenever we come together.
Such gifts, of course, need to be used with care and in an orderly manner (which is the burden of 1 Corinthians 14). They are not toys to be played with or trophies to be displayed, but tools to be used for God’s glory. The most important thing is that we learn to love people. If we focus on loving God and loving people, God will make sure we have the gifts we need.
IDENTIFYING YOUR GIFTS
No-one will have all the gifts. Most of us have just a few (sometimes called out gift-mix) so we can focus our contribution, and while it is not essential that we can verbalise exactly what those gifts are, sometimes it is helpful to know the gifts we have been given so we can shape our ministry accordingly. Here are 3 simple ways by which you may be able to discern your gifts:
- What do you enjoy doing? What brings you to life? What excites you?
- Where are you most effective? When does what you do seem to impact others the most?
- When do others encourage you? Honest feedback can often help you to discern your gifting.
In addition to this, it may be helpful to sit down with someone more experienced in Christian ministry who knows you well and ask them to help you in the process of confirming your gifting. There are several on-line questionnaires that you can use, but the observations of a church leader, mentor, or spiritual director will be most helpful.
Once you are comfortable with this process you can then begin to serve God with a humble confidence. As the apostle Peter says, ‘Each one should use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms (1Peter 4:10).’