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Your Gift or Mine?

Encourage each another to use your spiritual gifts

After my husband and I faced each other, took a deep breath, and said, "I do," we joined a warm and welcoming church in the Seattle area. There, we connected with a group of other newlyweds for social events and Bible studies. As we got to know our new friends, someone asked us about our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts? Although both of us grew up attending church, neither of us was familiar with this term.

During the next few years, we not only learned what spiritual gifts were, but we also discovered ours. I came to understand that natural abilities and spiritual gifts can be different. All of us have natural abilities we can use for many good purposes. But spiritual gifts—like hospitality, mercy, giving, and teaching—are given to each of us by the Holy Spirit specifically so that we can minister to others in the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul describes it this way: "If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it" (1 Corinthians 12:17-18). And so it is with us: each member of the body of Christ has a purpose in edifying other believers. Further, as husbands and wives, we have the privilege of encouraging our spouses to reach, teach, and minister to the Christian community through their gifts.

Start at the beginning. If you're newly married and you've never determined your spiritual gifts, now is the time. By beginning this process together, you set the stage for a lifetime of encouraging one another to grow in faith through serving.

  • Begin with prayer. Ask God to help make you aware of your gifts. Ask him to reveal areas where you could effectively use them. Read about the spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-12; and 1 Peter 4:11.
  • Be receptive. Listen carefully to feedback you receive in your everyday interactions. Are you incredibly moved to give to the needy? Do you feel compelled to help others understand God's Word? These types of urges can be clues to your gifts and how you can use them. In addition, you may have gifts that push you beyond your comfort zone. You might discover that you have the gift of hospitaility, for example, even though you're not sure how to pull off a meal for six student ministry leaders with kids afoot. Remember, when God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses protested. "Lord, please! Send anyone else" (Exodus 4:13). But God used Moses and he can use you, too.
  • Analytical assessments. To help people identify their spiritual gifts, many churches use a questionnaire-type tool. An Internet search for "spiritual gifts assessment" will result in more questionnaires than you can count. Here are two online assessment tools you can use: Ephesians Four Ministries and Gifted 2 Serve.

Share your insight. Your spouse can be an invaluable asset as you sort through the tools and assessments and contemplate your gifts. We can be blind to our own gifts, but our spouses see our attributes anew! I've been leading groups since I was the captain of my high school basketball team. In college, I held an office in my sorority and handled the budget and plans for redesigning our living suite. As an adult, I've chaired committees in both corporate and volunteer organizations. It seems like it would have been an obvious transition for me to serve my church community by using my leadership skills, but it wasn't. To me, leadership seemed more like a natural ability. It was my husband who helped me recognize that my leadership skills are a spiritual gift and encouraged me to use them to serve our church.

Think about your own marriage: Husbands, when a friend has surgery, does your wife immediately create a plan to have others take them dinner for a week? Wives, does your husband offer words of encouragement to his buddies who are having a tough time in the job market? When you pay attention to these kinds of details, you can help each another recognize spiritual gifts =you can use to fortify your church community.

Encourage one another. Although my husband was great at encouraging me to use my gifts, I wasn't always as enthusiastic about encouraging him. Part of the problem was that in the months that followed our honeymoon I had a vision for what married life would look like. Early on, this was one of my biggest stumbling blocks: Grabbing a quick dinner and going our separate ways for the night didn't figure into my carefully crafted newlywed plans. I felt selfish for wanting to stay home and curl up next to my husband, but I felt angry when one of us had a serving commitment that interfered with my evening plans.

I divulged my feelings to a friend, who didn't judge or chastise me. Instead, she kindly explained that I was having a normal human reaction. Hallelujah! I was normal. My friend also shared with me that God wants us to serve one another joyfully, in love, not to show up grumpy and resentful. With my relatively immature faith, this was a tough concept for me. It was so hard to serve in love when I wanted to be home on the couch! I realized, though, that my attitude was also affecting my husband's ability to serve joyfully. When he felt bad serving others because I was irritated, nobody won. It took time, and a measure of spiritual maturity, but eventually I was able to encourage him in spite of myself. As I saw the contributions he made in the lives of others, I began to embrace the time he invested in serving them.

Schedule your time and prioritize. We moved forward and began to use our spiritual gifts, but it wasn't all peace, joy, and love. My husband and I ran into more than a few scheduling snafus along the way. Our calendars exploded with social, personal, and volunteer commitments. We had one too many arguments that revolved around "But I didn't know you'd agreed to do that today!" While any type of miscommunication can cause discord, there's a twist when the argument involves a service commitment: When this happened, it was nearly impossible for me joyfully encourage my spouse. The key to clearing this hurdle, for us, was writing our commitments down and reviewing them together regularly.

As you look at your own calendar, you'll have to make decisions about when and where to serve. Although God calls us to serve others, he doesn't ask us to serve so often and for so long that we neglect other needs in our life. One way to make wise use of your resources is by prioritizing your commitments around your spiritual gifts. As difficult as it can be to say no to a request for help, remember that there is a season for everything. Although you're saying no now, God can use you to serve that ministry or person in another way, at another time. Doing these two things—communicating our commitments and prioritizing service around our gifts—has been revolutionary for us. We haven't entirely avoided the "You have to go where tonight?" scenario, but we've made significant progress.

Celebrate your differences. Couples can also run into trouble when they don't understand how one another's gifts manifest in their daily interactions. One of my gifts is administration, which means, among other things, that I'm good at supervising projects. It would be fair to say that my husband doesn't always appreciate this gift, since my tendency is to try to supervise him as well.

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D., author of the national bestseller Love and Respect, and founder and President of Love and Respect Ministries, explains that we're all created uniquely and with different gifts. But what Dr. Emerson finds in his ministry is that "opposites attract and then opposite attack." For example, says Dr. Emerson, "If you have the gift of teaching you may come across as lecturing even though you're speaking out of your helping gift." Or "if your spouse has the gift of administration," he says, "you probably sometimes feel like they're being judgmental." Recognizing one another's spiritual gifts, and the potential pitfalls of your own, can help. "Once you understand your spiritual gifts," he explains, "it takes a tremendous weight off of misunderstanding."

Show interest. One night during our first two years of marriage, I enjoyed a spicy bowl of Pasta Puttanesca at our favorite Italian restaurant while my husband and I traded stories about the week. An older couple sat quietly nearby. As newlyweds, we didn't understand how they could spend their entire meal staring off into space. Twenty years later, I know it's not so hard, through the years, for couples to fall prey to the danger of living separate lives under the same roof. Staying close takes work.

One way you can continue to connect with your spouse over time is to share with one another your spiritual challenges and the growth that comes from using your gifts. Whether you indulge in long conversations, or simply come alongside to watch your spouse serve, you can add immeasurable depth to your marriage by sharing these experiences. You'll also ensure that you'll have plenty to talk about at the dinner table!

I can't say that my husband and I discovered our spiritual gifts and served happily ever after. Using our gifts also presented us with challenges. My patience was often tested when volunteers were lax about showing up for events I planned or meetings I scheduled. My husband and I clashed more than once regarding his gift giving. But these challenges gave us opportunities to mature in our faith, a journey that continues today. When we use our spiritual gifts, we can choose to "let the Holy Spirit guide your lives" (Galatians 5:16). In doing so, we move toward producing "this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). I can't think of more beautiful attributes for a partner in any marriage.

Kirsetin K. Morello is a writer who lives in Michigan. She is the author of I Want to Teach My Child About Media (Standard Publishing).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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