When I got married, I received something I'd wanted for a long time: a beautiful KitchenAid mixer. But after setting up house, I realized I had no idea how to use the bulky contraption. It looked professional and impressive, but I already had a simpler electric hand mixer. So I found myself owning a gift I was now unsure I wanted. I'd heard its uses were amazing, but I hadn't experienced them.
Sometimes a spiritual gift feels like an expensive KitchenAid mixer; we want to have one, but we're not sure what it does and even less sure how to use it.
Life without limits
As a teenager, I heard that we should discover our gifts by taking a spiritual gifts test. It sounded accessible and easy. A natural test-taker, I discovered a smattering of gifts that matched my personality and seemed to make sense. Some of my friends didn't seem to fare as well, feeling their tests came back all "vanilla." In the end, many lost confidence in this whole spiritual gift thing. But God gives regardless of our man-made inventories.
The lists gleaned from New Testament passages are more like starter kits, designed to get our creative juices flowing. The rest of Scripture doesn't give tidy, predictable ways for understanding the Spirit's work, so why would we expect the "gifts inventory" to be so neat and tidy? When the Spirit first fills people in the New Testament, he's like a violent wind, uncontainable and life-altering. The Spirit's gifts range from giving speech to a donkey to prison breaks (Numbers 22:28, Judges 15:14). He's hardly limited by our list.
The pink or blue question
Often I've mused how much more practical and comfortable it would be to have the gift of serving instead of my gifts of teaching and exhortation. If I had the gift of serving, I could imagine myself happily on the sidelines supporting my husband's ministry, preparing sustenance (healthy snacks for the road) and encouragement (sweet notes tucked in his suitcase) without the distraction of my own busy schedule.
But our gifts are a lot alike—mine and his—and I sometimes find others don't welcome or know what to do with a female working alongside her husband. Frankly, I puzzle over finding a fit for my spiritual gifts both in my family and in outside outlets.
At rare times it feels like a man should have gotten my bundle, not a woman who loves kids and homemaking. But I don't see support for the argument that the Spirit reserves some gifts just for men. The Spirit of God has the power, the freedom, and the joy to distribute his gifts "to each one, just as he determines" (1 Corinthians 12:11).
In both complementarian (ministry roles differentiated by gender) and egalitarian (equal ministry roles for both genders) camps, there are theologians who believe God gives to both men and women all formal spiritual gifts listed in Scripture. In the book Two Views on Women in Ministry, New Testament professor (and complementarian) Craig Blomberg writes, "Virtually every Bible student today agrees that when these terms (teachers, administrators, leaders, evangelists, and pastor-teachers) are used as spiritual gifts, women may receive and exercise them just as powerfully as men may."
I don't believe the Spirit doles out his gifts in pink and blue wrappings: A man may have the gift of helps or service (Samuel helps Eli in 1 Samuel 3). A woman may have the gift of teaching (Priscilla, alongside her husband, corrects and teaches Apollos in Acts 18:26) or leading (Deborah guides Israel in difficult times in Judges 4-5) or prophesying (Josiah consults Huldah, the prophetess, in 2 Kings 22:14).
So many knobs and switches
The only pattern I've noticed in God's gift-giving strategy is that he gives to fill the gaping holes in his people, his church. So his gifts are ready-to-use, powerful, customized abilities we'll want to use because they're needed right now.
Like my KitchenAid with its many amazing features.
I stuck to the hand mixer for years. For cakes and pancakes, it's handy. But for really big batches of cookies or double batches of banana bread, the KitchenAid with its big stainless bowl is just the thing. Given time and the need, I may yet use its many capabilities—as well as the ones God has given me.
Recently I joined a church where I was invited to help with women and children to use my gift instead of teaching to benefit the whole body. So I volunteered for the nursery and taught women's groups. But this summer my husband and I came up with a new idea: we open our home for a weekly Bible study that's available to everyone. Families attend together, young teens ask questions, their parents give input alongside their children; church leaders, pastors, elders, presidents of local nonprofits share in a context that also allows us to teach as a husband-wife team. Our church's elder board is excited about the work we're doing.
And in the process, I'm finding a better fit for my gifts—teaching, along with the opportunity to serve. If the opportunity to use our gifts doesn't already exist, we have to pray so God will show us how to create one. At this intersection of my gifts (including teaching) and my passion (helping people know Jesus), I'm finding the right fit.
Jonalyn Grace Fincher, an apologist and speaker, is author of Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (Zondervan). www.soulation.org
Copyright © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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