The Advent season is officially upon us as we await the coming of the Christ. In our preparations for Christmas, many of us are dreaming of finding that perfect gift for each of our loved ones. Some of us may have finished our Christmas shopping months ago, while others of us will be scouring the malls until the very last minute.
The Christmas gift-giving tradition nudges us to reflect upon the gifts of the Spirit and how the physical gifts we give might become expressions of the spiritual gifts within us. As Christians, we associate the very idea of gift-giving to God in that God gives life, new life, spiritual gifts, and grace through Jesus Christ. God’s love for us is a pure gift, and God gives us spiritual gifts to offer to one another in order to build up the body of Christ and transform the world. Advent is an excellent season in which to pause and reflect on the spiritual gifts that we have to offer.
While we focus on giving ourselves at Christmas, in actuality we are hard-wired for giving ourselves every day of the year. God’s children hold supernatural gifts that are meant for the express purpose of serving the world through the church. Charles V. Bryant, author of Rediscovering Our Spiritual Gifts, writes that spiritual gifts are “divine energy creating, molding, and directing new abilities for special ministries to the world through the church.” While physical gifts are expressions of love, friendship, kindness, and affection and are meaningful offerings to one another, our spiritual gifts are from God and meant for our service in the church. God intends that we give these gifts to the church for God’s work in our world.
What Are Spiritual Gifts?
Drawing from Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31; Ephesians 4:1-16; and 1 Peter 4:10-11, the list of spiritual gifts Christians might receiveare: apostleship, discernment, compassion, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helping, interpretation of tongues, knowledge, leadership, miracles, prophecy, servanthood, shepherding, teaching, and wisdom. The spiritual gifts are assigned by God and are not meant for personal gain, but for the building up of the church for effective ministry to the world. Bryant reminds us that though we may desire certain gifts, we have no guarantee that we will receive those gifts. God places gifts in us, and we are faithful when we discover them and then offer them for God’s work through the church.
Oftentimes spiritual gifts are confused with natural talents or abilities. We may have a skill set or natural talent for certain tasks, but such talents are not necessarily our spiritual gifts. Bryant likens it to a pipe and water, suggesting that the pipe is the skill or talent through which the spiritual gift flows. Other times spiritual gifts are confused with the roles we play. As Christians, we are all called to be witnesses of God’s great love, we are called to be generous givers, and we are called to serve others as best we can. Likewise, we may play the role of teacher because no one else can do it. That does not mean our spiritual gift is teaching. While we may all share some common roles—witness, giver, servant, or we may be assigned a default role such as teaching—some are given these gifts in a deeper sense and have the ability to bring about results that those without the gift cannot.
Some consider spiritual gifts to be the same as the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23. While the fruit of the Spirit may be found in those who are living out their spiritual gifts, they are not the same thing. The fruit is the result or the product of an effective course of discipleship. Bryant suggests that the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control—is what we are; it is representative of our new nature in Jesus Christ. Our spiritual gifts are what we do; they are the expression of our fruit.
Honoring the Giver and the Gift
In his article “Honoring the Giver by Honoring the Gift,” Dan Dick suggests that by discovering, practicing, and excelling at our spiritual gifts, we both honor the giver and participate fully in God’s work in the world. He tells a story that illuminates God as the giver of our gifts: “I once purchased a beautiful candle holder for a friend. That friend gushed gratitude for the gift. Months later, while visiting my friend, I saw the candle holder tossed into a carton for Goodwill. I still remember how I felt—a sense of loss and hurt—a rejection of a gift of the heart. How does God feel about the way we treat the gifts we are given? Not material gifts, or the gifts of our bodies and minds, but our spiritual gifts? For years, I have led spiritual gifts workshops; and although interest is growing, many people are ignorant about the gifts they possess.”
In this time of gift-giving, we can relate to the feeling of joy on the recipient’s face as we present the well-thought-out, beautifully packaged gift. We love the feeling of joy as the person receives the gift and expresses gratitude. Have you ever seen a child receive a gift and immediately open it up and play with happiness and enthusiasm? Have you ever seen a child open a gift and not like what he or she sees, only to toss it aside, uninterested and ungrateful? The latter is a painful scene. Consider that God, the ultimate gift-giver, created us to steward a gift of the Spirit. Psalm 139:13 says that God knit us together. In Matthew 7:11, Jesus says that God gives good gifts to God’s children. God gives us gifts of the Spirit, uniquely intended for us, so that we might fit together with the spiritual gifts of other people for effective ministry to the world. When we discard or neglect the gifts God has placed in us, we dishonor the giver and do a disservice to our community of believers. Dan Dick goes on to say that although a church does not define the gifts, a church is defined by the gifts within it. The combination of spiritual gifts within a local church can determine the kind of ministry that the church will offer to the world.
In her article “The Nature of Spiritual Gifts,” Barbara Dick explains that the journey of discovering our spiritual gifts can help us (1) know ourselves better; (2) know our passions more fully; (3) explore how our passions can meet a need in the world; (4) better prioritize our time and energy; (5) learn to say yes and no and mean it; and (6) learn the joy of living in God’s will. To begin the journey, there are several print and online spiritual gifts assessment tools to identify an individual’s gifts and frame the gifts in terms of practical ministry. Assessment surveys help us sort out our feelings about the various gifts and point to a natural inclination. [Ministry Matters offers a free online spiritual gifts inventory.]
Charles Bryant offers four imperatives before taking a survey: (1) pray sincerely for God’s guidance; (2) avoid relating the questions to your work or professional life; (3) avoid relating the questions to your family or home life; and (4) answer the questions based on what you have done or experienced within the church. While the tools are meant to give a baseline for offering our spiritual gifts, deeper study and living out of our spiritual gifts are best in community. Dan Dick reminds us, “Gifts are given to individuals for the common good, but they are most powerful when linked together.”
What Can I Give Him?
The beautiful Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” has a verse that says, “What can I give him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; / if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; / yet what I can I give him: give my heart.” This Advent, as we give our hearts to the Christ, we have an opportunity to give ourselves—all that we are. To give ourselves to Jesus means to discover the fullness of who we were created to be and find ways to give our unique gifts back to him through the ministry of his church.
This article is part of FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.