What is Your Purpose in Life? / Spiritual Meditations

One of the sure signs of our continued growth as followers of Christ is that we feel our hearts being broken by the things that break the heart of God. Growing into the likeness of Christ means being drawn more deeply into the compassion of God so that we hear the cries of injustice in our world, see the broken people along the way, and seek with a divine urgency a way to make a difference in places of suffering, injustice, and pain.

As you follow your passion and search for your place to serve, you will also discover that awakening to God‘s call is not a one-time experience but an ongoing process by which the Spirit of God continues to open our eyes in new ways of serving as we grow in our discipleship, as we face major transitions in our lives, and as we become more fully awake to the constantly changing needs of the world around us.

This process is a step along the spiritual journey that John Wesley called “Christian perfection“. It’s the lifelong process by which the Spirit of God shapes our lives into the likeness of Christ. It leads us more deeply into the love of God and guides us to new opportunities to love others the way we have been loved by God.

Service Inspired Joy

Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul. Harry Emerson Fosdick

There are frustrated people who, by world standards, have more than they could ever need but live with a nagging dissatisfaction in their souls. The things they’ve acquired and the success they’ve achieved have not made the difference they were hoping for. They are haunted by a desire for something more valuable and more lasting than anything money can buy. They still feel gnawing desire for their life to make a more significant difference in the world.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. Albert Schweitzer

The people Schweitzer speaks of have found an unambiguous joy by discovering that their lives can make a difference. They are faithful disciples who have followed their passion, found their way to serve, and are making a real, tangible, transformative difference in the lives of others. They’ve seen small signs of the impact their witness is having on unjust systems and institutions. Seeing their lives, hearing their laughter, sharing their hopes, and listening to their stories confirms the truth in Schweitzer’s words and the difference it makes for a person to find his or her custom designed place to serve.

If you haven’t found yours, watch the faithful servants of Christ who are like mustard seeds, which, Jesus said, are the smallest of all seeds but which can grow into a flourishing bush. You will often find these “seeds’ in unexpected places where they have found their way to make a kingdom-shaped difference. Ask yourself if, perhaps, your spiritual gifts and desire to serve align with theirs.

God’s Servants are Everywhere

You will find God’s people in likely places doing the kinds of things you might expect: teaching children in Sunday school, serving in leadership to their congregation, singing in their church choirs and playing instruments in the worship band, facilitating small groups for spiritual growth, leading mission teams, visiting in hospitals and nursing homes, arranging flowers on the altar or counting the Sunday offering.

You will also find these difference-making people in unlikely places doing things that you might not expect. You will meet them in homeless shelters and in migrant farm worker camps. You will find them delivering meals on wheels in economically underprivileged neighborhoods; registering voters in neglected communities; tutoring children in low achieving public schools; organizing groups for economic justice and creating bridges for communication between Christians, Muslims, and Jews. You can stand with them in prayer vigils for non-violence and see them risk imprisonment because they refuse to participate in war. You can walk with them between the crowded tin shacks in the sprawling townships of South Africa. Their courageous witness for racial reconciliation is humbling. Wherever they are there is a persistent passion and an incorrigible joy.

Stay Connected

Desmond Tutu once said, “we are only the lightbulbs and our job is just to remain screwed in”. It could have been the archbishops paraphrase of Jesus’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. (John 8:12)

But It’s frighteningly easy to fall asleep and miss out on the way God wants to use our lives to make a difference in the world. It happens when we are not fully awake to the voice of God‘s Spirit within us or the needs of the world around us.

God’s call usually comes to people who practice the spiritual discipline that enables them to hear and respond to God’s Spirit. They are consistent in their practice of worship. They soak themselves in the words of scripture. They develop patterns of prayer that keep them awake and responsive to the new things God is doing and through which they discern the guidance of the Spirit. They live in community with other faithful disciples.

The spiritual discipline of prayer that is grounded in scripture and nurtured in worship is the starting point for our discovery of a life that really makes a difference. It is the sustaining center of a relationship with God that continues to fuel our passion and leads us to our place to serve. It is the renewing source of our vision for the future.

