The Lord has specifically, creatively, and uniquely designed you to have an awesome impact on other people. Perhaps you’re someone who brings safe and tender care to children. Perhaps you’re someone who helps people’s computers function better. Or someone who teaches others useful wisdom for tasks and living. Or a manager who trains teams to work effectively.

When the Lord designed you with the characteristics and strengths for those ways of serving, he created a unique person who has the potential to reflect God’s love as you serve others. And if you use your strengths to love others through your unique package of characteristics, you can represent Jesus to others through your service to them.

But you didn’t enter into life with your strengths already discovered and developed. Early in your journey, your strengths are powerful potentials more than powerful realities. We’ve all had to learn and grow in order to discover and develop our strengths. In other words, life presents to each of us the opportunity—in phases—to grow into impacting others as the unique person we were each designed by him to be.

When the Bible talks to us about spiritual gifts, the main scene it wants us to focus on is not new abilities added to us somewhere midstream in life. The main scene it’s pointing to is each of us having unique potential for serving others—by God’s creation and grace, and our need to grow into making those potentials real and effective.

Where does this leave each of us? We each need to grow, and the main power God gives us to grow is when his Spirit indwells us when we first trust Christ as Savior and Lord. This means that we’re each in one of three possible phases …

First, if you haven’t trusted Christ and received God’s Spirit, your unique package of potentials to lovingly serve others is either buried or misdirected. Potentials can be fully or partially buried because of life’s hurts and wounds. We cause some of those hurts, and sometimes they’re caused by people or circumstances beyond our control.

Sometimes people, even without knowing Christ, will have some success at overcoming life’s wounds and unburying their wonderful potentials. But often they’ll use their strengths more in the direction of serving self than others. In that case, their motives and priorities are not about lovingly serving others in Christ’s name.

Second, you may have trusted Jesus as Savior, but have not really engaged with growing as a human being and Christian. You have God’s Spirit living in you, but you’re not paying attention as he points out your areas of sin and immaturity. The great thing about having God’s Spirit in you is that you have the opportunity for authentic growth, not just the outward achievements and successes some of those outside of Christ display.

This authentic growth involves healing from life’s hurts and wounds. It points to living in the truth rather than covering up the truth. And the growth it leads you in becomes so thorough it is called in Scripture “transformation” (Romans 12:2). But if you’re not welcoming and working on this authentic growth, your gifts/potentials remain buried or you settle for a facsimile of your real strengths.

So, the third possible phase each of us can be in is when we have God’s Spirit and are pursuing the growth that involves real strengthening from the inside out, step by step. This growth is summarized by Paul when he writes that we are to be “speaking the truth in love, growing up into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). This is authentic growth, fueled by God’s Spirit, and brought home to us by the loving nurture and challenge we receive from one another.

The typical teaching about your spiritual gifts doesn’t point you to this growth process. Instead, it says you get added-on abilities when you receive God’s Spirit, gives you a test to determine which abilities you got, and then assigns you to a church role to use those abilities.

I submit to you, and describe in Spiritual Gifts Reimagined: The Journey View, that there is a process of gift/potential discovery and development that is more biblical, exciting, and true-to-life than that.

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