Every person is born with natural talents, whether for athletics, music, arithmetic, mechanics, or something else altogether. Talents are those abilities that seem to “come naturally.” Sometimes we confuse talents with spiritual gifts. They can seem very similar, because both refer to an exceptional ability to do something. Natural abilities may mirror gifts, but there are some differences. Spiritual gifts are given to Christians, while every person (Christian or not) is born with natural talents. Talents are sometimes used to benefit others, but they can also be used for self-edification. Spiritual gifts are used to glorify God and to serve others.
One way to distinguish whether an ability is a talent or a spiritual gift is to consider the purpose and the results. Does the ability serve others and glorify God? Spiritual gifts will have a “yes” answer to both of these questions. Acquired skills and expertise can be used to serve others and glorify God as well. Public speaking, facilitation skills, writing, and expertise in computers, graphic arts, or audio/video technology can all have a place serving within the Body of Christ.
Sometimes people use their natural talents or acquired skills in concert with their spiritual gifts. For example, Oleta Adams, a wonderful blues singer from Kansas City, has a tremendous musical talent. She was raised in the church (her father is a pastor), but she didn’t have a personal faith in Christ. As an adult she sang in bars and clubs. When she came into a personal relationship with Christ, God gave her the spiritual gift of Encouragement. She now uses her natural musical talent with her spiritual gift of Encouragement by singing songs that glorify God. Her message strengthens and encourages others to follow Christ.
God can also transform our natural talents into spiritual gifts. For instance, God may elevate and amplify someone’s natural leadership to the point of a spiritual gift when he or she enters into a believing relationship with Jesus Christ.
Some jobs or tasks cannot be completed without help from God. We have to be open to letting God work through us for great things to happen. In the Bible, when the Moabites and Ammonites came to make war against King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites in 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat called upon the Lord for help. The Lord answered him saying, “Do not fear or be dismayed at this great multitude; for the battle is not yours but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15) The same is true for us today as we serve God. We need to “get out of the way” and let the Holy Spirit word work through us. We are only the instruments.
When Yvonne first agreed to teach Spiritual Gifts Discovery, she based her decision on the fact that she had experience speaking in front of groups, and she had studied the material. She thought that she could handle it on the merit of her own abilities. The first two classes did not go well. Finally, one evening after class, she went home in tears. She prayed to God, “Maybe I’m in the wrong place again! I can’t do this! I need your help. Next week, I’ll show up, but you’ll have to teach the class. If you don’t want me doing this, I’ll know.”
Amazingly, the next week it was as if the Holy Spirit DID teach the class. Yvonne’s speaking ability was used, but the difference was that now she was willing to allow the Holy Spirit to work through her, instead of relying on her own abilities.
One note: using your spiritual gifts and/or your talents to serve God is meant to bring you joy and fulfillment. We have spoken with people who have expressed thoughts like, “I know I am a gifted (highly skilled) teacher, because that’s what I do for a living and I have earned recognition for that. However, the thought of doing that on the weekends, too, just DEPRESSES me!” You might call these “killer talents.”. They are things we are really good at, but sometimes too much of a good thing can cause stress or fatigue. If you’re trying to figure out whether using one of your known gifts or abilities is God’s will for your ministry, one gauge is to determine whether doing so would bring you pleasure or whether it would drain your batteries. Remember–service is meant to bring YOU joy, too.
We need to recognize that all abilities come from God. In that sense, they are gifts and can be dedicated to God’s use. What makes spiritual gifts distinct is that God owns the results. God gets the credit, because what is accomplished is beyond our own abilities. Paul instructs us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” That means our whole selves—our gifts, our talents, our dreams, our individuality, and our resources.
When we think of resources, most of us usually think of financial resources. These are certainly a part of our resource pool, but there is so much more. Our resources include our finances, our time, our material possessions, our contacts, our hobbies, and many other items. The question we ask in this chapter is, “How do we best utilize the resources God has given us to have an impact for God’s purposes?”
You might have heard the saying: “I’ve never seen a hearse towing a U-Haul®.” The meaning is pretty clear—you can’t take it with you. However, this saying leaves out an important teaching of Christ—you can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. In Matthew 6:19-21, Christ says these words:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Christ instructed us here to invest in things that have eternal value. Only two things are eternal: God and people. How do we invest in these? By being good stewards of our resources. We all receive much from God. All that we have is from God. What we have is not ours to keep for ourselves—or to hide in a hole in the ground—but is ours to use while we are here on earth. We are only stewards of all that we have. How can you put your resources to use for God?
We can use our material resources in many ways to glorify God. One member of our church has a small farm with animals. She volunteers the use of her donkey and lamb for our Christmas pageant every year. Another member opens her home to members of the church for fellowship activities. Yet another member bakes fabulous bread for various events.
Our contacts (the people in our address books) are resources, too. Perhaps we can ask them to speak to our Sunday school class or other group. Maybe they can help with a project or be a resource for ideas or information.
All of these things—the things we own or have access to—can be used by God. The most important resource for us to consider, though, when trying to find a place of service within the body of Christ, is our time. When you are weighing different service opportunities, you should carefully consider the time commitment that is expected in light of the time that you have available to give. Depending on your circumstances or stage of life, you may have one hour a month to serve or five hours a day.
Various service opportunities, likewise, are going to require different time commitments. Objectively considering the time commitment required for each service opportunity and your ability to meet that expectation will help you either eliminate some opportunities as not good matches for you (at least not at this time), or might help you build your list of “potential good matches” for further consideration or exploration.
Finding an opportunity that is a “good match” is a critical component of making a successful service connection—both for you and the ministry that is served. It benefits no one for you to sign up for a particular position, and then be unable to fulfill the obligation. Better to put them on the “maybe later” list if you think it’s something you’re still interested in pursuing.
What are your talents and resources, and how can God use them to serve the kingdom?
This article is excerpted from Serving from the Heart, a six-week program to help groups discover their gifts and how they fit into the Body of Christ. The spiritual gifts assessment included in the program is available for free on Ministry Matters. Take it now!