My friend Victoria volunteered to teach Sunday school while her daughters were young. Although she taught well, her efforts drained her. If I'm not having fun, she wondered, are the children enjoying it?
When our prayer group helped us identify our spiritual gifts, Victoria's strongest gift was administration.
"I feel so relieved!" she told us. And after that night, she quit teaching and supported the Sunday school ministry she loved by finding substitute teachers, keeping supply bins stocked and labeled, and setting out supplementary materials for each week's topic. Everyone benefited from her gifting and she loved the work.
That's how spiritual gifts should be: When God empowers you to serve others through your spiritual gifts and you've found the places where God wants you to use them, you're more alive and fulfilled than during any other pursuit. You might even have fun!
The word passion is defined as "a powerful emotion." Its synonym is enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek phrase en theos, "with God." So if you're enthusiastically pursuing a passion that God has put in your heart, you're doing it with God.
Frederick Buechner put it this way: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." To search for this kind of passion isn't a selfish quest for fulfillment; rather, it's looking for the exact thing God designed you to do.
If your gifts aren't bringing you joy, consider these possibilities:
You're using your gifts in the wrong place.
Determining where to use your gifts can be just as important as identifying them.
Terri, who handled finances for a nonprofit firm, had the gift of administration. The job seemed to be a good fit, yet she struggled to enjoy it. Since she also had a passion for children, she took an identical position with a children's hospital and found the joy she'd been missing. And she discovered a new use for her gifts: She started a children's hospital mission in Haiti. Besides raising funds and organizing teams and resources, Terri traveled frequently to Haiti to oversee the arrangements. Drudgery turned to fulfillment.
To some, using their gifts sounds risky. It might mean change or uncertainty; it could result in criticism or even failure. During a course I was teaching, I mentioned that my first career was as a financial controller. A participant asked, "What if you'd stayed in finance?" I quipped that I'd be deep in accounting reports, bored to tears. Privately, though, I thought of the classes I'd have never taught. My career change was a huge risk, but it brought me more in line with how God made me and has led to greater fulfillment.
You're in a season of waiting.
When a mother of four preschoolers told me she felt guilty that she wasn't volunteering more, we discussed "seasons of waiting." Sometimes your plate is too full to use your gifts in new ways—perhaps because of illness, new responsibilities, or other circumstances.
During these seasons, identify how you're serving God right where you are (such as meeting the needs of four preschoolers!). Then reflect on and seek wisdom about what might come next. Could you use this season to obtain training, study the Bible, or investigate a ministry that intrigues you and may fit into God's next season for you?
The Bible gives many examples of people in seasons of waiting. David waited 10 years to become king after his anointing. Paul spent several years back in his hometown of Tarsus before beginning his missionary travels. In God's economy, waiting doesn't go to waste.
You're still growing.
Gifts frequently come with a "some assembly required" label. You'll grow as you go. Just as I grew in my ability to teach after my first scary experience, almost all of us need practice and mentoring to grow in our ability to use our gifts. Learn from those around you, take advantage of training when it's offered, and read and study about how to use your gift. Most churches and nonprofit organizations have low "entry requirements": they provide ideal environments for practicing and experimenting in your gifting, without demanding perfection.
If you've been using your gifts for a while, stay alert to new ways to use them even more effectively. Meet with others who share your spiritual gifting to learn from one another how to enrich your service. In my prayer group, for example, we frequently help each other think through whether opportunities are truly in line with how God designed us.
You're using your gift against your personality.
The psalmist David wrote these words about God: "You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it" (Psalm 139:13-14).
Our inmost beings—our personalities—come from God and influence how we use our gifts. Yes, we can learn to serve in ways that force us to be more outgoing or more organized or more adaptable than our natural bent, but God tends to use people as they are. Consider Paul, that decisive, outspoken organizer of the persecution of the early church. After his conversion to Christianity, his personality remained the same—decisive, outspoken, organized—but God put Paul's personality to work as a leader for the church rather than against it.
Your personality might help you discern whether you're more suited to teaching a Bible study for 6 people or a seminary class for 600. Or whether you'd rather use your gift of mercy answering suicide hotline calls or counseling individuals in a long-term process. While we need to be careful not to use our personalities as an excuse to ignore or abuse our gifts, God seems to be efficient in creating us in ways that indicate our best paths to service.
The community of believers needs people of all types. Ask your Creator for insight into how your personality and your spiritual gifts can complement each other.
Whatever your gifting, you are needed. Paul wrote, "The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don't need you.' The head can't say to the feet, 'I don't need you.' In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care" (1 Corinthians 12:21-23). Every gift works together for the body of Christ.
Jane A. G. Kise is a consultant and author of numerous books including LifeKeys: Who You Are, Why You're Here, What You Do Best (Bethany House).
Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
Click here for reprint information.