Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Lately I’ve been rethinking what I thought I knew about spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts are those particular abilities that the Holy Spirit gives people when they are saved by which He wants to work through them to edify the body of Christ. You can find lists of them in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

Some years ago “spiritual gift tests” were all the rage: questions and multiple choice answers recorded on “fill in the bubble” sheets which were then tabulated to reveal what your spiritual gifts were.

The idea was to help people identify their spiritual gifts so they’d know how they best fit into the ministry of the church and not waste their time frustrated and ineffective in an area where they’re not gifted. And that can be helpful. In my more trial-and error path, I’ve participated in ministries that left me frustrated, and I thought the problem was my attitude. Then when I was asked to take a different position, I felt I had found my niche, and it was a completely different experience.

But I always felt those tests were more about personality and natural aptitude. I think God does give us our personality and tendencies, but are they different from spiritual gifts?

Sometimes God drops us into a situation that we don’t feel gifted for at all: in fact, we feel totally inadequate. When Moses said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue,” God did not contradict him. God didn’t reassure Moses that that of course Moses could speak and only needed was a little confidence. No, God said, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” God’s call for Moses had nothing to do with the natural ability which which He created Moses and everything to do with God’s enabling Moses for a task for which Moses felt totally unsuited.

Gideon, Jeremiah, Jonah, and others didn’t greet God’s call on their lives with “Sounds great! That’s just the kind of opportunity I was looking for!”

That’s where I am with caregiving. Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way – another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea. Spiritual gift tests can sometimes foster a “That’s not my job” syndrome when we’re asked to do something outside of our comfort zone.

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

There have been other opportunities through the years for which I did not feel suited, yet did not feel the freedom of conscience to say no. I’m not talking about being a doormat and saying yes to everything I was asked to do because I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m talking about seriously considering and praying over an opportunity, dreading it, locking myself in the bathroom to cry over it, yet still feeling like it was something God wanted me to do. And I have seen God turn the dread into excitement, provide ideas, enable me to my own amazement. Afterwards I have looked back and thought, “I can’t believe I did that! Only with God’s help!”

So which ones are the truly spiritual gifts? The God-given aptitudes with which we minister every day? Or the out-of-our-element opportunities that cast us on the Lord in desperate need? Maybe both in their own ways. In either case, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV).

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Glimpses, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Coffee For Your Heart, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

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13 thoughts on “Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

  1. I love working with women who feel like they have a story, yet they also feel like they have lost their coice. I’m finding that many of us are still understanding and growing in our spiritual gifts. Yes, an assessment (I really don’t like the word test) can help, but identifying strongholds, finding out more about our personalities and defining life vales – ALL of these work together to really better understand ourselves and what God is doing. Love your article!

  2. Barbara, I really needed to hear this, thank you for writing about it. I am the ’emotional’ caretaker for a senior member of the family, and I have been struggling with it a lot lately. It’s not something I fall into naturally, and the resentment and frustration have been building up, along with the question of ‘why me?’, with all I have on my plate already. Instead of fighting it, I need to lean into God’s help and allow him to do his work. Yet another opportunity to learn this lesson.

  3. Barbara, I so appreciate your way of thinking…and the examples you used of men that God chose for difficult tasks…tasks that He knew they would have to lean on Him in order to see the task completed…really helped me see that our own “comfort” really has nothing to do with it. It is about leaning on God for whatever HE asks of us. I understand where you are coming from, too, about the assessments or tests to determine our spiritual gifts…I tend to lean toward the idea that they are more about personalities than gifts, although I guess it could be that certain personality types would lean more to certain gifts. I’m just glad that HE is the One in charge of it all.

  4. That is beautiful, Barbara. We can get so twisted up about what spiritual gifts really are. It sounds like caring for your m-i-l for these years has not only been a spiritual opportunity gifted to you, but also one that God supernaturally equipped you for, apart from you think is your own nature. It shows how powerful he truly is! And how obedient you are.

  5. Hi Barbara! Thank you for this view on spiritual gifts that in all my years, have never heard this “perspective” put on it! You are so right. Poor Moses, stuttered and stammered back to God that he was not qualified and everything else. (Just like someone else I know) but God wasn’t looking for his talents or what came natural, He was looking for a willing, obedient vessel. That is my heart’s desire, to do whatever He asks of me, no matter how uncomfortable I think it may be. Thank you so much for this encouragement!

  6. This was great! I, too, found myself floundering about how God wanted to use me and His purpose for my life. Nearly 2 years after I was basically forced into retirement due to physical and mental complications from diabetes and struggling with what to do with my life, I had an opportunity to do what God has commanded and “be still and know I am the Lord” (Psalm 46:10). I, too, now have a blog website where I try to write inspirations to all from the Word. Please visit my site and share with your friends. Thanks for this message!

  7. This was such a good read! The spiritual gift surveys always kind of frustrated me, because so many of the gifts seemed kind of vague — “helps,” etc. And I totally agree that often we’re in a situation which presumably God has led us to, but which feels totally out of our gift-range. You bring up great examples of Moses, for example — and yourself, with your MIL. I suppose we just have to be open to what God brings to us, and do the best we can, with His help.

  8. I’m with you on this. I think that when we operate in our areas of comfort we’re more inclined to do it out of our own ability. When those out of the box assignments come, we’re way more likely to realize our inadequacy and cry out to God for His help. I think that’s exactly where He want us… totally dependent on HIM!

  9. Such a thoughtful post. I know I have been guilty of trying to dismiss, or wiggle out of, an opportunity or situation that I found “less than desirable” with the excuse that it was not my gift. But it is not only during those tasks – but certainly, after they are completed – that I can really say and know “it was not about me.”

    God bless and encourage you as you continue to be a caregiver!

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