The bag was too small, and the tissue was the wrong colour. Tapping into my hunting instincts I ventured into the Dollar Store and stalked the aisles. Success! I spotted my prey, pounced and purchased. I swaggered back to my lair confident in my catch. I placed the gift in the bigger bag. It still peaked over the brim! But I had tissue and plenty. I disguised the protruding edge with a blanket of lime green and placed it back into the bag. I unfurled more tissues and planted them around the present, hiding it in a crinkled canopy of paper. The gift now concealed was ready to be unwrapped and discovered.
Our common experience of unwrapping presents influences our expectations when we speak of spiritual gifts. We have this mindset that spiritual gifts are hidden from view, waiting for us to pull off the tissue and ‘discover’ them. This focus on ‘unwrapping’ undermines the importance of discerning and developing our gifts.
What Are Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts are God-given capacities believers utilize to manifest Christ’s love, to build up His body and to advance His mission. Some spiritual gifts have continuity with natural abilities and disposition (e.g., teaching, serving). Others are supernatural in origin (e.g., miraculous healings, speaking in tongues).
Spiritual gifts are always more than just exercising a special ability, they are a God-bestowed capacity oriented toward God-honouring outcomes. If the goal is not godly, then the ability being exercised is natural or worse counterfeit.
Don’t Discover, Discern
It would be better if we understood spiritual gifts as a matter of discernment and development rather than of discovery. Some spiritual gifts are not granted fully assembled. We have to do more than unwrap them, we have to grow into them.
Discerning our spiritual gifts starts with believing that every follower of Jesus is gifted by God to advance His good purposes. God has not given us the same capacities, but to each one he has given gifts (1Co 12:11).
Start With Whom You Are
Reflecting on who we are is a helpful exercise. We should ask what skills and interests are true of us, maybe even somewhat unique to us. God may empower those natural abilities and dispositions toward outcomes that please Him. For example, you may be wired to be a people-person engaging others with compassion. It could be that God will refine and direct that so you are endowed with His mercy toward those in need.
Develop Using Feedback
Collecting feedback develops spiritual gifts. When we minister using what we believe to be our God-given capacities what outcomes do we observe? Do we see fruit from our engagement? If you love teaching but the intended audience seems unmoved, nay even bored, then consider spending more time discerning. Mature believers can be a big help here. They can see our potential even if the initial outcomes are poor and can encourage us toward development. They also can sense misalignment and can suggest other areas of ministry in which we might flourish.
What has helped you discern your spiritual capacities? How are you developing those gifts?