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When Pursuing My Spiritual Gift Became My Idol

Written By Agnes Lee, Singapore

I used to wonder what my spiritual gift was. I thought it was ushering because someone suggested I help out as an usher.

Then one day, our pastor showed us a movie titled War Room. The main character was a faithful and God-loving woman who wrote down her prayers in a prayer closet and prayed about them daily. I was impressed by her faithfulness and started to question my own prayer life. As I was moved to pray more often, I started journaling my thoughts and prayers so that I could remember them and see how God has worked in my life. From there, it was not long before I started writing articles.

Having my articles published felt like an affirmation that I was on the right track with God. I have also received praise and encouragement from friends and others who read my articles. I felt good, special, and loved by God. I thanked God for giving me the gift of writing.

But God knew what was going on in secret in my heart, and He graciously showed me one day. I was reading a Christian article online, and it had over 1,000 “likes”. My articles were always way below this figure. I started envying the writer of this article. I wished I had her gift. I wished that my articles could garner as many “likes” as hers. I wished my articles could be more popular.

I felt discontented and unhappy. That was when the Lord led me to Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” Can I truly rejoice with this writer in her success? Can I rejoice in the fact that God had chosen to use her to spread His Word—in what seemed to be a more effective way than how He used me? Can I truly rejoice even if my writings go unnoticed or unrecognized? Where is the source of my joy?

The Bible warns again and again not to go chasing after idols. While I did not worship an actual idol, I had prided myself on the success of my writings—and it had become my idol. It was a terrible mistake to place my joy in such lesser things of the temporal world, instead of taking joy in the eternal and unshakeable glory of God.

God showed me how weak my flesh was and how my heart was prone to wander from what truly matters. Worldly measures of success had caused my pride to soar, and I was easily envious of the success of others. I had forgotten that I could do nothing apart from God (John 15:5). God is the true source of joy (Psalm 16:11), and He warns us away from idols so that we can enjoy the fullness of joy that only He can provide.

Loving my spiritual gift more than the Giver would not bring me any good. The purpose of my spiritual gift is to glorify God and to help others—myself included—discover the true joy of knowing Him. God has entrusted this gift to me. If I do not steward it well, I would render myself ineffective for God’s call for me.

I repented and asked God to give me a desire to please and pursue Him above all, and that I would never lose sight of Him. I prayed that my source of joy would flow only from Him as I fix my eyes on Him.

I now ask myself the following questions as I continue writing and using the gift God has given me:

  • Would I still find joy in the Lord even if one day I am no longer an effective writer?
  • Would I still worship Him even if He takes my gift away?
  • Is my identity rooted in Christ or my success?
  • Can I rejoice with those who are more successful?

Constantly asking myself these questions reminds me to strive for holiness, and guards my heart from temptation and ungodly desires as I try to steward my gift well. My fleshly desire is to glorify myself. But I have learned the importance of submitting my thoughts to the Lord and asking God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24).

I ask that the meditations of my heart would be pleasing to His sight (Psalm 19:14). I remind myself to give thanks and glory to Him: not only is my gift from Him, but He is the giver of true joy. After all, how can personal gains or glory compare to the rewards He has prepared for us in heaven, on that day when we finally get to see Him face to face?

“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!

I Wanted to Sing, But God’s Track was Different

Written by Michelle Lai, Singapore

I had always loved singing and wanted to join the singing club in school. However, God had a different track in mind for me.

When I entered university in 2013, my Christian friends encouraged me to join the Christian Fellowship (CF). They even linked me up with a cell group leader whom I knew. But there was a problem—I had no intention of joining CF. I secretly thought that joining a Christian community in university was uncool.  In my mind, I imagined a group of people reading the Bible together every week. As someone who wanted to be seen as cool and trendy, I definitely did not want to be part of that.

Instead, I wanted to join the school’s singing club. I envisioned myself on stage singing one day. You see, I have always loved the “emotional” experience that singing brings whenever I sing with friends and allow the music and lyrics to “speak” to me. I wanted to spread that infectious feeling on stage. I was so convinced that I wanted to join the singing club and not CF that I decided to message the cell group leader to inform her of my decision.

I might have forgotten to mention one thing, though: I could not sing to save my life. I had no background in music. My singing voice was of a higher register, while most songs suited those who had a lower register.

I remember feeling very disappointed when I did not pass the audition for the singing club. The senior, who was conducting the audition, had asked me if I could play a musical instrument. I felt useless because I couldn’t—plus the fact I did not understand the musical terms used.

