Spiritual Gifts, the Holy Spirit and our Abilities

For Pentecost I preached this sermon.  The sermon emphasizes a certain aspect of Spiritual gifts: namely that they aren’t equivalent to things we do well or like to do.  For instance you don’t have the Spiritual gift of Hospitality because you like to and are good at throwing parties.  To put it another way, having a spiritual gift isn’t the same as being ‘gifted’, as in having a native talent or ability to do X above and beyond other human beings general ability to do X.  What I preached is that Spiritual gifts are about receiving something that isn’t part of one’s native ability or natural inclinations.   The gifting of the Holy Spirit gives us that which take us beyond ourselves.

I have a problem with my sermon: What is summarized above is only part of the story.  Since I was trying to get people to connect with the divine presence in themselves, that stream of water spoken of by Jesus in The Gospel of John, I didn’t explore the connection between our native abilities and gifts and the abilities and gifts received from the divine presence in us, the Holy Spirit.  The only hint I gave that I believed there was some connection between our personal abilities and gifts and the gifts of the Spirit was to emphasize a couple of times that according to Paul gifts were given to each individually.

In my sermon I was seeking  a corrective:  we at times too easily equate a desire or propensity towards something to be our Spiritual gift. Yet,  if take seriously the account of Pentecost in Acts and Paul’s argument in Corinthians the point of being gifted by the Spirit isn’t an aspect of our own effort or ability.  In a sense speaking in tongues and gifts of healing are obvious and thus quintessential Spiritual gifts.  Other Spiritual gifts like hospitality or even discernment could also simply be natural ability or bent, though Paul also speaks of  these as Spiritual gifts.

I didn’t bring it up in my sermon (sermons are limited like that) that I do believe there is a needed discernment of the connection between what has been gifted to us from the Spirit, our personhood and our native abilities and inclinations as persons.

What might be the nature of this discernment?  There are a few things I’d suggest we need to keep in mind and pray about when we have the question of what gifts we have received.

1) As the baptized we have been given the Holy Spirit, in meditation and prayer seeking that flow of life in us is a place to begin.  In this discerning meditation and prayer where in your life, in interactions with others, do you see life springing up both in yourself and in others.  The metaphor of streams of living water for the presence and gifting of the Spirit is to direct our attention to the unexpected places we find life springing up like well watered plants.

2) The Holy Spirit chooses, the Apostle tells us, but also that the Holy Spirit gives to each individually.  While the focus of our gifts isn’t on our native abilities, that the Holy Spirit is God in us and the one who can articulate our deepest longings and desires before God in prayer (Romans 8:26) means that our personality and talents aren’t ignored in the giving of gifts by the Spirit.  I suggest that in discerning one’s gifting one is looking in that space between who you are and the edge of your abilities and inclinations.  This could mean that a gifting of the Spirit takes a natural ability and takes it beyond what one is able to do, or it may offer a means to do something consistent with ones personality but to do something that doesn’t come easy. For instance praying in tongues can be for an extrovert that way to be silent before God and wordless prayer with words, that is a means to meditate for someone who may find regular wordless prayer temperamentally challenging.

3) Paul does connect desire and receiving of gifts.  When in prayer and meditation seeking to know one’s gifting is to seek those places of ones desire.  What do we long for?  Paul seems to even show that in seeking to know the gift one has received that we are to desire certain gifts.  We may find that we aren’t given what we initially desire, again Spiritual gifts do take us beyond ourselves.  Yet, in allowing ourselves to desire good things, which all spiritual gifts are, is key to becoming aware of the gift we have been given by the Spirit.

4) This will require discernment, and talking it out with others whom one trusts.  Spiritual gifts aren’t for our private and personal enrichment, they are how we are to Spiritually relate to other members of the Body of Christ, and the way in which God seeks to bring life to the World.  Therefore the feed back of those close to one: Spiritual counselors and friends are key in discerning what gift one has received.  Again those who are close to us are part of who we are as persons and individuals, they will be able to tell you how they see you fitting together in the Body of Christ.

As I grew in the faith and found my way into the ordered ministry, much of the above discernment happened for me informally and implicitly. Though ordered ministry and office is a different but related thing to the Spiritual gifts, gifting and office also aren’t completely separate.  But that is another post, and a topic that I’m still unclear on myself.  My point though is that this discernment will take time, it also may not always be obvious, or in the moment of a specific conversation where one asks another for feedback on Spiritual gifts.  This process can be those small bits of affirmation, someone  pointing out something one did that one wasn’t even aware one was doing.  There is something organic and fluid to this process, not mechanical or procedural.  And this shouldn’t be surprising because it is about receiving and being the conduit of abundant life, those streams of living water.



  • brockcassian


    As I said on Twitter, I have recently done similar work around Spiritual Gifts for my denomination. You can check out the teaser here on our web page. http://www.brethren.org/congregationallife/spiritualgifts/

    Part of what I found myself doing was acknowledging that gifts are by definition given to us in the Spirit, as part of our baptism. So like you said, they aren’t the things I am good at, or like to do. So when you look at some major gifts discernment resources they come up with huge lists of things (in one case I saw craftsmanship, and in many music was listed).

    But I think you are right on that we should distinguish between gifts of the spirit (given for the care and ministry of the church) and those things that we have a natural talent or developed skill.

    My example is typically music. We know of many people who have a natural ability with music. We might call it a gift, but it isn’t a spiritual gift. We also know that many musicians spend hours practicing to develop their skills. Again, that isn’t a spiritual gift but something cultivated. However, music can shape the way persons exercise their spiritual gift.

    So for example, I know someone with the gifts of Administration and Leadership. He is also a gifted and skilled musician. I think his leadership style is shaped by his skills in music- especially since he directs several choirs. How his Spiritual Gift is brought to life is unique to him based on those skills and talents- like bringing out the different voices and abilities of others to create a coherent whole.

    That is what I meant by the intersection of Spiritual Gifts, Talents, and Skills being the place where we discern vocation.

    As they say in academic circles- this is part of a larger project 🙂


    • Thanks for sharing in brief your thought process on this, and the link.
      I found your example of the musician with the gifts of Administration and leadership helpful in clarifying vocation. I was attempting to articulate my own experience around call to ordered sacramental ministry and office in terms of that intersection of Spiritual Gifts, talents, skills (and I’d and bent or temperament), in the final paragraph.
      I hope this is received well in your denomination. and I’d be interested in how the “larger project” works itself out.
      I haven’t given Spiritual gifts much thought in awhile for a variety of reasons. My reflections here came out of sitting with the scriptures as I prepared to preach for Pentecost Sunday, This isn’t totally new but I heard the Pentecost story and the Corithians passage with the the emphasis on the initiative and priority of the will of the Holy Spirit in the gifting and that changed the whole tenor of how I was thinking about spiritual gifts and what I preached.
      It is good to knwo that I stumbled into something that someone else has been giving some time and energy towards.