 3 Steps to Successful Prayer

The World Needs You

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the worlds deep hunger meet. Frederick Buechner

The practical implication of a Biblical understanding of discipleship is that the Christian life is not primarily defined by sitting in the pew on Sunday morning but by the way we live and serve outside the church walls during the week. We live out of our discipleship in the world rather than inside the church. Our experience and worship are like the team gathering in the locker room before going onto the field where the real game will be played. What we do inside the church is intended to equip us to be the servants of God‘s love, grace, justice, and peace on the outside. Paul said that we are reconciled to God in Christ so that we can become the agents of God’s reconciliation of the world. (II Corinthians 5:19)

God can take the activity you love to do and use it to make a Christlike difference in somebody else’s life.

There are people who provide guitars and teach music to underprivileged kids: who like to bake for the homeless street ministry: who extended their love of scripture to prison mates: who like to shop and do so for homebound elderly.

We are sent from worship to become the people through whom God answers our prayer for God‘s kingdom to come and God‘s will to be done in our world. When we see the injustice and suffering of the world and ask, “God, why don’t you do something about this? “ we will probably hear God asking us the same question. God is already out there, and we are challenged to join him in the kingdom work of healing, peace, and redemption.

Listening for the Still Small Voice

Most of us need to stop what we are doing in order to hear God’s voice. The pressure of time and over-commitment is often a barrier to service. We, the church can begin by providing opportunities for faithful disciples to stop, take a deep breath, and be still in the presence of God. It’s the only way to be ready to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The first work of the spirit in helping us find our calling is to open our eyes so that we begin to see the world around us through the eyes of Jesus. Searching for and finding our places to serve involves looking with spirit awakened eyes at the needs of the world and at the gifts, talents, and opportunities we’ve been given. If you have not discovered your spiritual gift, this link will help you to find it and provides a Spiritual Gifts Survey.

Determine your Spiritual Gifts here.

What Does Hinder You?

One of the unique challenges of our day is that it is frighteningly easy to live in a media defined bubble. Many of us get all our information about the world through the lens of a particular social, economic, and political perspective. We spend most of our time in racial and socioeconomic enclaves in which most of the people around us look, think, and act the way we do. We gravitate towards news sources that constantly reconfirm our preconceived assumptions. It’s not that we are insensitive, mean, or bad people but that we are blinded by our own reflection in the mirror-like glass bowl in which we live.

But disciples who hear God’s call to make a difference in this world intentionally look at the world in a new and different way. They see the world through the lens of the infinite compassion and love of God. They look at people who are struggling and in pain as their “own people”. With Christ like eyes open to the world around us, we look then for the place where our strengths, talents, and availability connect with that need.

Strength in Numbers

The good news is that we are not called to do this alone. Being “born again “means that we are born into the family of God with brothers and sisters in Christ, who share the same vision, burn with the same passion, and live by the same hope. Paul said that our unique talents, passions, and personalities are gifts of God’s grace that are drawn together in the body of Christ to accomplish Gods purpose in this world (I Cor 12:1- 12).

Moses father-in-law, Jethro, said to him “Moses, why are you doing all this by yourself? You will end up totally wearing yourself out. You can’t do it alone.“

The apostles needed to learn the same lesson. The early Christian movement was growing so quickly that the apostles couldn’t handle it. The result was that widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. So, the disciples appointed a team composed of Steven and six others to be responsible for the feeding ministry. As a result, “God‘s word continues to grow and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly“. (Acts 6:7)

When we set out to make a difference, we will soon discover that we cannot do it alone. We need to do it with a team of people who share the same passion and are finding their way to serve together. You can join a team or organize a team.

Focus on the Goal

When a group is centered on a clear, compelling, and commonly held mission, faithful disciples can handle diversity of conviction about practices that are on the circumference of their life together. The mission that unites them is stronger than the differences that would divide them.

John Wesley describe this pattern of life when he said, “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. Here all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding the small differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works“.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Being a servant means that we are not in charge here. We enter the lives of others as servants who know that our lives are under the undisputed authority and control of our Lord.

Making a difference in the lives of people who experience oppression, suffering, or injustice begins when we choose to enter their experience, listen to their story, and join them in their pain. In the same way God’s son became one of us to share our human life, we are drawn closer to Jesus by drawing closer to people in pain.

Get In On The Action

Stephen Kobe taught us to “begin with the end in mind“. He sounded like an old testament prophet when he defined imagination as “the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes“. He challenges us to “begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of the desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.“

God is inviting us to get in on the action. Eugene Peterson declares, “we are not spectators to a grand cosmic show. We are in the show. But we are not running it. “The coming of God‘s kingdom is only and always God’s work, but we can live now in ways that are consistent with the way thing will be then. By the power of the Holy Spirit, even small, apparently insignificant things can make an eternal difference.

