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“What’s Your Spiritual Gift?”—The Question I Always Dreaded

“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!

John McCain: A Life That Reminds Us Why We Value Sacrifice

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Scrolling through Facebook over the past weekend, a post caught my eye. My friend had shared a video link to the speech American Senator John McCain gave when he received the Liberty Medal last year (the Liberty Medal recognizes leadership in the pursuit of freedom). His comment that went along with the video included the statement, “Thank you for your great service to our country”.

I remember thinking the comment was peculiar because, at a time when political debate via Facebook is so commonplace, I had grown  used to seeing this friend post particularly left-winged, Democratic articles. If I knew one thing of John McCain, it was that he was a lifelong Republican Senator, and two-time Republican presidential nominee—far on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Shortly after my friend’s post, Senator John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Twitter, former president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party spoke out to highlight the shared fidelity he had with McCain to “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Obama continued, praising the Senator who ran against him in the 2008 presidential election for his great courage and dedication to putting the greater good above his own.

Echoing the same sentiment, former president George Bush, who competed with McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, also shared his very high opinion of McCain’s public service, and his vibrant, vivid life.

Since the news of his passing, I’ve seen a wave of posts across political lines that show due honor and respect to this man’s long life of service. On my social media feed, friends from competing parties have displayed a common outpouring of sympathy to his family and tributes to his long career serving our country. Many have even dubbed him an American Hero.

As a young man, John McCain served in the Vietnam War. When his plane was shot down, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for over five years. After enduring injuries caused by the plane crash, as well as torture at the hands of his captors, John McCain was eventually released. Later, he entered into what would become a lifelong career as a public servant.

Personally, what I find most striking about the life of John McCain, is that he had a big-picture view of life. He made sacrifices, but always with purpose. He believed in the history of sacrifice that built up this nation with ideals like freedom, prosperity, and justice—and he strongly urged the U.S. to be a champion of these ideals abroad in order to build a better world. He knew that this position didn’t come without costs, but believed in an innate moral obligation to do good where good could be done.

This man’s death had a way of humbling an entire nation, and called for a brief respite where political differences could be set aside, and people across party lines could express gratefulness for how he served. John McCain fought for our country. He was wounded and tortured, and it didn’t deter him from continuing to fight for what he thought was best. He was willing to make sacrifices because he believed they were worth it.

John McCain was a determined, dedicated man. But, to be sure, he had no shortage of critics and contentious moments of service…especially in relation to his congressional voting record. He often challenged traditionalists in his own party and ruffled many feathers. He had a “do what it takes” reputation that could come off as offensive to those who weren’t totally on board with what he thought needed to be done.

Despite his faults and shortcomings, after his passing, most will remember him for the sacrifices he made for his nation. And it is in his sacrificial moments that I see a reality that should point us to the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The outpouring of tributes to Senator John McCain shows that people are drawn to this idea of sacrifice. We respect and long for an example of someone who knows good, and will give anything up to pursue it. But Jesus is the only one who can truly meet those longings.

Jesus knew the costs of His sacrifice, and yet He willingly gave himself up. He suffered at the hands of men who tortured and wounded Him. But the Bible says that He endured the cross for the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had joy in the sacrifice He made because He knew it was worth it. It was worth it because by His single act, He achieved the ultimate good. He gave up Himself, and in turn, an entire world of people were saved.

Human effort and human sacrifice is limited—even the sacrifice of someone dubbed an “American Hero”. No human effort will ever lead to a perfect world. But Jesus, in all His power, gave Himself up so that He could make us perfect by His blood.

As I see a nation honoring and praising a man who gave up so much for our country, it challenges me to remember that the highest honor and praise belong to Jesus alone—because it was Jesus who gave His very life for the truest “ultimate good”. The good Jesus brought is perfect relational restoration to the God who created us, which is the only way we can know real peace, joy, and freedom.

When What I Do Causes Someone to Stumble

I enjoy a free and clear conscience when it comes to drinking alcohol (in moderation, of course).

But my husband doesn’t drink alcohol. His family has a history of alcoholism, and because of that and other factors, he’s decided to not drink alcohol at all. Most of his experiences near it have been destructive and ungodly, so he’s taken a pretty extreme approach in abstaining from alcohol.

In Romans 14, Paul shares practical guidance for navigating situations like this, where people who love the Lord come to different conclusions about how they should conduct themselves. The Christians in Rome were arguing over things like what foods they can and cannot eat, and which days they should set aside as holy.

