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Winter 1999 Newsletter: Zero Spiritual Gifts?
Publish date: Oct 19, 2009
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Does God have a ministry for you? How can you find it?
The answers may surprise you!
How do you find your spiritual gifts? Some try by taking tests reminiscent of “Psychology 101” from the old college days. Others haven’t a clue what their gifts are. Traveling from church to church, I sense a lot of frustration, confusion, and discouragement concerning this subject. I heard one person comment, “I don’t know about all this ‘spiritual gifts’ stuff!”
Many people look at the lists found in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and Romans 12, and come to the conclusion that when it comes to spiritual gifts, they are a big Zero. They say ruefully, “I don’t have the gift of healing, or working miracles, or teaching, or evangelism, or tongues. I can’t teach a Sabbath school class or preach a sermon. Well, maybe someday I sill find out what my spiritual gift is.” If you have thought this way, there is good news for you!
There are several reasons why we have misguided concepts about spiritual gifts. One comes from our distorted view of what constitutes ministry. Unfortunately, people have come to identify ministry institutionally: giving Bible studies, visitation with the pastor, visiting the sick in the hospital, handing out literature door-to-door, or preaching a sermon. They see ministry as a function done at some specified time. Such things are part of ministry, but they are not ministry in and of themselves. Real ministry is a way of life.
A Mother’s Ministry
Here is a classic example of how people have a wrong concept of ministry. One day a lady called our office. Excitedly she said, “Is this Jeff Reich? I am so glad to talk with you. My husband and I have been reading your Laymen Ministry News magazine and we want to start a ministry. We want to really do something for Christ. We want to know how we can get a ministry…”
Suddenly she was interrupted by the sound of children fighting in the background. “Would you be quiet?” she yelled, “I’m on the phone!”
She went on about how they wanted to start a ministry, but again the children interrupted the conversation by making noise.
“So, you have children? How many do you have?” I asked.
“Five,” she said.
“Have you ever considered that maybe God has already given you a ministry in raising your children?” I asked.
“I guess I never thought of that before,” she replied, rather surprised.
You see, people have this idea that ministry can only be performed in some type of institutional setting. Or they think that they have to go out and do something to be involved in ministry, missing the idea that life is ministry.
Wherever we may be, Christ bids us take up the duty that presents itself. If this is the home, take hold willingly and earnestly to make home a pleasant place. If you are a mother, train your children for Christ. This is as verily a work for God as is that of the minister in the pulpit (Christ’s Object Lessons, 359).
Clergy and Laity
In the apostolic Church, there was no great difference between what we now call the laity and the clergy. The Church was made up of common people from all walks of life. After experiencing conversion, they shared with others the love that burned within their hearts. Thousands were converted in a day from the testimonies of these saints. They did not have to take lay-training seminars to learn how to witness, nor did they sit idly by in church week after week, expecting the pastor to do the work of ministry. The Church at that time did not have a priesthood. It was a priesthood (see 1 Peter 2:5,9).
Ministry changed as the Church evolved over the centuries. A priesthood was established to take the responsibility of ministry, while the laity came to church week after week to receive the services of the priest and to watch him perform ministry. The body of the Church lost the privilege of ministry by turning it over to the hands of an elite few, who in turn perverted the true function of ministry. Thus came the concept of the clergy and the laity, which affects most churches today and still paralyzes the body of Christ, preventing it from performing true ministry.
Significantly, the Seventh-day Adventist Church started off with a totally different concept. Our spiritual forefathers were not highly educated clergy. They were common people, filled with a burden for souls, knowing that Jesus was doing His last priestly work for fallen humanity and He was going to return very soon. The Holy Spirit guided the labors of these motivated laypeople, and they built a worldwide denomination.
Ministry: a Way of Life
Yes, Christ has given each of us a ministry, whether we like it or not, and we all minister every day, either for good or for bad, because we each have influence on others. Remember: ministry is not something you do at some time during the day or week. Ministry is a way of life, from the time you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night. It is the natural effect of an abiding relationship with Christ, which includes, but goes way beyond, those special things you do within the organization of your church.
If we see ministry as some type of institutional function, or something performed at a certain time during the day, most likely we will have a limited, institutional understanding of spiritual gifts.
If we have surrendered our lives to Christ, He has redeemed us. And why has He redeemed us? “Christ’s followers have been redeemed for service. Our Lord teaches that the true object of life in ministry” (Christ’s Object Lessons, 326, emphasis added). If you are redeemed, you have a ministry.
