It was a little package that Nancy handed to me; wrapped up perfectly, just as I would expect from her. I began pulling at the taped corners, the anticipation growing. We had already opened the “lesser” gifts – mine consisting mostly of socks (I particularly liked the striped ones with pretzels on them). So, I knew that even though the box was small, it likely contained something special. I slid my finger under the taped seam and lifted the paper revealing an all-white box with an Apple logo on it. Instantly, the Christmas morning thrill of my childhood flooded back into me. It’s that feeling that you get when you actually get what you were hoping you might get knowing that it was very unlikely that you were actually going to get what it was you really really wanted to get. For me, I had been wanting a set of AirPods for a couple of years, and now here they were in my hands. There have been few days since Christmas that I haven’t put them to use while working out at Planet Fitness, listening to the History of Rome podcast on the way up to church, or trying to block out the sound of Hallmark Christmas movies while I typed away on my iPad.
The best gifts have two things in common – they fit who you are, and they are useful. That is why the best gifts come from someone who loves you and knows you well. Nobody else would have known that I wanted AirPods, because I had never expressed it to anyone else. Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever told Nancy I wanted them. She likely just picked up subtle clues over time. She also knew how much I would put them to use, because she knows the way I live my life – my activities and habits. She observed, pieced all the information together, and made the perfect gift choice.
This past Sunday, we talked about spiritual gifts, which are “gifts” in two senses of the word. First, they are special skills, abilities, and passions that we have. There are areas in which we are gifted in the sense of being a cut above others in that particular realm. Second, they are skills, abilities, and passions that have been given to us. We didn’t earn them, we didn’t buy them, and we didn’t ask for them. Instead, the Holy Spirit, out of His love for us and plan for our lives, gave them to us. The reason we can be assured of the perfection of God’s choice of gifts for us is that He made us. He didn’t have to get to know us or search around for clues as to what our passions are. It’s like the reason that my AirPods work so much better with my iPhone than your Samsung or LG or Motorola or whatever other sad non-Apple phone you might use. The manufacturer of the phone is the manufacturer of the accessory, and the designers have designed the accessory to work perfectly within the framework of the phone. When the Holy Spirit accessorizes your ministry abilities, He does it so that it fits hand-in-glove with how He made you to begin with.
What’s our job in this whole spiritual gift thing? Let’s go to the title of a 1974 breakthrough book on spiritual gifts written by a pastor in Fresno, California – “Discover Your Spiritual Gift and Use It” by Rick Yohn. Too often church-folk get caught up in the excitement of the first part of that title while neglecting the second part. Why? Because discovery is a lot more exciting than work. At least it is until you really start working. That’s the wonderful thing about the gifts of the Spirit – He has made you to love what He’s called you to do. Remember the old adage that you better not pray, “Lord, please don’t send me to Africa” because that’s just what He’ll do. If that were true, then God would be kind of a jerk. But that’s not how the Lord works.
King David writes in the psalms, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) I love the circular nature of this verse. If we want what God wants (“Delight yourself…”), then He will give us what we want (“…desires of your heart.”). And what is it that we want (“…desires of your heart.”)? Whatever it is that God wants (“Delight yourself…”). As we seek Him, the desires of our heart shift from “me” stuff to “Him” stuff. And rarely will God limit the “Him” stuff to just Himself. Typically, He will shift the “Him” stuff that we desire to “others” stuff. And that’s where the spiritual gifts come in. He gives us a heart for Himself, then He directs that heart for Him to others, then He gifts us with skills and abilities and passions to accomplish those same things. And what does it all begin with? “Delight yourself in the Lord.”
This is why not serving others in ministry is such a problem. First of all, it’s a waste of a gift. If I took the AirPods Nancy gave to me, zipped them up in my backpack, and left them there, what a shame that would be. It doesn’t matter how perfect the gift was or whether or not it had all that fancy intricate technology that made the gift so useful, if the pods never came out of the pod case then its all useless.
But, more importantly, not serving is a sign that you are not delighting in the Lord. You are not putting Him above all others. You have not given yourself fully to Him. And while that may sound harsh, it is accurate. If you were delighting yourself in the Lord (making Him #1), you would be doing what He said. What did He say? “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:13)
Let me address one final question – do we need to know our spiritual gifts in order to serve the Lord? Absolutely not. Sometimes knowing your gifts can help you decide what areas of ministry you want to look into. Because of that, I am including a couple online spiritual gifts tests at the end of this blog. The danger is that these tests can be limiting, because they are not exhaustive when it comes to the gifts available. They’ll focus on the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament, which is good. However, there are many other gifts that the Holy Spirit may bless you with that are not listed there. While Paul neglected to include the gifts of media and technology in his 1 Corinthians 12 lists, they are no less special blessings that God may have given to you. I am far less concerned with the name you give your gifts than the fact that you are using them. And that is the best spiritual gift test you can take – get involved. At Strasburg Community Church, we have a ministry wall on which hang dozens of cards, each with a different area of service in the church. If you’re there, read them over, pray a little, then reach out and take one. If your church doesn’t have anything similar, then talk to a pastor. Trust me, we are always looking for willing hearts.
God has chosen you to be an integral part of His church. And to accomplish that, the Holy Spirit has gifted you with everything you need to excel at the calling He’s given to you. Take a chance. Step out in faith. Delight in the Lord, and watch as He gives you the desires of your heart.