 

A New Freedom: Rules Don’t Lead to Righteousness

You see, God’s people were used to centuries of following specific laws that governed their daily lives—how to wash garments and make sacrifices, which foods to eat and when, and which days they were allowed to do what. These laws were put in place to help God’s people set their sights on righteousness and cleanliness before God.

However, the author of Hebrew writes:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1)

The law is a shadow, or a hint, of the purification to come. . . but it cannot make us perfect. However, Christ can! Romans was written to believers after Christ’s death and resurrection. Having been already made perfect by Christ’s sacrifice (Hebrews 10:14), these new Christians were granted the freedom that comes with being made new in Christ; the freedom to rely on Christ’s perfection to make us clean, instead of rules and laws.

Even so, some Christians still chose to adhere very strictly to certain laws—and in Romans 14, Paul explains that it is totally okay. God accepts both those who follow the traditional laws, and those who exercise their new freedom (Romans 14:3).

 

Conflict Over the Inconsequential

Despite this, the disagreement around inconsequential day-to-day conduct caused great division. Paul wrote to the Romans to encourage them to set their judgment aside and learn to love one another. He urged them to respect those who might not be fully walking in this new freedom, and consider how it might be most edifying to abstain from or limit themselves for the sake of another. The idea is that we must be willing to give things up if it hinders our fellow brother or sister, or causes them to stumble (Romans 14:13).

When it comes to my husband’s distaste for alcohol, Paul’s words to the Romans have been really helpful. We all interact with other Christians who have come to different conclusions about daily choices—whether it’s the shows we watch, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, or whether we should drink alcohol. And Paul’s advice in Romans 14 is a great resource for navigating these murky waters.

Here are three key takeaways from Romans 14 that I find helpful when addressing this topic:

 

1. It doesn’t matter why it’s a stumbling block for them (see verses 3, 4, 10 & 13)

My first instinct is to analyze why someone is abstaining from something or restricting themselves in a certain way. However, the reason behind why someone has certain limits in place should not determine whether or not I respect them. I am not the judge of their conscience, so in this case, the “why” doesn’t really matter.

This point is really emphasized when Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” and follows it up with, “To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” (Romans 14:4, emphasis added)

This humbling truth reminds me that it is only because of Christ’s sacrifice that any of us are able to stand before our Holy God. By nature, we are all weak. Some people have strict limits in place because, like my husband, they are aware of their vulnerabilities, and choose to make decisions that will spur them towards righteousness.

It is not my place to judge the weaknesses of others. Instead, I should find a way to love them.

 

2. Show love by sacrificing for others

There are going to be times when exercising freedom in our own clear conscience causes someone else anxiety or pain. We have to be sensitive to this, because if we proceed down this course, we are no longer acting in love (Romans 14:15). We should make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification (Romans 14:19).

Though I feel no personal conviction about abstaining from alcohol, my husband does, and I found that sometimes when I drink, it acts as a stumbling block for him, causing distress and unrest. As a result, I now avoid drinking for the most part.

In order to better love my husband, I sometimes choose to give up my freedom by avoiding alcohol. Showing our love for other Christians can look different in different situations. Sometimes it might be not watching seemingly innocent shows or movies with certain friends, because it might be a trigger for lust or envy for them. It could also be as simple as not eating pork around Christian friends who abstain because it’s traditionally known as an unclean meat.

Whatever form this takes, ultimately it’s about giving up some of our freedom for the benefit of a Christian brother or sister. By doing this, we show love to individuals, and prioritize edification and peace.

 

3. Ultimately, it’s not about me

Romans 14 is a splash of cold water that reminds us that this life isn’t about us. We should acknowledge that we have faults and weaknesses, and do what we can to be sensitive to the weaknesses of others. Sometimes, being sensitive might mean choosing to not exercise freedoms—even freedoms that we feel like we have a legitimate claim to. Ultimately, we do this for the good of our community and to serve other people.

Of course, giving up our freedom in certain situations doesn’t mean giving it up all the time. But for each situation, we should consider the people we’re with, how our actions might affect others, and what God is guiding us to do through our conscience. For example, I’ve learned that when I’m offered alcohol by a Christian family over a quiet dinner, my husband is not really affected by me drinking alcohol. However, it is a hindrance to him if it’s offered at a loud bar downtown with company that abuses alcohol.

When and where it’s appropriate, let us be eager to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of showing sacrificial love to others.

