Do you remember when you were a kid and adults would often ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When I was in school, popular answers included becoming an astronaut, the President or a professional football or baseball player. Somewhere along the way, people stop asking each other this question and we often stop asking ourselves what we were made to be. Lots of people seem to accept their lives after a certain point – whether they feel fulfilled or not. This fall, we have spent lots of time at Saint Andrew’s thinking and praying about our story. We don’t just have a past story, we have a present story and a future story – and the story of our yesterdays is meant to influence the story of our todays and tomorrows. In the Christian tradition, we believe God guides us to discern the spiritual gifts we have been given so that we can fully become who God made us to be.
Dr. Jane Patterson, one of my seminary professors, shared this chart to describe vocation. A person – let’s call her Sophia – starts with her relationship with God, who God is to her. Sophia has roles that she fills in her life. Christ is in the cross-shaped center, a reminder that our vocation is often related to the wounds and suffering we have experienced. Over time, people begin to recognize Sophia’s gifts and pointing them out. As Sophia begins to pursue her vocation, others will benefit. Sophia will need certain tools and instruments to successfully carry out his vocation. The Holy Spirit surrounds and envelops each step of Sophia’s life and vocation journey. This vocation wheel can be a helpful way of thinking about how vocation works both for biblical characters and in our own lives. You might take a moment and apply the wheel to the Old Testament story of David, the New Testament stories of Peter or Paul and even your own life.
Spiritual gifts are instruments God gives each person to fulfill their calling and build up the church. The New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg offers a good working definition of spiritual gifts as “any combination of talents, abilities and endowments, however suddenly given or leisurely cultivated, may qualify as spiritual gifts, if a believer uses them for God’s glory and God’s work in the world.” This definition is helpful because it leaves room for skills in a person’s life that both are honed over time and that seem to appear out of nowhere. Saint Paul talks about spiritual gifts in three key passages: I Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. These passages make clear that spiritual gifts are given for the purpose of serving the common good (I Corinthians 12.7) and building up the church (1 Corinthians 14.12 and 14.27). Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift and though there are many different gifts, the church is one body with many parts. We are meant to celebrate unity in diversity. Finally, Saint Paul lists many different gifts in what most scholars believe is a partial list. In fact, if you google spiritual gifts, you will find lists of 10 gifts and lists of 50+ gifts. The point seems to be that any talent or gift you use to serve God and the church is a spiritual gift.
At the end of this post, there is a list of spiritual gifts for you to consider. There are many different spiritual gift inventories you can take. But I have found that assessments are often a quick-fix and can be manipulated even if we have the best of intentions. Instead, I would invite anyone interested in discovering their spiritual gifts into a season of discernment. Ponder these questions:
- What gifts do other people say you have?
- What manifests itself in any role I play? What is something you can’t not do?
- Who can benefit as you share and exercise your gifts?
- What do you need to share your gift with the church and the world?
Trust that God will guide you. To that end, I leave you with Henri Nouwen’s prayer for vocation. This prayer is very personal to Heather and me as we began praying it as we discerned the seminary and first parish God was calling us to. I have witnessed its power firsthand and can assure you it is a prayer God will answer.
“Lord Jesus Christ, show me where you want me to go and I will follow you. But please be clear.”
Heather and I never thought we would move back to Texas and end up in Bryan/College Station. But God made it crystal clear where we should go and we would not have it any other way. Because we have found, in the words of the poet and theologian Frederick Buechner, that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” No matter where you are on your journey, may you take the next step to finding this intersection where your heart is filled and the world’s great hunger satisfied.
Partial List of Spiritual Gifts
Administration – The gift allows people to break tasks down into specific tasks and then track execution to completion.
Apostle – This is a gift of starting new things – perhaps ministries, companies, groups or associations
Artistic – This is a gift of using creativity to beautify the world and bless others
Craftsman – This gift is expressed in an ability to build or repair things both big and small
Discernment – This is a gift of clarity in a given situation and being able to make wise decisions
Encouragement – People with this gift very naturally inspire and affirm those around them in ways that give encouragement and help them grow
Evangelism – This gift is seen in an ability to share one’s faith naturally with other people
Faith – This gift enables people to take bold risks and believe that God will provide for what God calls us to
Generosity – This is a gift of giving of time, talent and treasure above and beyond what most would consider normal
Healing – People with this gift are often used by God to help others be restored to physical and mental wholeness
Helps – People with this gift often serve behind the scenes in ways that enable others to be successful
Hospitality – People with this gift provide a warm welcome for people that demonstrates God’s love by providing food, shelter or fellowship
Leadership – This gift enables people to determine goals for a group and then inspire others to move towards them
Mercy – People with this gift have deep compassion and demonstrate empathy in impactful ways
Music – This is an ability to bless others through playing musical instruments or singing
Organization – People with this gift often see the big picture and are able to organize people and systems well
Prophecy – This gift allows people to proclaim God’s truths in ways relevant to current situations
Shepherding – People with this gift naturally care and nurture the groups in which they find themselves
Suffering – This gift allows people to endure hardship and yet remain joyful and faithful
Teaching – People with this gift are successful in communicating truths in a way that helps others learn
Wisdom – People with this gift are often consulted by others because they know the right thing to do in the right way