“What’s your spiritual gift?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked at far too many small group meetings. That question and conversations around it have always made me uncomfortable, and I’ve only recently begun to articulate why.
What started as “time to share your spiritual gifts” often turned into a time for people to share personal skills or personality traits, and then label these with biblical-sounding names of spiritual gifts. These conversations were self-focused, and it seemed that many people confused talents for spiritual gifts.
I also wondered why no one in my church shared about spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues or prophecy. Were these kinds of gifts obsolete, or were my church members and I missing out?
In more recent years, searching for clarity around these questions has exposed two significant misconceptions I didn’t realize I held about spiritual gifts. It has helped me understand, seek, and appreciate them on a whole new level.
Spiritual Gifts Are Different From Talents
I spent one summer as an intern for a youth program, and the position required speaking at several youth events throughout the summer. Generally, I am a terrible public speaker. It is not a natural talent of mine.
The first few times, I tried speaking by my own talent and ability. As expected, I got nervous; the students were distracted; I didn’t speak clearly; and by the end of my time, I think everyone was uncomfortable and thankful it was over.
Fortunately, our natural talents and strengths are not the same as spiritual gifts. Sometimes, God surprises us by enabling us to do something we are not naturally gifted at.
There was one particular event that summer where I was expected to speak. Instead of relying on myself this time, I released control of planning, and prayerfully sought God’s will to learn what and how I should share with the students. And as it turned out, God’s Spirit led and directed the message I shared. The students were engaged and very responsive. In a very real way, I experienced the spiritual gift of teaching.
Of course, sometimes God does develop the natural gifts we have and uses them for His work. Spiritual gifts and talents can overlap. I think the key difference is that talents and strengths can be developed by human effort, apart from the Spirit. Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, are completely empowered by the Holy Spirit and beyond our own achievements.
Additionally, God never uses spiritual gifts for the glory of man. Spiritual gifts work through God’s people for the purpose of furthering His Kingdom and His glory.
Miraculous Gifts Still Happen
In 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul writes about gifts of healing, prophecy, and speaking in tongues. But the churches I grew up in avoided talking about these things. When we discussed spiritual gifts, the focus was always on leading, serving, teaching, encouraging (Romans 12:6-8). . . you know, the safe, non-controversial gifts.
While it’s true that the manifestation of God’s Spirit doesn’t look the same to everyone, it is also true that our God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore (Hebrews 13:8). I haven’t personally spoken in tongues, or witnessed the miraculous healing of a deformed limb. And I know some Christians believe that these miraculous gifts ceased soon after the age of the apostles. But lately, I’ve learned that just because I haven’t experienced something, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
In fact, God has recently endowed several of my close friends and family members with spiritual gifts of prophetic words, visions, speaking in tongues, and even the gift of healing. In the past when I heard of accounts like this, I was tempted to rationalize and minimize them, because they were so foreign and unfamiliar to me. But lately, when I hear testimonies from people who are experiencing spiritual gifts in a way that is honoring God, it prompts me to praise God. It also leads me to earnestly desire to experience these gifts myself (1 Corinthians 14:39-40).
I have confidence that God’s power is still the same today as it was yesterday. God is so big and so powerful. Rather than discounting how God works through His people, we should trust that He will gift us in a variety of ways, always according to His perfect plan and perfect timing.
Continue to Seek the Spirit
Being able to distinguish my natural talents and abilities from gifts of the Spirit has helped me immensely. As someone who doesn’t feel particularly talented in any one area, I now understand that God will absolutely work through me—even if I’m not the best at any certain thing. That’s because it isn’t about me and my abilities at all. It’s about God and the power of His Spirit!
God gives us exactly what we need to fulfill His purpose. Sometimes that provision looks like serving, teaching, encouraging, or giving. Other times, it looks like gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, or prophesying. I know that God is all-powerful, and He displays that power in many different ways. Accepting this moves me to praise God and seek Him even more!