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Discovering Spiritual Gifts


How can I find out what my spiritual gifts are?

Steve Answers:

This is one of my favorite questions! That’s because it puts us in touch with the supernatural, and it involves so much fun. Let me explain.

When we accept Jesus, we say that “Jesus comes into our heart.” We’re not talking about a blood transfusion. We’re talking about God being present in our mind and body, in fact, in everything. Instead of God being an impression or a still small voice that’s trying to get our attention, we’ve now given God free access to us.

Just before His death, Jesus told His disciples that even though He was about to leave them, He would be coming back to them in the form of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:15-21). That’s not all. According to John 14:12, “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (NLT).*

That’s what “spiritual gifts” are—the ability to do the things that Jesus did. And it can happen for more than three and a half years (the length of Jesus’ ministry), and at more than one location (since people filled with the Holy Spirit are all over the world now).

The apostle Paul provides three presentations of spiritual gifts in his letters. You can read them in Romans 12:4-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; and Ephesians 4:4-16. Each of these passages talks about spiritual gifts in the context of love. And each passage uses the metaphor of the body, with each person being part of the body of Christ—not the full body, but part of the body, united with the rest. Each passage also provides something unique, which can help us find out what our spiritual gifts are.

Romans 12 lets us know what to do in order to prepare to receive spiritual gifts. By reading Romans 1-11, you’ll cover Paul’s most comprehensive presentation of getting your relationship with Jesus straightened out. So before you receive the Holy Spirit’s gifts to continue what Jesus did to minister to others, you need to get together with Jesus first! I’ll give you a hint—it’s all about developing a relationship of trust with Him. So if you want to find out what your spiritual gifts are, develop a trust relationship with Jesus as the starting point.

Paul’s second passage is 1 Corinthians 12. This provides the process for receiving spiritual gifts. Some translations start off chapter 12 by using the word “ignorant,” such as the New International Version: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” That means Paul doesn’t want us to not know about spiritual gifts. He wants us to have the inside track. That’s why all 31 verses of 1 Corinthians 12 are about spiritual gifts (followed by “the love chapter” of the Bible). Let me pick out a few key points:

Verse 4–There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Holy Spirit is the source of them all.

Verse 7–A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.

Verse 11–It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

Verse 27–All of us together are Christ’s body, and each one of us is a separate and necessary part of it.

Now, here’s my summary about the process of receiving spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit decides who receives which gift or gifts. Each person who accepts Christ receives at least one gift. We need to be part of the church (body of Christ) in order to pull this together, otherwise we’re like a freak show with just a few body parts instead of the full body of Christ.

Paul’s third passage is Ephesians 4. Here Paul explains the purpose for spiritual gifts. Verse 12 spells it out: “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (NLT). That’s pretty straightforward. God equips us with spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. That happens when people join the church as well as when people mature within the church.

That may not be the direct answer you were looking for when you asked how you can find your spiritual gifts, but I think it’s necessary background. Here’s a five-step list that Roy Naden, one of my seminary professors, shared with me as to how to find out what your spiritual gifts are. I’ve found it helpful and an exciting way to discover my spiritual gifts based on the passages of Scripture we just talked about. I hope you’ll find the same to be true for you.

1. Identify areas you think the Holy Spirit might have given you special abilities to do what Jesus did. Are there any indications that you have musical or speaking abilities? Do you have a heart that is full of compassion? Are you drawn to healing people—physically or emotionally? Do you prefer to do things behind the scenes? Are you a big-time giver? As you read about what Jesus did when He was on earth, what are the types of things that you identify with?

2. Now the fun begins! Once you’ve identified an area, start to experiment to see if you’re any good at it. If the Holy Spirit has given you that gift, you can do it. That doesn’t mean you’ll never improve, but you’ll have some ability if the Spirit has given you that gift. I tried singing. I knew I didn’t have singing talent, and I discovered that the Spirit hasn’t given me a supernatural dose of talent to do it.

Some people are too self-conscious to try something experimental, but that’s probably because they think it’s all about them. When it comes to spiritual gifts, it’s not about you at all! It’s about what Jesus wants to do through you. So if you experiment and find out that the Holy Spirit hasn’t given you any abilities in that area, it’s no big deal. Start looking in other areas. It’s not about you!

3. Try it and see if you experience joy. When the Holy Spirit is flowing through you, there’s a lot of joy as a result. My wife is great with little children. She automatically goes to them at church. I’m good for 5 to 10 seconds, and then I’ve had enough. My wife has the spiritual gift of ministering to children. I don’t.
Some people ask me, “Why in the world do you still work with the youth—don’t they drive you crazy?” That’s simple for me. I love working with youth. It’s the adults who drive me crazy. I’ve found that the Holy Spirit has given me the spiritual gift of youth ministry, not adult ministry.

Thankfully, the Spirit has given others the gift of working with adults. My daughter experiences joy when she feeds the homeless. I want to tell them to get a job instead of asking for handouts. My daughter has the spiritual gift of compassion for those who are down and out. I don’t.

You’ll experience joy when the Holy Spirit flows through you by carrying out the ministry of Jesus.

4. Is there success in your ministry? This can be tricky, because we often mea-sure success by worldly standards—what is bigger or better or more recognized or more expensive? But those aren’t the measures of success by God’s standards.

Since the purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, measure success by that—either people joining the church or maturing in their spiritual walk. When you minister on behalf of Jesus, are people drawn to Jesus? Are they wanting to become more like Him? That’s success!

5. You need to receive positive feedback from others in the church. Since the church is the body of Christ, that body needs to help you see where you fit in. Are you a finger or a kneecap? Are you the ears or a big toe? Where do you fit into the body? You can’t come up with that by yourself. If you don’t get any feedback, ask others in your church, especially those who seem to be perceptive about church things.

You can’t say that you have the gift of pointing out people’s sins just because you like to nail people. When you do it the way Jesus did, others in the body will let you know. The flip side of this is that you, as part of the body of Christ, need to give others feedback to let them know what it seems that the Holy Spirit has gifted them in—whatever area you’ve seen them being used to carry on the ministry of Jesus.

How can you find out what your spiritual gifts are? Read those three passages Paul wrote, then try out the five steps listed above.

Welcome to the body of Christ. Now you get to do what Jesus did: serve others. The Holy Spirit will give you the ability to do it, right along with others who are also part of the body of Christ.

*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

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