“Oh, no, not me!”
We usually call someone gifted if that person is uniquely special in a certain skill. That leaves most of us out. So often most of us feel less than special, and the gifted person feels, well, more special than most.
Back in the days of the early church they had that problem. Specifically, the church at Corinth did. So the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to them. Those Christians were all excited about how special some people were. They called them the pneumatika—the spiritual ones. Or the ones who could do special spiritual things. I guess everybody else was just average. (And envious.)
Paul knew that this attitude doesn’t reflect God’s wisdom. So he told them two things.
First he said, “Let’s focus on Jesus.” He explained that if we’re following Jesus who died on a cross for us we’d better humble ourselves (1 Corinthians 1). And that we need to think of ourselves as being like a body in which every one of us is an important part—Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12).
Second he said, “Instead of focusing on pneumatika, focus on charismata” (in 12:4ff he changes the Greek word he uses for gifts). Charismata means grace-expressions. Sometimes we translate it grace gifts or spiritual gifts. But it’s all about grace, he said, and every person among you is grace-gifted.
Paul really leveled the playing field, didn’t he? The cross and grace do that.
But do you feel gifted?
A gift is something you’re given—often when you weren’t expecting it. Spiritual gifts and material gifts can both be that way. But after that, the two are different. With a material gift, you can usually start enjoying or using it immediately. But spiritual gifts need something from you before you can start using them. And you’re not going to feel gifted until you supply that “thing.” What is it?
Starting in fourth grade, I learned to play the trombone. I seemed to have some natural ability and grew in my skills. For a while, I was always first chair. I got into stage band in high school and did reasonably well. But as time went on I reached the limits of my abilities and started to struggle. It became clear that I would have to dedicate myself to a level of practicing that would be a lot of work. I suppose I had felt gifted before, but not so much later.
Spiritual gifts are like that. They’re in your DNA, so you have some basic tendencies and abilities in certain areas. You were born with a mix of God-given potentials that makes you unique. But to grow in knowing and using those potentials/gifts, you have to do the work. For spiritual gifts, that means using the trials and obstacles in your life to grow.
I never buckled down to the work I needed to do to become really good at trombone. I settled for average. It would have been a lot of fun to become really proficient. I love jazz and would have enjoyed a lifetime of playing it.
The principle here is that growing and gifting go hand in hand. In 1 Corinthians, we see Paul strongly challenging those Christians to grow (chapters 1-3) and strongly telling them to appreciate the grace-gifts in all of them (chapter 12). In Ephesians 4 we hear him telling us—both ideas in the same breath—that we’re gifted and we’re supposed to be growing together. In Romans 12 we read his exhortation to be transformed and renewed and how that flows right into using our gifts.
You are gifted by God, and all your gifts together make you a uniquely special person. It’s in your DNA. But feeling gifted, and living in your special gifting, depends on buckling down and growing through the trials God sends to help you get there.
So what are your current trials? Pay attention to them, and the growth God wants to bring to you through them. They’re your pathway toward enjoying your gifted self and making a unique difference in others’ lives through your gifts.