We don’t necessarily need to be looking off in some distant horizon to find our calling. God only calls a few heroic souls to go to distant places. Most of God’s work in this world gets done in ordinary places by ordinary people like us who see our world through the extraordinary perspective of God‘s Kingdom  revealed in Jesus Christ. The task to which God calls us is often the task most closely at hand. At the same time, we remain open to the possibility that God may enlarge our vision and call us to make a difference in ways and means that stretch beyond our immediate boundaries. God has a surprising way of expanding our small efforts to touch the world in ways that go beyond anything we expect.

It’s what Jesus meant when he described the Kingdom of God saying that it is “like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough“ Matthew 13:33 This is us. We are the yeast. We are the mustard seed.

Your Service is the Beginning of the Kingdom on Earth

Disciples who serve the most passionately in the present are people who have a firm grasp of God’s future. The way they serve “now” is defined by the way they envision the world will be “then“.

We care about the environment NOW because THEN the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Rev 21:3)

We work for peace NOW because we know that THEN swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruninghooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict NOW because we know that THEN heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Rev 7:9)

We invite others to become disciples of Jesus Christ NOW because we know that THEN every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2:10-11)

We care for one another in Christian community NOW because we know that THEN God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Rev 21:4)

We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and seek economic justice for the poor NOW because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged THEN. (Mat 25:31-46)

Conclusion

To find your joy in God’s service, ask yourself these questions and explore your response.

What is my vision of the end towards which my discipleship is leading me?

Where have I seen tangible signs of God’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven?

Considering the list above, where can I make a difference NOW that is in anticipation of the way things will be THEN?

Reference

Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve by James A. Harnish

 

 

wrapped packages and flowers

Unwrap Your Spiritual Gifts / Spiritual Meditations

Every Christian has received at least one spiritual gift through God’s grace, given to them for the edification of the local, regional or global church family and perfectly suited to their situation in life. The central thrust of your ministry depends on the spiritual gifts you have received. You will discover a significant part of your purpose for being on this planet and realize that God has made you competent to produce something that will last for eternity. You will have a sense of fulfillment and joy in the service of others as you become an available instrument through which the Holy Spirit can work. But many of us don’t know what our gifts are.

Maybe you are a young person and you haven’t discovered your gifts or haven’t explored or developed them yet. Spiritual gifts can be abused and neglected, but if they are received as a new believer, it would appear that they cannot be lost as illustrated in the Corinthian church where some believers were highly gifted but spiritually immature. Sometimes it takes years for just the right circumstances to come together before you are aware of what God encourages you to do. And ‘voila’, your gift is there waiting for you to use it. If you have multiple gifts you may start your Christian journey using one dominate gift and in later years a different one may take over. Isn’t it exciting to watch God’s activity in your life?!

How Many Spiritual Gift are There?

There is some discussion as to the exact nature and number of gifts of the Holy Spirit. Don’t get hung up with concern about why one list mentions 9 gifts and another lists 20. That’s not the point. We are all different and God uses those differences for the benefit of His people. There are more possible gifts than those we know of…let’s not think we can limit God in His choices for us. And why put ourselves into categories…. we are unique and a combination of gifts can produce interesting results.

Also, the translations of the Greek can add to our confusion. For instance, one text may say ‘compassion’ is a gift and in another the same gift may be called ‘mercy’.

What Does Scripture Say About Spiritual Gifts?

To get yourself started in this exploration, please watch this video which gives you an introduction to spiritual gifts, than pick up back here to discover your gifts.

Video Introduction to Spiritual Gifts

Besides the scriptures mentioned in the video, the main New Testament verses regarding spiritual gifts are these:

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions ? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7-13)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:3-8)

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Steps to Determine Your Spiritual Gifts

Asking. Begin to ask God to show you your gifts (Phil. 4:6-7; Jas. 1:5). God wants you to discover and implement the gifts He has given you, and this is a request you can make with confidence and expectation.

Awareness. Expose yourself to other Christians who clearly know and use their spiritual gifts. Ask them about their gifts and how they discovered them.

Aspiration. God is committed to your joy, not your misery. Then you will take “delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). As you pray and learn about the various gifts, ask yourself what you would most want to do. For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Your feelings should not be the only test, but they may indicate the direction for you to take. For example, Paul told Timothy, if someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work (1 Tim. 3:1).

