By Roy Naden, Professor Emeritus of Religious Education, Andrews University
Summary: A spiritual gift is an ability to do a ministry or service successfully. By its very nature each gift is an ability. So no training is required to start using your gift. You are already equipped to begin.
Three weeks ago the young couples of our church gave my daughter and son-in-law a wonderful Sunday brunch to celebrate the birth of their second daughter. And last Sabbath morning, one of the hostesses presented them with a beautiful photo album with pictures of the guests. The pictures flooded our minds with the warm emotion of that day, as we celebrated God’s gift of a baby girl with such potential, purity and perfection. The thoughtfulness, the appropriateness and the value of the gifts left our family quite breathless!
In a delightful way, this is precisely what happens whenever members of God’s family gather to open their spiritual gifts. They quickly learn how thoughtful God’s gifts are, how uncannily appropriate for each person’s personality they are and how extraordinarily valuable they are. To open the gifts God has already given is to begin a journey of discovery that daily reveals more and more about their purity, their potential and their perfection for the service we can give by God’s grace.
What kind of gifts?
Over the past 25 years I have been fascinated by the study of spiritual gifts. This fascination is based in part on the fact that while most other Christian churches have long cherished this subject and sought to make it part of the lives of all their members, Seventh-day Adventists have been reticent to accept the fact that through our spiritual gifts God will accomplish everything He expects of His church as we await His return. Not some things. Everything!
One of the first questions to address is: When do we receive our spiritual gifts? At the same moment we accept Jesus as Lord, He gives us each our own cluster of spiritual gifts. Too many of us go through life wondering when we’ll receive our gifts. Wonder no longer! You are His, and His gifts have already been given. The big question is, Have you ?opened’ your gifts yet? Have you taken the gift box in your hands, undone the bow, torn away the attractive paper, opened the box, lifted back the tissue paper and found . . . there it is! More beautiful, more valuable, more attractive than you had dared to believe!
Ah, I hear you moan, you make it sound so simple. But I still don’t know for sure what my gifts are. Well, first you must believe God when He says that the gifts have been given. Check out 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, and 18. Three times in this one passage on the theme of spiritual gifts, Paul emphasizes that all of God’s children have received His gifts. So the only issue we need to address is how to unwrap them. Let’s go through the steps of understanding:
A spiritual gift is an ability to do a ministry or service successfully. By its very nature each gift is an ability. So no training is required to start using your gift. You are already equipped to begin. The most erroneous belief is to think that you have to find someone to train you to use your gifts! No, you can start today. No classes. No seminars. God has equipped you, and you can’t do better than that. What gifts? You want to know! I don’t know what my gifts are!
Check for your gifts by looking within. One of the most exciting Christmases of my childhood turned temporarily into a debacle. It was the year I begged for a bicycle. I was beyond Father Christmas and didn’t look for any magical appearance of a road racer. If the coveted wheels were to arrive, it would have to be from my cash-strapped parents. I weighed all possible signs, hoping there would be enough money that year—in the 1940s during World War II—for my parents to make the purchase. I was unaware that the army’s needs meant few raw materials were available to manufacture toys. By Christmas Eve my hopes were faltering. The dream still lived, but barely, as the strength of the expectation fell dramatically. I had sought in vain for anything that could remotely be construed as a wrapped bicycle: under the house, behind the outside laundry, in the rafters of the garage.
But the thought that in some mysterious way the gift might still come, kept me wide awake until very late on Christmas Eve. So late in fact, that when I finally got to sleep, I didn’t wake until midmorning on Christmas Day! Then I dashed to the tree in the living room and there to my delight, was my dream! It was an old model that was repainted with a brush. There were dents in the frame, and a slight bend in a couple of the spokes of the wheels. But it was mine, the gift of a lifetime.
As Christmas gifts are usually found around the Christmas tree, so spiritual gifts are found in a specific place for each of us. You must go to the right place to make the great discovery. That place is in your own life. You see, just as gifts don’t appear under your Christmas tree by some magical process, there is no mystical approach about the bestowing and discovery of your spiritual gifts either. It is an open, straightforward process best understood by following the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 12. In the logical presentation we know as Romans, the apostle develops an argument that the Christians in Rome would feel comfortable sharing with their pagan neighbors. Like others of the apostle’s letters, Romans is divided into two discrete sections. First: Argument, and Second: Application. The argument details the process by which we can all be justified by God. And at the end of the thesis, Paul makes an application of this teaching to life. It is as if he is saying, So now you are justified and have been declared righteous by faith, what happens next? And he immediately enters into a discussion of ministry through our spiritual gifts. He says, I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service (Ro 12:2).
Every person is born with natural talents. In secular life we use those talents as we choose, and we enjoy the praise and personal glory that come from their use. In fact, in our humanity, we all tend to use our natural talents for self-glorification! When we accept Jesus as Savior, we don’t lose those talents. They are still part of our genetic makeup. But when we do as Paul suggests and place them on the altar as a living sacrifice, we give those talents back to God Who gave them. Then as we rise to a new life, God gives them back now blessed by Him as spiritual gifts that we will use in ministry to others, and by their use, give glory to God.
You look within to see what your gifts are and recognize them as God-given abilities. Some will be so obvious you won’t have to think about them at all. Others you may need to think about a little longer, especially if you have not had an opportunity to use a particular gift. For example, many women have the gift of leadership, which they use every day in their homes, but they have never thought of it as a gift, and have not as yet used this spiritual gift in the church or community.
Seek opportunities to use your gifts. Gifts are given by God to be used in one or both of two settings: in the church in a nurture function, or in the community in either a nurture or outreach ministry. Don’t wait to be appointed to some church office to use your nurture gifts! Do it, as you probably have been doing all of your life, but you were unconscious that this is a spiritual gifts’ ministry.
Ask yourself these questions
When I involve myself in this kind of ministry or service, does it give me joy? If you are using a spiritual gift in ministry, it will be an experience you relish. There will not be any sense of pressure or fear about getting involved. It will be a pleasure to do what you do naturally and well.
When I involve myself in this kind of ministry or service, is it successful? The gift of accounting is an illustration. To some people adding figures and balancing budgets is worse than boring! But to those with that gift, it is a pleasure to make the columns balance—which happens under their gifted ministry! They do it successfully for it’s their gift!
When I involve myself in this kind of ministry, is it appreciated and affirmed both by those that I serve and my fellow church members? This notion is based on Paul’s illustration of the human body to represent the church. Every person is likened to a body part such as a hand or foot, or one of the body’s organs, like the heart. Unless everything works together harmoniously, the body can’t perform to its potential. And the same applies to the church. So confirm that your fellow church members affirm your ministry. To review—you have a cluster of gifts. Every member of God’s family does. Your gifts are what you can do well now without training. A gift is an ability, and it extends beyond what you have already done successfully to what you have the potential to do successfully as well. Experiment! Don’t wait to be appointed to some church office. Work one-on-one or in small groups. Whatever brings you joy and is successful, whatever the members of the congregation affirm you for, these are your God-given gifts! Unwrap the gifts and discover your treasure!