Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts
In some traditions, it is said that we ought to seek God alone, and the gifts will come. But if the apostle Paul is right, then the charismatic gifts are an outgrowth of God's love for each believer, the community of believers, and indeed, the whole world. They are given mainly for the good of people other than the one they're given to. If the Spirit is rightly working in you, then you will develop the thirst for giving love as God wants you to, and the power to get it done. There's one big risk - you might love the accomplishment too much - but the alternative is for you to be badly ineffective at loving others. Just as our love isn't enough and we need Jesus' love in us, so too our abilities are not enough, and we need the Spirit's gifts. God wants you to be involved in every step of your own growth, so that it is not just God's but also truly yours. In like manner, the Spirit wants you involved in finding out what you're being gifted to do.
You may wish to have certain gifts, and even ask for them (1 Corinthians 12:31: "But eagerly desire the greater gifts"; Romans 1:10-12, where the Paul says he prays for the Roman congregation to have gifts, and in part, that they use them to build up Paul himself once he arrived). But if it is not the purpose of the Holy Spirit, you will not get what you ask for. When you pray for gifts, ask, not demand, and accept what you are or aren't given as being what the Holy Spirit wants for you. Giving the gifts to you is the Spirit's work, but finding gifts, as well as using them and growing them, is your work.
"To St. Paul, the Church of Christ does not appear as some administrative organization, but as a living, organic ensemble of gifts, charisms, and services. The Holy Spirit is given to all Christians, and to each one in particular; and he in turn gives to each and every one gifts and charisms 'which differ according to the grace bestowed upon us' (Romans 12:6)."
The Holy Spirit is free to give and to take the gift back and to give it again; the Spirit has full authority over the gift itself. The Holy Spirit may come upon us to give healing to someone at a certain time. Then the gift may be gone. If we're working with the Spirit, the gifts may come often, or be present at all times. Sometimes we're afraid and don't step forward, but that would stop the gift from helping anyone. The Spirit does not seize control to make sure you use it well; with each gift comes responsibility for its use. And there may be more than one gift at any one time - the gifts often come as they are needed, because they're there for the sake of other people, and the situation may call for more than one gift at a time. Though the way the Sprit meets that need is by bringing in other people who have the needed gifts - for teamwork and community.
Not What You Were Hoping For?
You may find your spiritual gift is not what you think or hope it is. There are strong signs saying 'NO' that some people just blow right past. You may want to be an evangelist, but lose your bearings when you don't see any results in a short time. You may try to be a pastor, but other peoples' problems leave you a blubbering mess. You may seek to be a counselor, but you find yourself constantly trying to be a fix-it. You may want to be a theologian, but you let doubts or agendas rule you instead of God. If that's happening, your gifts probably aren't what you think they are, and you need to get intense with God to find out what they really are.
In short, don't impose expectations or patterns on a free act of the Spirit. Just go and live in the gift(s).
Spiritual Gifts Discovery Tests
Our era has developed all sorts of tests to try to measure matters of sociology, personality, and psychology. It should be no surprise that there are tests for determining what your spiritual gifts are. Peter Wagner created a helpful test based on the kind of questioning psychological tests use, in order to help ministries, churches, and the like find out what their members or staff's gifts are. The Wagner Modified Houts Test (WMH) was the opening salvo for a new approach to discovering gifts -- test for it! Now there are many tests available, most of which are based on WMH, but some on other personality and employment-skills tests.
I took one such gifts-finding inventory in the year 2000. It rated me high for discerning spirits, for use of strong knowledge/understanding of the Bible, and for helping others do their tasks effectively. It also told me I'm low in artistic creativity and giving, and (gasp! shock!) I'm not at all a gifted leader. Give one of the online gifts inventories a try -- you'll probably learn something about yourself. Remember, it's just a test, and it's there for guidance in discovering your gifts, nothing more.
The places where ministries flourish:
- Identify peoples' gifts as well as their talents and skills;
- Refine and train their gifts and talents;
- Make opportunities for their use;
- Work hard to support them in their ministry.
Organizations that try to take command of the gift forget that while the gift is given for others, it is not the organization's, but given to a person, and through them to the organization. That's how the Spirit chooses to operate. They can practice discernment and perhaps even provide discipline at times. But discipline is something on the edges; it is always to be placed within the context of who's giving the gift and who's getting it. A wise organization spends time and effort at finding spiritual gifts, and letting them blossom.