Activity. Just as we discover our natural talents by trying our hand at numerous things, in the same way we can discover our spiritual gifts by experimenting with several of the available gifts. If we don’t try, we will never know. This requires availability and a willingness to learn our weaknesses as well as strengths.

Ability. Activity eventually points to ability. Don’t be premature in your personal evaluation, because ability increases with practice. Be sensitive to areas of improvement. Look for opportunities within the community of believers of which you are a part, and seek the evaluation of mature Christians who are familiar with your activities. Because of the danger of self-deception, spiritual gifts are best recognized by other members of the church family.

Affirmation. The final affirmation of a spiritual gift is the blessing that should result from its exercise. As you use your gift or gift-combination in the power of the Spirit, God will confirm and establish you in your ministry, and there will continue to be positive feedback from those to whom you minister. It has been said that desire may indicate it, ability will confirm it, and blessing will accompany it.

In addition to contemplating the steps above, you can take a survey to obtain additional direction.

There are many Spiritual Gift Surveys available. This one was chosen from a list of the best and it is also FREE. It should take 10-12 minutes. I suggest that you print the results page because when I copied it, it put all zeros in the totals per gift.

Spiritual Gifts Survey

Now that you have some idea of what your gift(s) may be, I’ll give you some more information about each.

What are the Spiritual Gifts

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF ADMINISTRATION

This spiritual gift, like helps, appears only one time in the New Testament, and it is used outside of Scripture for a helmsman who steers a ship to its destination. This suggests that the spiritual gift of administration is the ability to steer a church or Christian organization toward the fulfillment of its goals by managing its affairs and implementing necessary plans. The gift of administration allows a person to organize people and resources for greater efficiency, effectiveness, and success. Administrators have the natural ability to apply resources where they will do the greatest good. They are good with details and are deeply aware of how all the parts of a group or organization work together. A person may have the gift of leadership without the gift of administration. (1 Cor. 12:28)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF APOSTLESHIP

The gift of apostleship compels people to reach out to new and unfamiliar groups and individuals to invite them into relationship with God and community. Apostles share the story of faith in other lands, cultures, and traditions, as well as welcoming the stranger in their own land. Apostles extend the hand of friendship to those of other generations, nations, and languages. Many apostles desire to be missionaries. (1 Cor. 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11)

In the New Testament, the apostles were not limited to the Twelve, but included Paul, Barnabas, Andronicus, Junias, and others as well (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 15:5,7; 1 Thess. 2:6). If the requirement for the office of apostle includes having seen the resurrected Jesus (Acts 1:21, 1 Cor. 9:1), this office ceased to exist by the second century. However, many believe that the gift of apostleship continues to be given.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF COMPASSION

The gift of compassion moves people to action on behalf of those in need and those who are often overlooked. Compassion is not a simple caring about others, but such a radical caring that we have no choice but to make sacrifices for others. Those with the gift of compassion rarely ask, “Should I help,” but instead focus on how to help. Compassion makes us fundamentally aware of the Christ in others and springs from our desire to care for all of God’s creatures and creation. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Ephesians 4:32.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF DISCERNMENT

Discernment is a gift of deep intuition and insight. Discerning people can separate truth from fiction, in some cases, spiritual versus carnal motives. and know at a visceral level when people are being honest. Deeply sensitive and “tuned in,” those with the gift of discernment are open to feelings, new ideas, and intuition as valid and credible information. Discernment is not irrational, but trans-rational—beyond empirical—knowledge. (1 Cor. 12:10, 1 John 4:6). Your exhortation is 1 John 4:1

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EVANGELISM

The gift of evangelism is the gift of faith-sharing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to those we meet. Evangelism is primarily a one-to-one or small group experience, grounded in building relationships with others and inviting them to make a decision for Christ. Gifted evangelists do not force their faith on others, but offer relationship with God as a gift, and are ready to tell the story of God and Christ in their own lives. (Eph. 4:11) Your exhortation is Acts 1:8.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF EXHORTATION

The gift of exhortation is manifest in people who offer encouragement, wise counsel, unflagging support, and empowerment. Those who exhort stay focused on helping people maximize their own potential and live from their own gifts and skills. Exhorters help people feel good about themselves, build confidence, and not grow discouraged. Often, those with the gift of exhortation make others feel good just by being present. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is Hebrews 3:13; 10:25.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF FAITH

