In a culture of celebrity, be a servant. That’s what the Palm Sunday story tells us, well illustrated by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12.1-31a, in which he wrote to a dysfunctional church about the right use of spiritual gifts in the edification of the church. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or the message alone below that.
Picture this: you have a friend whose birthday is coming up. You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her. You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.
Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.
How would you feel?
Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit? Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.
Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church. By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.
Lots of people burn out serving Jesus. Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.
When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.
Do you wonder what your gifts are?
This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.
The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address. I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar. It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!
If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church. But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me. I look forward to hearing from you.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).
What’s your ministry?
A lot of church people would say, “Ministry? That’s the minister’s job.” We pay professionals to teach our children piano lessons, or to bark at us at the gym, so we often assume that ministry is to be left to the “professionals”. But is that really a biblical model?
The noted Quaker theologian, D. Elton Trueblood, once said, “If you are a Christian, then you are a minister. A non-ministering Christian is a contradiction in terms.”
Each person who has received the grace to follow Jesus possesses at least one special ability to serve God and build up the church – to minister. And the word ‘minister’ simply means ‘serve’. Do you know your spiritual gifts?
Lots of people keep busy in the church, and sometimes, they burn out – not because the work they are doing is not in some way valuable, but because these people may be serving outside of their gifting. Do you feel burned out? It could be that you are serving in an area that is not working for the way God wired you up.
If you’re serving in the church and are experiencing the joy of the Lord, as well as seeing spiritual fruit borne, congratulations; you’re serving according to your gifting. If not, it may be time for a change. Take a spiritual gift inventory, learn how God has equipped you to serve, and adjust your ministry.
If you’re not doing ministry, though, why not? It’s not enough to come to church and “be fed”, if you’re not making practical what you’re being fed! (To get a blunt take on this theme, listen to this clip of one of Amy Grant’s lesser-known songs.)
Do you love Jesus? Then understand that he has given you abilities to serve him in the church, to minister. Discern those abilities, those gifts, and put them to work. Every local church has all the spiritual gifts among its people that are necessary to undertake the work God has planned for that church; we just need to unwrap those gifts!
“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4.16, NLT).
Some folks just have a perfect, God-ordained sense of timing. Have you ever received a card or a phone call or a hug at just the right time? I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me over the course of my life and ministry. Even this week, after a particularly distressing few moments that had a more profound impact on my psyche than they should have, the Lord used two friends to encourage me: one with an “out of the blue” phone call that communicated just the right words, and another with a card that said exactly what I needed to read.
There is great power in the use of the spiritual gift of encouragement. Nobody gets too much encouragement, right? The Bible mentions this gift in Romans 12: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well….If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging” (vv. 6 & 8, NLT). People who have this gift find it very easy to seek out the positive and reinforce it. And they are responsive to God’s little nudges, and his overall sense of timing.
George Barna recently reported that more American Christians report having the spiritual gift of encouragement, which – if they use it – should be really good news for churches. Hopefully, this is true for Canadian Christians, too! Encouragement, as I see it, is the fuel for ministry.
Is your church running on empty? Suggest to your church leadership that they engage in a survey of the congregation’s spiritual gifts (I can help you with that, by the way…). A spiritual gift discovery is often a real revelation for people, as they learn what God has equipped them to do in the life of the church. You can be sure that at least one person in your fellowship has been gifted with encouragement. Once you know who that person is (or who those people are), draw them into a nurturing of their gift. Help them understand that their encouragement will strengthen the leaders of the church, and will bring a positive spirit to the life of the congregation. Never underestimate the value of encouragement.
Just ask me. I know.
This edition of Encouragement From The Word was first published on February 13, 2009.
This week, I have been participating as a counsellor at a discernment event for potential ministry candidates within my denomination. It truly is a privilege to get to know these people and to hear their stories of God’s call on their lives.
In my tradition, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, we require that people seeking to be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacraments not only attend seminary and learn their intended craft, but that they spend time figuring out what their sense of call really means. What saddens me is that in most branches of the church, we limit this discernment process to future pastors.
What if all of us were to engage in discerning God’s call on our lives? After all, at least among Protestants, our theology is pretty clear: God doesn’t just call clergy, he calls every believer to his service. But do we all stop to ponder what it is that God is calling us to do?
Often, we let others – or the church’s needs – dictate what we do in the service of the Lord. We give in to the “warm body” syndrome, taking positions of service or leadership in areas where the need is made known. But does this always align with how God has equipped us to serve him? I encourage everyone to take an inventory of their spiritual gifts. (I offer seminars on this for those interested.) Take a look at Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4 to get a sense of what the Bible says about the array of spiritual gifts that God gives to believers.
The Lord wants us to serve the way he wired us up to serve. Yet too often, we don’t take the time to consider what that may look like – we just barge in where the need arises. Frankly, sometimes we need that ‘barging in’ approach, but it’s always best if we examine how we are equipped by God to serve before we volunteer.
Discernment can be challenging, because it often requires that we say ‘no’ to something good, in order to say ‘yes’ to something better. And God always desires us to say ‘yes’ to the better thing that he sets before us.
How are you serving the Lord? Is it energizing or draining? If it’s draining, consider discerning your gifts and praying over your service to God. If it’s energizing, congratulations. Continue doing what God has planned for you!
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’ I said, ‘Here I am. Send me’” (Isaiah 6.8, NLT).