Using Your Gifts
So, you've taken one of the spiritual gifts inventory tests. Or, you've gone over these things with a fine-toothed comb with your spiritual director or pastor. Or you just asked yourself all the tough questions, and came up with honest answers and a direction to go.
One way to get started is to think of a task that uses the gift(s) you have, and volunteer to do it. Churches and charities have a lot of different tasks available. Check them out, to see if one's available for you.
You're not responsible for the gifts you don't have, only for the ones God gave you. So don't feel guilty about it, and don't let others make you feel guilty about it. Your task is to use the gifts you have and to be part of the community of support for those who have other spiritual gifts.
Putting Others' Gifts to Use
Most Christian churches have a poor track record of encouraging each other to discover their gifts and encouraging members to use their gift for the mission(s) of the Church. We've talked a much better game than we've played. Church leaders need to tell the flock that these gifts are available to them. God not only commissions his followers by giving them a task or calling; God also empowers them with the spiritual gifts they need to carry out that calling. Indeed, church leaders are supposed to be those who manifest a Spirit-led life, as a person and as part of the body of believers. Some of what plagues today's church leaders may be happening because they depend on their own collective strength to run the Church instead of a more radical dependence upon God.
Can Gifts Be Blocked?
A site user writes:
> I wonder if I am doing something that is keeping me from receiving the
> gift of tongues (or any other gifts for that matter), or if I simply just
> don't understand how to receive these gifts.
"Knock, and the door shall be opened"; "Pray without ceasing". That is, keep praying, and the Lord will open a door here and a door there, and probably slam some others shut. The gift will be given to you that is fitting for the task God wants you to do. You won't always be surprised by the gift, but many people find they never would've chosen what they were given. God always knows the right one. Trust in that. Feel free to seek specific gifts (especially the higher gifts such as prophecy, wisdom, or discernment of spirits), but understand they may not be the ones you get. And, remember that you might discover you have more than one special gift, and that your gifts may change over time as your God-given task changes.
Does doubt block gifts?
How NOT to Use Gifts
There are many ways to use spiritual gifts, and there are some ways not to use them.
The key here is to remember what they're for. Let's say, you gave a teen a set of wrenches, so he could pursue his desire to repair cars. But instead, he used the largest wrench in the set as a blunt instrument for knocking someone out in order to steal. That is not how to use what you gave him; it's a betrayal of the trust you had in him. The charismata are there to be used for the benefit of other people. Yet some people who 'have the stuff' quickly figure out how to exaggerate it into something more important than it is. Gifted leaders are especially prone to it. Sometimes, a spiritual gift can be used deliberately to harm someone; words of knowledge are easily used that way. Or, there is the deliberate choice not to help a specific someone, for instance, a gifted exhorter choosing not to encourage, or even choosing to give false encouragement, to someone who needs real encouragement who they just don't like, or are bigoted against. There are many ministers who have the gift of teaching or pastoral care, but they spend their time on being a CEO instead, or getting hailed as a 'prophet'. They make bad choices that hold back their gifts, hampering what the Spirit is trying to do with their lives. The one who has been given the Spirit's gift is the person responsible for the gift's use. The teen with the wrench gets punished by the courts. The gifts abuser will have to answer to the highest Judge of all.
The Holy Spirit gives the gift of spiritual aim. You may have been raised to think the struggle to 'get by' is so hard, so 'getting by' is all you can ask of anyone, including yourself. And, in a way, there's something to be said for it, on matters where being good or doing good is not what matters (such as, for instance, 'salvation' or 'justification'). But the Spirit urges us on to more. You can be better than you are, you can follow Jesus more completely than you do, you can use more fully what you've been given. God wants you to grow. But you can only grow because God has given you the power to grow, and because the Spirit has sent you in a specific direction. God wants you to be the best and truest you that you can be, a glimpse (but only a glimpse) of what you will be when time itself ends and the Kingdom comes to full fruition.
When you allow yourself to move in the Spirit, things just start to jell. Your service work, teaching, preaching, or witness somehow get a new coherence and/or power. You give it just the right turn or angle for the Spirit to use for prying someone else open. It may touch people you don't know for reasons you have no way of understanding. Your spiritual gift is a very special gift indeed - and one much like it is available to every faithful follower of Jesus, in some way.