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How To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

ShapedEvery believer in Jesus has been granted abilities that are empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are all born with various talents, but spiritual gifts are given to us when we become a Christian. The seeds of those gifts are often evident from birth, but the Holy Spirit empowers believers for ministry in supernatural ways.

In one sense, spiritual gifts are overrated. What I mean is that we often fail to examine the other aspects of how God has shaped us for His purposes. He has also given us passions, talents, a unique personality, and both positive and negative experiences from which to draw. In another sense, spiritual gifts are underrated in the sense that we allow our feelings of personal inadequacy to convince us that we couldn’t possibly be “gifted” even though the Scriptures explicitly state that we are.

Spiritual gifts are by no means a simple subject. There are plenty of beliefs and opinions about the subject. Cessationists believe that certain “sign gifts” (such as speaking in tongues) were for a season of the early church only, and now have ceased. Continuationists believe that all of the gifts named in the Bible continue today. Then there are different evaluations of the various “lists” of gifts named in Scripture.

Romans 12:6-8 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12:28
prophecy  apostles  word of wisdom  apostles  apostles 
ministry  prophecy  word of knowledge  prophets  prophets 
teaching  teaching  faith  evangelists  teachers 
exhortation  miracles  healing  pastor-teacher  miracles 
giving  healing  miracles  healings 
ruling  tongues  prophecy  helping 
showing mercy  interpreting tongues  discerning of spirits  governing 
kinds of tongues  diverse tongues 
interpreting tongues 

Let me point out an important word of clarification about the above lists. I’ve included all of them for the sake of being thorough, but some of the “gifts,” such as apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher are actually gifted people given to the church, not gifts given to people.

Furthermore, one reason why cessationists and continuationists can’t get along is because we feel we have to number the lists and define an exact set of gifts by those named in Scripture. But in the passages mentioned, it doesn’t seem to me that the Apostle Paul was trying to nail down an exhaustive list but rather was offering up examples of gifts. In other words, there could certainly be other gifts not included in the New Testament verbiage.

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Why I Don’t Care for Spiritual Gifts Tests

Call them tests, surveys, or assessments. I’m not font of most of the existing diagnostic tools available to help people determine their gifts. I have several reasons why…

  • Spiritual gifts tests will always be written according to the particular viewpoint of the test creator, using the lists of gifts defined in the author’s mind as definitive.
  • Explanations and definitions of gifts vary from one test to the next.
  • Questions written for gift tests are written against the backdrop of the modern church context and current ministry trends, which change from age to age.
  • We tend to take tests according to what we’re thinking and feeling at the moment. I’ve taken a dozen of these tests over the years and the results change each time, depending on what I’m passionate about.
  • We tend to want perfect knowledge about perfect gifts described in God’s perfect word by submitting to rather imperfect, man-made assessments.
  • And the biggest reason of all… spiritual gifts alone present an incomplete picture of the particular ministry ability God has given to a beleiver.

Is there a better way? How can you discover your spiritual gifts and put them into action? How in the world did any believer ever serve God before the first spiritual gifts test was produced a few decades ago?

Study the Scripture

Dig into the passages mentioned above and read the contexts of the gifts named so that you’ll understand the purpose and scope of spiritual gifts. Also study how gifted people served. You’ll probably notice that most of the apostolic-era believers jumped in and started ministering without much mention of any process of discovering their gifts beforehand.

Look at the Bigger Picture – Your God-given SHAPE

The SHAPE acronym has been around for a while now, and I think it’s a highly valuable piece of evangelicalism. SHAPE is an acronym that summarizes five aspects of how God has wired us to serve. It stands for:

  • S – Spiritual Gifts.
  • H – Heart, which refers to our God-given passions and interests.
  • A – Abilities, which can often include non-spiritual, natural gifts.
  • P – Personality – the unique ways we think and relate to the world around us.
  • E – Experiences, both positive and negative, that provide us a context from which to empathize with and minister to others.

If you look at spiritual gifts alone, you’ll probably conclude that only those with the gift of teaching should be teaching the Bible to anyone. But when you look at the bigger picture, you’ll realize that someone with the gift of mercy can certainly teach others, from their personal experience, how to be more merciful.

In other words, gifts alone don’t determine what we can do for God in a fulfilling way.

Talk to Wise Believers

Often the best way to determine how we are shaped to serve is to ask other believers who have had an opportunity to observe our lives and who can usually affirm things about us that we may not realize ourselves. I also think we serve best alongside others in a mutually-sharpening, discipling relationship.

