Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.1 Peter 4:10
What gifts has God given you? In Romans 12, Paul states in a very matter-of-fact way, “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; …” and so it continues. Peter (quoted above) does the same. But many of us find ourselves one step back from that – wanting to serve, but unsure what our gifts are. How do we get beyond that stage, and start serving the body in the ways we were made to do?
- Start with what you know…
Some people seem to be born generous: while Caroline would do what most children do, and spend her pocket money on herself, her sister Katharine would always come back from the shops with things she’d bought for other people. As she’s grown up, this has developed into a gift of encouragement and of generosity: many a person has had a rough day and got home to a card from her, sent a few days before on a small prompting from the Lord.
What things are you already passionate about, and what talents do you already know that you have? It may well be that these existing abilities are gifts given you by the Lord for blessing the church.
- … but don’t be limited by that
Amos the prophet delivered an unpopular message to the kingdom of Israel, and before long the powers that be told him to pack his bags and go home to Judah. His response is really interesting:
I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Now then, hear the word of the Lord…Amos 7:14-16
Amos was familiar with shepherding and farming, but God had other plans for him – plans that involved giving him a different gift and calling. I’ve already mentioned Eric Liddell, whose God-given gift of running did not prevent him from stepping into the unrelated call of overseas mission work in China, and his athleticism didn’t prevent him from developing the pastoral gift which he so famously exercised in the internment camp where he died.
- Ask, seek, knock!
Jesus told the crowds, “if you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”1Luke 11:13 This is the same famous passage that encourages us to “ask, seek, knock…” If we are commanded to “follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.”21 Corinthians 14:1 then it follows that we must have some input in the process, even though the gifts are God’s to give as He wants.
If our motivation is love31 Corinthians 13, then it’s not only OK to ask, but actively encouraged. In the believers’ prayer in Acts 4, we see a group of believers actively asking for spiritual gifts – boldness, healing, signs and wonders. Only a few verses later we see the apostles healing many and speaking boldly – and not just the apostles: Stephen gets into trouble because he speaks boldly with “the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke”4Acts 6:10.
When you lovingly consider your church fellowship, what is lacking? Perhaps an evangelist to equip other believers in their own witness and to set an example, bringing encouragement as they see people born again? Perhaps a prophet to prepare the church for what’s around the corner, to help people to see themselves and the church as God does, or to speak powerfully into the lives of visiting unbelievers? If the church is hard-up, perhaps we would do well to ask God for a gift of generosity and giving; if everybody is exhausted, perhaps a gift of encouragement or of administration – is needed. Where a church faces difficult choices, words of wisdom are a powerful tool in the hands of a believer who knows that they carry the gift; words of knowledge are a powerful breakthrough tool in pastoral ministry if a believer exercises them in love.
- Ask others
I’ve made no secret of my belief that God loves to speak to us through each other, not because He can’t do it directly, but because by so doing He fosters true, loving community in the church. We see in Paul’s recommendations that he recognises the gifts that individuals carry: Tychicus’s encouragement, Epaphras’s prayerfulness, the leadership of the household of Stephanus, the apostleship of Junia and Andronicus. Archippus is told to complete the ministry he’s received, indicating that Paul’s vision for what God has called him to probably exceeds his own understanding of it – the same is true of Timothy, who Paul encourages to “fan into flame the gift of God”, pointing out that the gift even arrived “by the laying on of my hands”.
So another way of discovering your gifts is to ask other believers – perhaps friends who know you, or leaders in the church. The ability to help people discover their gifts, to support them in developing, and to release them to use them effectively is a vital leadership skill. And this is a two-way street – you almost certainly have friends with dormant gifts who need to be told what they carry before they can step up. For the record, I’m a big fan of well-done and scriptural “gift discovery” resources too, but much more so if they’re set up to be done in the context of relationship – we are part of a body, and any resource that sets us up as an independent “island” of gifting is likely to fail to equip us to serve the body.
- Have a go
The pictures above are from the same artist, five years apart. Our eldest, Élysée, has long outstripped my own poor artistic skills, but he didn’t start off drawing the beautiful work he does now. It took time, encouragement, and lots of paper. It can be easy to think of spiritual gifts as different, either because God wouldn’t give a half-baked gift, or because we don’t remember any examples in Scripture of people exercising spiritual gifts and it not being very good. Perhaps in many cases they weren’t very remarkable occasions – but at least one comes to mind. The twelve disciples were sent out (Luke 9) with power and authority to heal and to drive out demons. They return having preached and healed, yet a short while later, after Jesus’s transfiguration, He comes back down the mountain to encounter a boy with a demon who the disciples had not been able to cast out. Jesus rebukes the evil spirit, tells the disciples that this kind only comes out by prayer5and fasting, in some manuscripts, and the disciples grow in their gift. By the time the seventy-two are sent out, they return saying, “even the demons submit to us in your name!”
The people of God are not lab rats, so we have to be careful about how we practise using our gifts. Some are riskier than others: trying to encourage someone and getting it wrong is unlikely to cause any offence, and very few sick people are upset or offended if you offer to pray and they are not instantly healed; on the other hand, a teacher who is still immature in their gift could lead a group of people astray if they use their gift in the wrong setting, and a prophet who is still growing in their gift could misunderstand the message and give people a really bad steer in a choice they’re making. However, these dangers are already covered in Scripture – in particular in Romans 12. We are not to be proud, but to use the gifts we have in accordance with the faith God has given us. So if you’re getting going in a gift, be sensible about the context in which you use it, and make sure you bring a good dose of humility!
Often the best way to grow and develop is to partner up with someone else whose gifting is a little more mature than our own: they can help us prepare, be with us as we serve, and give helpful feedback afterwards – I believe that’s the best way for teachers, encouragers, healers, leaders, administrators and prophets to grow in their gifts.
This blog is one of a series on how we use our gifts in the church, which will grow over the coming weeks. The main post and the links to other topics can be found here. As always, if you have any thoughts or reflections, please do comment below – and if you would like to have a longer discussion on a specific area or your personal situation, please do drop me an email.