All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. (Romans 14: 20b-21)

 

How Can We Be “In the World, But Not of It”?

In regard to my choice of college, I was fully IN the world. I attended a large state university, where students that I lived with smoked various substances, drank under-age, partied, slept around, and neglected class work. My degree required me to take several courses that perpetuated beliefs about humanity that were in opposition to my Christian beliefs. Overall, the university preached a message of success, self-help, and “doing what makes you happy.” It was a broken, worldly place.

My experience at a secular university would make a great case study of a Christian trying to learn how to remain righteous and faithful while living in a place that didn’t value either of those traits. It was a constant struggle to find the balance between engaging in the world around me, and outright fleeing from it.

 

A Biblical Basis for a Worn Expression

There are many biblical references that address how we, as Christians, are supposed to be separate from the world. Colossians 3:2, for example, tells us that we should set our minds on “things above,” and Romans 12:2 discourages us from falling into the patterns of this world, because we are to be transformed. After all, we are citizens of a different Kingdom; the Kingdom of light, and not of darkness (Colossians 1:13).

However, we can’t run from the world, and the commission Jesus gave His followers directs us to deliberately go into it (Matthew 28:19). How do we reconcile what appears to be conflicting instructions?

A worn Christian phrase that has been preached ad nauseam, is that we should be “in the world but not of it.” The advice sounds nice in theory, but doesn’t help much unless there can be practical application. Over time, and especially during university, I learned there is actually a key to being in the world but not of it—the key is to be of the Spirit while we walk in the world.

 

In the World, But of the Spirit

The tension of being a Christian at an incredibly secular university was highlighted by an experience during my first year.

Most American college students have adopted Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day as two of the biggest drinking and partying weekends of the year. Come St. Patrick’s Day weekend my first year of college, it seemed like all of my close friends were planning on going to parties, or were out of town. I had turned down similar invitations from them so often before that no one would expect me to actually join them for the reputably wild party weekend.

This left me with no plans for the weekend, and suddenly being in this world without being a part of it seemed really lonely.

Evidenced by my dilemma about St. Patrick’s Day, our time in this world is packed full of situations—significant and petty alike—where we have to make decisions that keep us from being grafted into the world and its rhythms.

Exactly how it looks to be “in the world” while not becoming absorbed in it, isn’t black and white. It’s totally plausible that during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, God could have led me into the heart of a wild college party, because He has work for His people, even in dark places. I learned that when trying to reconcile this tension, we cannot depend on our own wisdom or understanding. If we rely instead on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that we are not being absorbed into the patterns of this world, even if we find ourselves in the midst of an ungodly environment.

When learning how to be in the world but not of it, it’s vital to discern the difference between the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the leading of our flesh.

We become “of the world” when we make decisions based on fleshly leading. My temptation to join in the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations was rooted in a desire to have fun, fit in, and avoid the loneliness that came from abstaining. None of those desires sound particularly bad, but at the same time they were coming from my flesh, and not from the guidance of the One who is my helper.

Truly, as offensively simple as it may sound, we can be in the world and yet not become a part of it by following the Spirit. We can’t use our human wisdom or understanding to know every situation we need to run from, and which ones we need to armor up and charge into. That’s why Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as our advocate, who was sent to help us and be with us forever (John 14:15). He is our guide!

I knew I needed to avoid the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations because the only motivating factors were fleshly. We definitely shouldn’t head into questionable situations when it’s our flesh that’s leading us there!

As an alternative to the parties, I ended up initiating a smaller get-together with a group of people from a Christian ministry on campus. They were new friends, and it wasn’t comfortable, but it was a valuable alternative to the St. Patrick’s Day drinking parties.

 

Go Confidently Into the World!

As Christians, we can walk with confidence into situations or environments that are uncomfortable. We can dive right into the midst of them. Just as He did at my state university, the Holy Spirit is faithful to train us to do all things in faith, by His leading.

I saw this first hand as I finished my degree and started my first post-graduate job. It was in a really negative, discouraging, and draining law office. In that place, and in my daily walk, I’ve been learning the ever-growing need I have to depend on the Spirit to show me where to invest my time, when to speak, when to stay silent, when to engage, and when to draw back.

In our dependence on the Spirit, we can step with boldness into the darkness, because we know that light shines in darkness, and darkness does not overcome it (John 1:5). Looking to the Spirit for guidance in every decision is how we can be in the world without becoming a part of it, and it’s how we can bring the hope of the Gospel into the mess of a fallen world.