Most of us need a little practice to get good at something. To get that batting average up, perfect that smoky-eyed look, lay brick evenly, or run that perfect mile, you need to work at it a bit until you get better. What applies to our day-to-day work and pay endeavors also applies to our spiritual lives as well. To develop spiritually and become the people God intends for us to be takes a bit of elbow grease. You’re not going to know what the Bible says without picking it up and reading it for yourself. You won’t understand how prayer works from the outside, without doing the work of praying for yourself and others. You won’t know how generosity works unless and until you practice and receive it in your own life. Our spiritual gifts need to be developed in the same way our muscles need to be developed, through practice, trial and error, and growth over time as you consistently apply yourself to the task.
What are “spiritual gifts”?
When we talk about spiritual gifts, what exactly do we mean? “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” as James reminds us (James 1:17 ESV). Everything good that we have in our lives comes from God. So, things such as our ability to work, be creative, and produce wealth all come from God.
Our children, light, laughter, and everything else that we have come from God. People may not acknowledge where these gifts come from or use them as God intended, but that doesn’t alter the reality. Recognizing it, though, can bring immense freedom and flourishing for ourselves and other people.
Spiritual gifts, however, point to something more specific. Though all gifts come from God and are in some way “spiritual.” When the Bible talks about spiritual gifts, it is speaking about gifts that are given by God for the specific purpose ofbuilding up the Church. Each person who places their trust in Jesus is given a gift by the Holy Spirit “for the common good.”
As Paul reminds believers, we are all like the different parts of the body, but they all work together for the sake of the body’s flourishing (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4). Spiritual gifts are the gifts that God gives people who trust in Jesus for the sake of the broader community of believers. These gifts come from God, they are for believers, and the individual believer is meant to use them in service of others within the community of believers and beyond.
Different kinds of spiritual gifts
One point to make about these spiritual gifts is that there are different kinds. In some communities, certain gifts are emphasized over others, but the idea is that each gift has been given for a purpose and each contributes to the flourishing of the community of believers. In the community in the city of Corinth, the believers were making two main mistakes when it came to spiritual gifts.
The first mistake they made was in emphasizing certain gifts over others, to the extent that some were choosing to abandon their own gifts to pursue the ones held in high esteem in the community. Paul had to remind them that just as a body couldn’t just be an ear, because it needs a sense of smell and sight, so the community of God’s people can’t be built up using just one gift, as important as that gift may seem.
So instead of trying to get and use someone else’s gift, they should rejoice in and use the gift they were given. And instead of thinking themselves important, they should recognize that all gifts have their place in the community, including those we might not esteem. As Paul puts it, the parts that seem less honorable may be indispensable. You don’t realize the value of a colon or a kidney until it starts acting up.
The second mistake the believers at Corinth made was that they assumed that their gifts were given for them, and it was causing a lot of friction in the community as they jockeyed for position and used their gifts to promote themselves. Instead of serving the community, they were using their gifts to advance their own agenda and status in the community. This caused divisions, pride, and dysfunction.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, from speaking words of wisdom or knowledge to gifts of healing, the ability to distinguish between spirits, prophecy, tongues, the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12), teaching, service, encouragement, generosity, leadership, acts of mercy, and so on (Romans 12).
As you can see from this list, some of these spiritual gifts aren’t necessarily something you can’t find outside the community of God’s people. However, the gifts are given by the Spirit and intended to be used for the community.
Every believer has gifts – find yours
Each believer in Jesus has a spiritual gift, and the key to developing your own is in discovering, valuing, and using it. What brings you joy and energizes you when you’re serving in the community of God’s people? That is often a good indicator of the type of gift the Spirit has bestowed upon you.
What are the areas of excellence in your service? Those things that you are good at also point you toward what your gifts are. You can find out what your gifts are by doing an internal inventory of yourself through journaling or making use of spiritual gift surveys. Beyond that, you can speak with the people in your community and have them discern with you what your gifts are.
Remember, these gifts are meant to be used within a community, and it is that community that can help you see clearly what your gifts are. Individuals such as a life coach or therapist that uses a Christian framework as part of their process can also assist you in identifying your spiritual gifts. As every believer has a gift, it’s a matter of patient discernment that will help them to find their gift.
Growing by doing
The believers in Rome were reminded, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6-8 ESV).
If you’ve identified your gifts, the way to develop them is by using them. Spiritual gifts are meant to be used in the service of others in the community of God’s people so that the community is strengthened.
So, as you exercise your spiritual gifts, remember three things: the primary place where these gifts are meant to be used is within the community of God’s people; the purpose of these gifts is to build up the community of God’s people; the attitude with which we use our gifts is with humility and assurance.
Humility, because we are meant to serve others with our gifts without lording it over them or using them to gain a position for ourselves, and assurance that whatever our gift, it is essential to the community, and that’s true even if the community doesn’t honor that gift.
When we remember the place, purpose, and perspective with which we use our gifts, that positions us to use them for their maximum potential and in line with what God intended for those gifts. That brings glorious freedom with it. Like finding the right equipment in the gym to work a particular muscle, the only way to develop your spiritual gifts is by using them in the way, place, and for the purpose for which they were intended.
“Gift”, courtesy of Antonio Janeski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gifts”, Courtesy of Simona Sergi, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gift”, Courtesy of Freestocks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gift”, Courtesy of Y Tink, Unsplash.com, CC0 License