Still, I wanted to experience what it was like to be “cool” in university, so I decided to join my friends to drink and party. But one night was all it took to change my mind.  As I watched my friends lose control of themselves after drinking, I decided that was not how I wanted to live. Besides, those were expensive and unhealthy habits.

While I remained friends with those who had hobbies vastly different from mine, I wondered what else there was to life aside from just partying and studying. I began to question my identity and took a hard look at what I was doing in my life at the time. That was when I realized my need for a community with similar values to anchor me and help me navigate the confusing path of adulthood. It was then that I decided to join CF.

Once again, I wanted sing in the worship team. In fact, I was given the opportunity, but that didn’t last either. A couple of my seniors gave me feedback that I had failed to help people to worship God because I kept singing out of tune. After that session, I knew that God had not called me to lead worship.

After that, I was given many opportunities by my seniors to serve in different areas. I was determined to heed the advice of the words I had seen on an Instagram post: “Bloom where you are planted.”

As I started to examine my strengths and weaknesses objectively, I became an active CF member and eventually stepped up to be a cell group leader. I also became a part of the encouragement ministry in CF where we pray for the group, write notes of encouragement, pack welfare packs, and organize bonding activities.

Studying the Bible—which I initially thought was uncool—helped me develop my love for God’s Word. Over time, God showed me that I did not have to be fixated on the one talent that I did not have (singing). If we respond in faithful obedience, He will show us our gifts that can be used to honor Him.

Slowly, it dawned on me that writing poems was a way to express myself and offer praise and honor to Him. As I posted my poems on social media, I received some positive feedback from my friends. My best friend—a non-believer—told that it was encouraging for her to read about my faith and my God, and how my belief helped me in times of struggles. It amazed me that God could use my poems to reach my non-believing friends!

I started my university life wanting it to be the most thrilling and cool years of my life, and in the end, God fulfilled it—but not in the way I had envisioned. By His grace, I had numerous opportunities to identify my weaknesses and develop my strengths. These experiences shaped me and I hope they will continue to guide me in the future, especially for my future job. That said, I know that I do not have to worry, because God can use anybody who is willing to be molded by Him.

Here’s a poem God convicted me to write that describes this journey I went through.

Shape of Me

The Potter molded me
What is my destiny
I was formed from dust
Tell me
Would I last
I wanted to be a vase
To keep flowers in place
But the Potter had other plans
He told me to trust in His hands
He molded me into a jug
To be honest
I was not smug
I questioned the Potter’s hands
I wondered what were His plans
What else is He molding
Other than my shape
Something deep within me
He is changing me instead
He said the purpose of all these
Is to draw me to Himself
He delights in me
And now I accept myself

ODJ: No Lone Rangers

March 22, 2016 

READ: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it (v.27).

My country esteems “rugged individualism”—the idea that truly strong people do things on their own. The icon of this peculiar value was the Lone Ranger, a famous fictional cowboy of radio and the silver screen, and a solitary masked hero that protected others from harm. But it’s interesting to note that the Lone Ranger was hardly alone. He had a trusty horse named Silver and a constant companion named Tonto. Because of this, the supposedly “Lone” Ranger had more friends than many people do!

As poor as this title was for the Lone Ranger, it’s even more so for believers in Jesus. We’re to be anything but alone! The apostle Paul compared the church to the human body made up of many parts, declaring, “each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). And yet, time and time again, we try to live our Christian lives on our own, playing the role of a body part that simply doesn’t need the rest of the body (vv.19-21).

At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul provides a clue about how we can resist the tendency to go it alone: by remaining on mission. Individualism is an illusion made possible only by inactivity. But when we’re living out God’s mission, it becomes abundantly clear that no one person can do the entire work of the church. Instead, we need all the gifts of the entire body to carry out God’s call to make disciples and preach the gospel (vv.28-29).

So long as we remain committed to living out the Great Commission given to us in Matthew 28:18-20, it becomes clear that there’s no such thing as a “lone” believer in Jesus. We love and worship a God of relationship. And He’s designed us to interact and experience fellowship with Him and other believers.

—Peter Chin

365-day-plan: 1 Samuel 8:6-22

MORE
Read Romans 12:3-5 to see how Paul ties our relationships with other believers to the value of humility. 
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What are your individual skills and spiritual gifts? How does God want you to use them? 

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