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The Dark Side

When your good spiritual gifts go bad

A few years ago, my husband and I took part in a Discovery Workshop at our church to discover our spiritual gifts. That I turned out to be a "giver" was no surprise.

I love to give. I'm quick with the checkbook, I get excited when giving opportunities arise, and I've even said that when I die, I don't want to leave any money to my children. If I haven't given it all away, I envision the Caryn Rivadeneira Foundation as a means to distribute the rest.

"Wow," my husband said after I spouted off my "me-fest" on our drive home from the workshop. "You're sure proud to be a giver. Didn't realize spiritual gifts were meant to show how great you are."

Him and his fancy gift of discernment.

I'm always amazed by how easily we can take these wonderful gifts of the Spirit—meant to build up others and glorify God—and head straight for the dark pit of "all about me." It doesn't take much for pride, jealousy, and plain old laziness to get in the way of us using our gifts as God intended.

Not convinced?

Pride Goes …

Clearly, the pride thing was the root of my issue—and it took only a car-ride home to fire it up. And although I've never had the funds to land me any sort of public admiration (no buildings bear my name or anything), for many people this isn't the case. People with gifts like leadership, teaching, or even creative ability receive a lot of accolades too. Mostly because these gifts tend to put people "out there," we find ourselves admiring the people who have those characteristics—especially when it's ourselves—not the God who gave them.

I know a woman who has the perfect gift of hospitality to complement her perfect house filled with perfect furniture topped with perfect plates. All of this garners plenty of oohs and aahs whenever she throws open her perfect door (seriously, you should see it).

Now, I'm not saying this woman has pride issues, but I can tell you, she gets frustrated that not everyone is as enthused about entertaining as she is. But she's missing the point: Your gift—no matter how well you live it and how important everyone else thinks it is—isn't the gift.

In her book Content to Be Good, Called to Be Godly, Janet Denison writes, "No one is particularly impressed when a person uses his feet to walk, and no one should be impressed when you minister through your gift. Why? Because that's what you were made to do. God made our feet to walk and run; it's his creative ability that is most impressive. God made you to function in your gift. When you do, you too will be one of those quiet servants who understand that there is no glory for you in your gift; you're simply doing what you were made to do. You'll experience great blessing, because you have been the presence of Jesus to others."

Green-eyed Gifts

A friend of mine came away from her Discovery Workshop with a solid confirmation that her gift was administration.

"Are you kidding?" she told me. "That's my gift? So I basically get to take minutes at every meeting. Great. Why couldn't I get a good one, like mercy?"

I totally got where she was coming from. In each of our faith traditions, we value certain gifts above others. As if God gives the cool ones to the cool people. If you get "stuck" with a not-so-cool gift, of course you can become jealous and think, Doesn't God think I'm hip enough to handle a good gift?

Therein lies the problem. Our jealousy rears its head when we start losing sight of why God gave us our gifts—or doubt his wisdom in doing so. My friend could only see her gift as "note taker" and couldn't see any kingdom value in that. But she failed to see the full ways this gift could be used; she limited its potential and doubted her kingdom contributions, which fed her jealousy of people with more "useful" gifts.

Left unchecked, we can turn into gift bullies—putting others down for their gifts. The ones we wish we had. Instead of trusting that God knew what he was doing when he gave us certain gifts—and not others—we focus on the ways we were ripped off. Sometimes we wonder if spiritual gifts come with gift receipts.

Excuses, Excuses

One of our pastors joked that the best thing about taking the Discovery Workshop was that it gave him a good excuse to say no to those ministries he used to feel too guilty to pass up.

Boy, did I take that joke to the bank! I've since played the gift "card" more times than I can count. Serve on the craft committee? Nope. Not my gift. Teach Bible to three-year-olds? Nuh-uh. Bring meals to shut-ins? No can do.

But while it's legitimate to say no to certain ministries or events based on our giftedness, we can get carried away thinking that we never have to do anything if it's not a gift. As if God doesn't expect us ever to show mercy, to lead, or to encourage because we're not gifted as such. As if there's never a time when each of us is called to stretch a bit. And as if it's beyond God to give us a little something extra in the gift department if he's calling us into duty. Just ask Moses. Or David. Or Mary. Or me.

So while I won't teach Bible to three-year-olds every week, I am on the (very occasional) rotation for children's worship teacher. I never feel like doing this, and I cannot tell you how much I stress out about the Sunday mornings when it's my turn. Though I have three wonderful children, I'm not gifted with kids. I'm not gifted at teaching, and I'm not gifted in patience or miracles or healing or whatever other mighty gifts are required to teach preschoolers. Yet every few months, the directors ask for substitute teachers. When they do, I hear God saying, Do it.

So I do.
And I pray.
And he shows up.
And we all have fun, and then I don't have to worry about it for a few more months.

Caryn Rivadeneira is author of Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When It Lets You Down. www.carynrivadeneira.com

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

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