Now, since Christ redeemed you with such a high price, even his own blood (see 1 Peter 1:18-19), and since redemption was given you for the purpose of ministry, is He going to give you zero tools to get the job done? No! He has given each of us many gifts, but we have failed to recognize them because of our faulty concept of what the gifts really are and how they work.
Have we been looking at Christianity legalistically? We can hold the ten precepts of God’s law before us, for instance, and mark them off —we don’t do this and we don’t do that. But a Spirit-filled Christian does not live merely by the “letter of the law.” He lives by the “spirit of the law.” When the law is viewed spiritually, its principles cover every part of life, being wide as the ocean and deep as the sea.
So it is with spiritual gifts. We can look at the list of spiritual gifts in a legalistic way, counting them off one by one—I don’t have this one, I don’t have that one. Or we can look at the spiritual application of those gifts. Then suddenly we find out that we have many gifts!
God expects every gift given to be used for His service. All talents and gifts, whether original or acquired, natural or spiritual, are to be used to come close to people, winning their confidence and trust so that we can finally share them what is dearest to our hearts: Christ! That is the basic intent of spiritual gifts.
Gifts provide a means to bring people to Christ by the hundreds and thousands occasionally, but more often by ones and twos, as people see the daily difference Christ makes in our lives and learn to want the same benefits for themselves.
My father is a good example of using spiritual gifts in day-to-day life. He worked at a law school for over twenty years. He wrote a feature column entitled Floyd Sez in the law school paper. When he retired, the law school created a scholarship fund in honor of his name. When he died in a tragic accident after retiring, they placed a memorial display in the law school in his behalf.
My father was not a professor or administrator, but merely the janitor!
At his funeral the church was full of lawyers, judges, and other important people in local government. My mother received a personal letter from one of the State representatives. Why? Because my father touched the lives of so many of these people during those twenty-plus years he worked as a janitor. Late at night, as law students studied for exams, he would place his hand on their shoulders and encourage them that they could make it.
He bought clothes and shoes for many of these students who were poor and were trying to work their way through school. He fixed their cars, he invited them over for dinner, he teased them, and he often shared encouraging words.
One student came to ask for some wise counsel. “You want counsel from a poor dumb janitor?” he said.
“Yeah. Dumb like a fox!” the student replied.
If you asked my father if he had any spiritual gifts, he would have said, “No.” Yet he was a very gifted person. He had a definite ministry, though he probably never thought of it as such. It seems that those who spend all their time looking to see what their spiritual gift is don’t find it, when those who don’t think they have any have the most!
My father had the gift of pastoral ministry, though he would have laughed at the suggestion. “Not me! You would never get me up front to preach a sermon,” he would have said with a smile. Yet he preached a sermon every day to the students and faculty with whom he worked. He took time to minister to the needs of those he came in contact with. He was a pastor to his own little flock consisting of those whom he associated with. And so are you.
Spiritually, we each possess portions of many spiritual gifts. We just do not recognize them as such. Many of us have the gifs of pastoral ministry, evangelism, and teaching, in a spiritual sense. We encourage those around us, we share our personal experiences with a living God, and we teach by example what a change Christ can make in one’s heart, character, and life.
Wherever we may be, Christ bids us take up the duty that presents itself…If it is your work to till the soil or to engage in any other trade or occupation, make a success of present duty. Put your mind on what you are doing. In all your work represent Christ. Do as He would do in your place.
However small your talent, God has a place for it. That one talent, wisely used, will accomplish its appointed work. By faithfulness in little duties, we are to work on the plan of addition, and God will work for us on the plan of multiplication. These littles will become the most precious influences in His work (Christ’s Object lessons, 359-360).
Real Spiritual Gifts
Unfortunately, the Pentecostal movement has affected us. When the subject of spiritual gifts is brought up, most people think of some miracle-working super-gift that has a big impact on many. This is a distorted view.
Yes, God does give special gifts of His Spirit that are used in a large and public way. But let’s not think that these are the only types of gifts His Spirit gives. Many more gifts are given than most realize.
Whatever you are good at, use that gift as a tool to win someone’s friendship. Build relationships. Be helpful, kind, and thoughtful. Let Jesus shine through you.
Because they are not connected with some directly religious work, many feel that their lives are useless; that they are doing nothing for the advancement of God’s kingdom. But this is a mistake (Christ’s Object lessons, 359).
A Working Ministry
My father had a habit. He got off work every night at 1:00 a.m., but he usually finished his duties by about 12:20 a.m. Then he would read his Bible in his janitor’s closet. One night about 12:30, his supervisor drove by the law building and noticed that all the lights were turned off. Another night he found the same thing. And the same the third night.
Parking his car, the supervisor walked to the building, quietly unlocked and opened the double glass doors, and started walking softly down the long hallway. The only light reflecting out into the hallway was that of the janitor’s closet.