Before I joined the staff of Saddleback Church, I went through a “theological interview” with Erik Rees, author of S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life. In fifteen minutes, Erik was able to spot tendencies in my own heart and make accurate predictions about how I would feel in my ministry role six months later. He was right, and it was a positive learning experience.

Answer the Big “What If” Question

If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guaranteed of success, what would it be? Usually how we answer that question can propel us in the right direction. Don’t stress about what your gift is, jump into something that appeals to you.

Jump In and Get Your Feet Wet

In other words, begin serving. Many churches make it difficult to get out of a particular ministry role once we’re in it, which unfortunately usually leads to burnout, frustration, and confusion. We should be able to serve in a variety of areas on a short term basis until we discover that place that really fits with who we are. And we’ll grow through this process of “trial and error” as we understand ourselves better.

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. God has shaped you for significance and service. So launch out today, get started, and be flexible along the way allowing God to tweak your plans until you find that sweet, satisfying, kingdom-expanding and Christ-exalting niche for which you are divinely wired.

Graphic by Marian Trinidad via CreationSwap

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  1. Timely, for me. Just today I have discovered that thing, “If you could do anything for God knowing that resources wouldn’t be a problem and with a guarantee of success, what would it be?” It surprised me, though it shouldn’t have. Am I gifted in the area in question? No idea. I do have talents, experiences, and passions that would be very helpful. However, since my current resources *are* limited, I’m going to need to appropriate some blessings before I can make any headway. Else let it go, pitch it to others, and let them run with it.

    Also, you mention that these gift tests have only arisen in the last couple of decades. Oddly enough, the concept that every Christian is gifted when they are saved is not a very old idea, either. I’m not going to stress about gifts. There are many commands in Scripture, very clear ones, that I have not yet carried out or mastered!

    • Good point, Michael. In fact, rather than focus on what my “spiritual gift” is, I prefer to simply ask, “what is God enabling me to do that I couldn’t do otherwise?”

  2. I so appreciate this topic, as I am passionate about spiritual gifts and have written about it myself.

    I have to say though that I do disagree with your definition of the 5 equiping gifts listed in Ephesians as simply gifted people versus people with gifts.  Calling a set of people “gifted” above others flies in the face of the Gospel, I believe. Part of the power of spiritual gifts is that the Holy Spirit deposits them into ordinary men, thereby making the gift itself evidence of the power of God at work in that individual.

    Furthermore, apostles, teachers, and prophets are listed in 1 Cor 12: 28-29 following Paul’s description and discussion of the need for spiritual gifts

    I would assert too, that spiritual gifts are not overrated, as you state. If anything, I find that churches either ignore them altogether save for the “pastor” of the church (who is usually not an actual shepherd) or more charismatic churches overemphasize the manifestation gifts only.

    I appreciate your inclusion of such things as our talents, passions, etc and while these can point us in the direction of our spiritual gifting, to be clear, they are quite different.

    In, 1 Corinthians 12:1 Paul writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts I do not want you to be ignorant.” He does not talk about anything except the “Spirit…distributing to each one individually as He wills” to edify and equip the saints.

    Thanks for discussing this important topic. Blessings.

    • Nicole, my intention wasn’t to include talents as spiritual gifts, but rather to say that spiritual gifts are only one aspect of how we are equipped to serve. Music is never mentioned in any of the lists of spiritual gifts. Music is a natural talent. Would you recommend worship leaders to re-consider their role on the basis that music isn’t really spiritual?

      And as for the Ephesians passage, the entire context is the church, not the individual believer. Even the Greek words aren’t characteristics, but people or “offices.” Further, I think it’s dangerous to narrowly define the Ephesians 4 gifts as spiritual abilities and not people. Why? Because if you’re right, then I may not have to worry about evangelizing since I don’t have the gift of evangelism. Instead, the word is a noun. The gift given in Ephesians 4 is the “evangelist” not “evangelism.” We have to change all of those words from their original intent in order to get something other than people. You might believe that the words point to giftings, but the passage itself doesn’t talk about giftings, but people.

      And the passage to which you refer in 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 refers to people “being apostles” rather than “having the gift of apostleship.” Paul’s point there is that no part of the body is more important than any other part. We would both agree on that, I’m sure.

  3. Great stuff, Brandon! Gifts of the Spirit are often misunderstood. Helpful list too.

  4.  Great article! Like the way you want to help and even support poorer people. Keep on fighting on :)

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