This is the last day of my seminar, and today I wanted to share one final post from the archives before I get back to writing. This one is from 2010, and shares a fundamental shift in my thinking about spiritual gifts.
A couple of months ago, I received an email from a writer who prepares missions curriculum for youth. Our organization’s leadership put him in contact with me, and he wanted me to answer some interview questions. Oddly enough, none of them were about our work here or anything of that nature. Instead, they were general questions about discipleship. Today, I was reminded of one of these questions.
Nestled in the middle of his list was this request, “Please share a few sentences about spiritual gifts.”
While, I do not remember my exact response, I am certain it was some string of vague phrases that attempted to make me sound like I knew what I was talking about yet never got to the root of the request. At least, that is how I feel about my answer today. Let me tell you why. As I write this, my hands are covered in paint – black, oil based paint. I have scrubbed, but it simply will not come off.
For the last 10 hours or so, I have been painting a sign. Tomorrow is the grand opening of the little library our mission runs for the area students, and it needed a sign. Outside of being voted “Most Artistic” in the sixth grade by my classmates, I really have no artistic training. But I did have two hands, and they were available.
When I signed up for this missionary assignment, I was told I would be a rural evangelist. In my mind, I was to be a church planter, and I had been uniquely gifted by God for the people here. God had equipped me with just the right spiritual gifts to do his work here. My mind conjured up images of hacking through the jungle with a machete and finding people with bones through their nose who were waiting for some spiritual messenger. Let me be the first to tell you, the noses here have no bones through them, and the only thing I hack with a machete is the occasional rice or eggplant field.
It is funny how easily we can misconstrue God’s calling and giftedness. Oh how easy it is to romanticize or over-spiritualize the work of God’s kingdom. However, we do come by it honest. Some of the earliest Christians struggled with the same issues. Take the believers at Corinth for instance. Paul addresses this very issue when he corrects their understanding of the gifts of the spirit in chapter 12 of his first letter.
Paul is quick to remind them of their dependence upon one another. No single body part can exist apart from its others. That is a truth that can sting in both directions. If you are too proud of your own giftedness, you need understand that it is nothing without the support of others. And if you struggle with feeling needed because you never seem to be the one on stage with a Bible or guitar in hand, then you are probably sitting on gifts that will strengthen everyone around you.
But Paul does not stop there. He says he desires to show them a more excellent way,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (I Corinthians 13:1-3)
Today, elbow deep in oil based paint, I realized something about spiritual gifts. Here in Africa, I have discovered first hand, that these gifts are not all spiritual words, flashy worship and proper exposition. No, they are far simpler, and far more important. I have had my ability to communicate cut in half. I am handicapped in something that used to come so easily. I can not reach down and share a verse from my English Bible here. It does me no good to come up with anecdotes and illustrations.
Ironically, enough, God has seemingly taken from me the very things I counted as my spiritual gifts, and replaced them. The new ones, are just that, new and unfamiliar. It’s like learning to walk again.
Yet, I can cling to Paul’s words and realize there is a more excellent way. As I learn to walk again, I can do it in love. Today I am a painter. Yesterday, I was a real estate agent. Tomorrow, I will be an English teacher. While none of these crossed my mind when I first thought of rural evangelism, I thank God that his plan is better than my own. And I thank God, that he can take my two hands, and use them as he sees fit. It has been a joy.
Photo By mark O’Rourke