Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about the gifts of the Spirit. David helpfully defined a spiritual gift as a specific manifestation of the Holy Spirit that is given to an individual for the common good. As I’ve talked this over with people — in my small group, in staff meeting, in one-on-one conversations — I’ve heard a number of times that a lot of people have a hard time identifying what their spiritual gifts are.
In some ways, this makes sense, especially since the category of “spiritual gifts” is one that many people may not have heard much about before. On the other hand, though, I find this difficulty in identifying gifts curious. Anyone who’s ever been through a job interview has probably had to identify his or her strengths. And in most meaningful relationships — whether with a friend or a family member or a spouse — we have some sense of what we bring to the relationship that’s unique or valuable. I think most of us, outside of the church context, have at least some notion of what our strengths are, what we’re good at, what brings us joy, what causes us to think, “I was made to do this!”
Yet for some reason, when we bring those ideas into the context of church, or our relationship with God, we tend to balk. All of a sudden, talking about our strengths and talents starts to sound an awful lot like bragging. And surely bragging isn’t a very Christian thing to do? So we shy away from naming and claiming our gifts. Often we even doubt that the Holy Spirit has given us any gift at all. ‘Who am I to think I would have a gift?’ we think. ‘I’m nobody special… I’m just me.’
I get it. I really do. I’ve spent a lot of time in that thought pattern (ask me about seminary sometime), and I still find myself there from time to time. But it’s such a shame when any of us gets caught up in that kind of thinking — thinking that leads us to deny the very good spiritual gifts that God has in fact given to each one of us. Because it’s a loss not just for us, but for the church community of which we’re a part.
Recently I’ve been reading (and recommending to anyone who will stop to listen) Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes and How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. Combining a strong biblical perspective with solid psychology, Cloud and Townsend help us see what we do and don’t have responsibility for and control over in our lives. At one point, they talk about how a young child’s beginning to identify things as me, my, and mine doesn’t necessarily reflect selfishness, but can signal the healthy development of a sense of what we do have responsibility for and stewardship over. While they’re not talking about spiritual gifts, I think a lot of what they have to say is applicable. Here’s an excerpt:
As Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth to subdue and rule it, we are also given stewardship over our time, energy, talents, values, feelings, behavior, money…. Without a ‘mine,’ we have no sense of responsibility to develop, nurture, and protect these resources. Without a ‘mine,’ we have no self to give to God and his kingdom. Children desperately need to know that mine, my, and me aren’t swear words. With correct biblical parenting, they’ll learn sacrifice and develop a giving, loving heart, but not until they have a personality that has been loved enough to give love away: ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).
Like being able to determine what is “mine,” we need to be able to name and claim our spiritual gifts before we can offer them for the good of the community and the building of God’s kingdom. And recognizing and celebrating our gifts isn’t bragging or pride. It’s an expression of gratitude to the Giver of the gifts. When we know how much we are loved, and how God is delighted to give the gifts of his Spirit to us, then we can in turn offer those gifts to others, an outflow to others of the love and the delight and giftedness that we know we have from God.
So, let’s keep asking each other: What are your spiritual gifts? And let’s celebrate and encourage each other as we learn to name and claim the good things God has given us, for his glory and for our good.