I remember a weekend evening during college. I was sitting on a stair in an echo-y metal and rubber institutional dorm stairwell. All alone. Everyone else was out having fun with friends. I was wailing within. Didn’t know who I was. Didn’t believe I had any worth. Had no idea how to take the next breath, let alone enjoy relationships. No idea what love is. Imprisoned in fear. I felt all this in the bottomless pit that was my gut. This was my reality.
It was a very long journey from that painful reality to becoming a leader of people, a preacher and teacher, and one who’s helped individuals deal with the intimate spiritual and emotional issues holding them back. I spent my 35-year career as a pastor, chaplain, and workshop leader, using gifts I’d had since birth, placed in me by God when he created me. But I had to experience my gifting journey to get there.
You are unique! When God dreamt you up and created you, he drew out of his heart the artistic expression of his creativity that you are. And every one of us is such a unique masterpiece! That makes each of us gifted. We’re each gifted to share with the world the beauty, power, and wisdom of our God of love in our own distinctive ways. The Bible is referring to this when it speaks about each of us having spiritual gifts.
The popular teaching about spiritual gifts, however, wants us to believe that at a certain point in life we each get zapped with some added abilities we didn’t have before—and those are our spiritual gifts, it is said. In Spiritual Gifts Reimagined (SGR) I present a different way to interpret the Bible’s teachings about gifts. And it’s more about God’s creativity, your uniqueness, our love for one another—and how we grow through life’s struggles.
In this blog I’m touching on the “when” and “how” of being spiritually gifted. You are uniquely gifted by God, and he wants you to realize it, enjoy it, and share it. But what does the process of gifting look like? When and how does it happen?
As described above, I used to be a painfully withdrawn, fearful, and socially awkward young man. I mean, it was bad. I was scared to death of people. When I was growing up, I experienced social interactions at school, church, or wherever as a living nightmare in which I felt like the target of people’s derision. Worse, I allowed this experience to inform my understanding of who I am. I believed I was a big fat zero. Unworthy. A loser.
Now the potentials (gifts) I would later use in ministry were in me from birth. But I’m a sinner; and everybody I’ve known in life is a sinner. So my gifts were layered over—multiple layers—with the hurts and wounds life dished out to me. I caused some of them; others caused some. But those hurts and wounds didn’t teach me that I was a wonderfully gifted young man. I had a lot to grow out of, and a lot to grow into.
By the grace of God, I grew. Part of my growth was becoming grounded in God’s Word. Added to that was diving into serving others and feeling people’s affirmations. Then there was forming some healthy Christian relationships in which I was accepted yet challenged in love. And finally, I took advantage of opportunities to work through my past hurts and wounds, learning to welcome God’s love deeply into my heart to overcome those stings.
My growth journey has sometimes been 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, but it continues today. And those formative steps I just described happened over a 20-to-30-year period. During that time, I was gradually peeling back the layers that covered my buried gifts. More and more I was realizing and effectively using my unique mix of potentials to serve God and people.
So though I remember crying in shame and pain when I was young, I now remember more vividly sharing tender and powerful words with others caught in shame more recently. This is the transforming work of God, and his power is available for each of us to fight the battles we must fight in our growing and gifting journeys!
When and how do we become spiritually gifted by God? In a true sense, you were born gifted. But also in a very true sense, you become gifted as you grow. That’s why I write in SGR, “No growth, no gifts.” Yes, there are battles you must fight in your journey of growing into the unique Christlike you. Those battles are well worth fighting, and worth fighting well.
Grow into your gifts!