Back in August, Mike Leake (one of our contributors here) wrote a three-part series on his own blog about the pros and cons of spiritual gift testing (I link here to the third part, as it has its own links to the first two). One thing he mentioned that hit me with one of those “well, duh, why didn’t you ever think of it that way” moments, was the fact that when Paul wrote his letters to the churches of Corinth and Rome (the two letters where we find the most significant spiritual gifts listings), he wrote to two different churches in two different situations.
That sounds straightforward enough, but sometimes in our life today with the full canon of Scripture we can practically tend to forget this. Thus we try to take distinct lists of gifts written to individual churches and compile them together into a single long list. But the fact of the matter is as the other Mike said, at that time the church at Rome would not have received the letter to the church at Corinth nor Corinth the one to Rome. We get the clue, then, that unlike the way we sometimes teach and the way spiritual gift inventories are designed, the Spirit gifts individual Christians and individual churches in different ways.
Therefore, like Mike, I don’t think the best way to figure out our gifts is through inventories, the process is rather more organic and rooted in discipleship. That said, I think there are some essential things we must possess in order to discover and use our own gifts and help others discover and use theirs, and they are:
First, an open heart. A person must be willing to serve and possess the right attitude. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul wrote that the Spirit gifts each one of us as he wills for the sake of the common good. Churches have plenty of me-centered consumers…you know the people who maybe show up an hour or two a week, wanting to be fed something, wanting to receive, but their own greatest act of service is maybe to drop a check into the offering plate…when they feel like it and they don’t have to make a payment on that fancy new boat.
Yeah, we know the type. They are the ones who say “no” to any requests to get involved in serving, and the ones who give churches the bad reputation that 20% of the people do 80% of the work (or is it 10% and 90%?, guess it depends on who you ask).
If you’re not willing to serve and actively seeking to serve (as able—God bless those faithful saints who have served throughout their lives and now their health has failed so they need our gracious service), then you’re disobeying God, rejecting the work of the Spirit within you (assuming he actually dwells within you), and will never discover and use your gift(s).
We must say “yes” to serving, our hearts must be open to it. But with that in mind, we also must realize our limits—not become those who say “yes” to everything and therefore burn ourselves out and/or take away opportunities for others to serve.
Second, open eyes. A willing heart is just the beginning…it must move us to action and that means we must be looking for opportunities to serve. Don’t just sit back and wait until someone comes to you. Be proactive. And if you’re not sure where to look, then ask.
But with open eyes, we can look around at the ministries already occurring in the life of our churches. Most churches have something going on…Sunday School, AWANA, nursery, and nursing home ministries, to name a few. What ministries in the church are struggling for volunteers? What needs more help? I know at our church the AWANA leaders are constantly overwhelmed, after all we have almost as many kids on Wednesday nights as we have total persons on Sunday Morning. The leaders need help. Maybe in your church it’s the same. And maybe you’ve never thought about working with children. Give it a try. If it ends up being a complete disaster for you, fulfill your commitment and try something new. But just maybe it will end up being where you belong.
Another thing to do with open eyes—look around. What needs do you see in the church or the community which are going unmet? If you see a big, gaping ministerial hole and the thought is echoing through your mind, “Why is no one doing anything about this!?!?!?” It just very well might be that God is leading you to take charge and (to quote an old Luxembourgian proverb), “Git ‘r done.” After all, if it is something that you’re passionate about and a need that you see but others don’t, it likely has something to do with your gift and not theirs.
So look around with open eyes.
Third, an open mind. Don’t paint yourself into a corner or tape yourself into a box, especially before you do anything. Be willing to try new things. Step outside your preconceived comfort zone. You might find a new passion, or you might fail. Well, with an open mind, if you fail, don’t let that stop you. I would never turn to Hollywood to find a plethora of good wisdom, but occasionally they deliver a gem. So to quote from the wisdom of Batman Begins… “Why do we fall down, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.” Some people are terrified of failure. Fear of failure leaves us, emotionally speaking, in diapers… fear of failure leaves us eating mushy peas… fear of failure leaves us riding bikes with training wheels.
Yeah, it hurts when you fall down. Sometimes you even bleed. But with time (and the grace of God), you learn how not to fall. Try something new, and if it works, great! And if it fails, great!—but what can you learn for next time?
Also with an open mind, be willing to ask yourself questions: What are your hobbies and passions? What are you good at? What do you like doing? These could be clues to help lead you to a place to serve. Also be willing to ask others. Ask those who know you well what they think you’re good at. Maybe they see a place where you can fit that you didn’t even consider. And, of course (and this should be part of the foundation to all of this)…ask God. Pray for opportunities to serve, and pray for God’s help in discovering your place in the body of Christ.
And finally, with an open mind, be willing to think big (I credit Alvin Reid for this one)… Ask yourself, if you are not limited by money, geography, or time; what would you do and where would you go for God’s glory? Don’t let seeming limitations scare you away from opportunities to serve big. God is sovereign and God is infinite. “It might cost too much.” God created and owns all things, he’s not limited by coinage. “It’s too far away.” What’s a few thousand miles to a God who created a universe so big we can’t comprehend it? “It would take too much time.” Say that to the One who transcends time. Think big.
So… open heart, open eyes, and open mind, these things will set you on a path to serve and to find your spiritual gift and place in the body.