Standing in the doorway, the supervisor asked, “Floyd, what are you doing?”
My father looked up from his Bible, smiled and said, “Reading my Bible.”
“You don’t get off work for another half hour. Shouldn’t you be working?” he asked with a note of censure in his voice.
“Let me show you something,” my father said. He got up from his chair, set his Bible on a shelf next to the big industrial sink, and went into the hallway, flipping on the long row of light switches. Crossing the hall, he pushed open the door to the men’s room and kicked a small wooden wedge under the door to keep it open. Down the hall he unlocked and opened the door to the office of one of the law professors.
“Can you find something for me to do?” he asked, smiling.
The supervisor walked briskly to the main entrance of the building and carefully examined the corner of the floor by the door. No dirt. He hurried over the men’s restroom and looked down behind a toilet. The stainless steel nits that held the toilet to the floor shone back at him. He checked under one of the sinks; the stainless steel pipes glistened. Back in the hallway, he looked up; the fluorescent lights were dust free. Making his way into the professor’s office he pulled back the heavy curtains at the window. He wiped his hand on the windowsill and found no dust. Turning to my father he said, “Keep up the good work, Floyd.”
The Power of Ministry
Now I want to ask you: What impressed the supervisor more, catching my father reading the Bible or the fact that his work was done well? And if his work had not been well done, what would that have said about my father’s religion? Could we say that cleaning a building is ministry? Yes. And he exercised at least one of his spiritual gifts to do the job well. A spiritual gift, you ask? Yes, because he did his work as a way of witnessing for Christ! Any gift God has given, if used for His glory, is a spiritual gift just as much as any other found in the list in 1 Corinthians.
However lowly, any work done for God with a full surrender of self is acceptable to Him as the highest service. No offering is small that is given with true-heartedness and gladness of soul.” “The humblest of duties are not to be ignored. Any honest work is a blessing, and faithfulness in it may prove a training for higher trusts (Christ’s Object lessons, 359).
Training for Higher Trusts?
My brother moved to southern Utah many years ago, looking for some type of “ministry” for God. Instead the Lord saw fit to have him be a caretaker on a farm. Ministry? Well, it proved to be so.
One hot summer day, while he was bailing hay in the field, his baler continuously malfunctioned. The strings on the bale would not tie; or they would tie too short; or too long. It became very frustrating. Wiping the sweat off his brow, feeling baked by the heat of the southern Utah sun, he looked up and asked the Lord, “Why did you bring me here? I wanted to be in ministry, and here I am in the middle of nowhere fighting this stupid bailing machine!” His anger was soon softened by a prayer.
Going to the shop, he took out the manual and read everything about the baler’s timing. He took it all apart and fixed it, by God’s grace.
A few years later he was working at a religious ministry, helping to set up a printing press for Gospel tracts. Every page that went through the press misfed and hammed the machine. Feeling frustrated, he sent up a prayer, took out the manual and started to read.
As he was adjusting the timing on the press, his mind flashed back to a hot field in Utah, working on the time of a bailing machine. “Now I understand,” he thought to himself. “God was helping me to realize that I needed to build a little more character before He could entrust me with working at a ‘ministry.’”
Use Your Gifts
We all have spiritual gifts. We may use them every day, but we often fail to see them. The mother working with her children uses her gifts all day long. The smile shared as you open the door for someone at the store; opening your home to someone in need; inviting someone to dinner; these all can be used to share God’s love.
If you work as a carpenter, plumber, roofer, or builder of any sort, do those things for Christ. If you are in the medical profession, use your skills for Christ. Use your talents to win friends in the workplace. Earn a reputation as someone whose religion helps you be the best and most honest in your field. Build trust. Share Christ. Spiritual gifts are the tools He gives to bring us close to people.
Yes, we need advanced training, too. All of us need to know how to share truth from the Bible. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:16).
We need to know how to work in an aggressive way; how to effectively hand out literature; how to give Bible studies and cooking classes; how to talk with people about health. But first we need friends to share these things with, and we will never be effective workers until we build friendships using those talents and resources that are at hand right not. As we do this, those resources and talents will multiply with use.
But many Christians are waiting for some great work to be brought to them. Because they cannot find a place large enough to satisfy their ambition, they fail to perform faithfully the common duties of life. These seem to them uninteresting. Day by day they let slip opportunities for showing their faithfulness to God. While they are waiting for some great work, life passes away, its purposes unfulfilled, its work unaccomplished (Christ’s Object Lessons, 360).
Allow Christ to use all of your spiritual gifts!
LMN Publishing International
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