The gift of faith is more than belief in Jesus Christ, but an abiding foundation of confidence that God works all things together for good, and that the people of God can rise above any obstacle. Faith is the bedrock upon which we build lives, congregations, and communities. People with the gift of faith hold fast to the deep conviction that no matter what we see with our eyes, we can trust the promises and plan of God. (1 Cor. 12:9). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 5:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF GIVING

The gift of giving is the deep commitment to provide whatever resources are needed to support God’s will and plan.  In addition to radical generosity, those who possess the gift of giving have the uncanny ability to discover and channel new sources of money, time, and energy to needs. Money management skills, grant writing abilities, and the easy knack of asking for donations and cultivating donors are among common skills of gifted givers. Christians with this spiritual gift need not be wealthy. (Rom. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HEALING

The gift of healing is about the ability to channel God’s grace and healing love to those who suffer physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. The possessor of this gift is not the source of power, but a vessel who can only heal those diseases the Lord chooses to heal. Healers pray for those who suffer, visit those who are ill, and are usually moved to extend a hand of comfort and touch to those who are afflicted. Healers give their time and energy to offering aid and comfort to others. Inner healing, or healing of memories is sometimes associated as another manifestation of this gift. (1 Cor. 12:9, 28, 30)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HELPING

Helping is a gift of support and behind-the-scenes effort that make groups, families, and congregations more effective. Not everyone is gifted to lead, but many are gifted to follow and handle the tasks that are so essential, but less glamorous. Helpers love to serve others, support others, and assist others in the important work of ministry and mission. Tireless in their willingness to serve, helpers are less interested in receiving thanks and recognition than in doing good, valuable work.

1 Cor 12:28 is the only usage of this word in the New Testament, and it appears to be distinct from the gift of service. Some suggest that while the gift of service is more group-oriented, the gift of helps is more person-oriented.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES

Those who are gifted to interpret tongues help build bridges across cultural, generational, and language divides. People who possess this gift have an innate ability to learn new languages and cultural practices and can help others understand them as well. Foreign speaking people are attracted to those with this gift and feel intuitively that they will be better understood and received by interpreters. Interpretation breaks down barriers. (1 Cor. 14:13, 1 Cor. 14:26-28, 1 Cor. 12:10, 30, 1 Cor. 14:5, 13, 26)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE

The gift of knowledge allows people to automatically convert facts, data, and information into useful and important knowledge for the benefit of others. People possessing this gift can learn in a variety of ways, retain what they learn, and understand how learning can be applied in meaningful and productive ways. Some also associate supernatural perception with this gift. Those gifted with knowledge have a voracious and insatiable desire to learn more, and they seek multiple avenues for deepening their understanding of God’s world, God’s will, and God’s people. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is 2 Peter 3:18.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF LEADERSHIP

The gift of leadership is a visionary, and forward-looking gift that enables people to stay focused on where God might be leading us as individuals, congregations, and communities at any given time. Leaders look more to where we are going rather than where we currently are, or where we have been. Leaders motivate others to work together in ways that help them achieve more together than any could on their own. Leaders provide examples of how we should order our lives to honor and glorify God. (Rom. 12:8)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF MIRACLES

There is some difference of opinion regarding the gift of miracles. Some think that it is the ability to serve as an instrument though whom God accomplishes acts that manifest supernatural power.

Other believe the gift of miracles is not about performing miracles, but about living in the miraculous reality of God’s creation. That those gifted with miracles never doubt the power and presence of God in creation and can help others see and believe in God’s power. Living in the spirit of the miraculous, people see God in nature, in relationships, in kind acts, and in the power of love. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 29)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF PROPHECY

The gift of prophecy is the ability to speak God’s word to others, or more appropriately to be open for God to speak God’s word through us. Prophets do not predict the future but offer insight and perspective on current conditions and how things might turn out if changes aren’t made. Prophets are incisive, clear, and often controversial, communicators. Prophets see things that others often don’t, and they have the courage to “tell it like it ought to be.” Some maintain that prophecy is still operative in this sense today, while others say that the nearest current equivalent is Spirit-empowered preaching. (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28, Eph. 4:11)

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SERVANTHOOD

Servanthood is the gift of doing for others, sometimes to the exclusion of meeting personal needs.  Servants look for ways to do for others both within and beyond the congregation and community. Servants do not choose to serve but serve from a sense of identity and call. Gifted servants never feel put-upon or taken advantage of but see each opportunity to do for others to be true to self. The Greek word for this gift is the same as that for ministry or deacon, but the gift should not be confused with the office. (Rom. 12:7). Your exhortation is Galatians 5:13.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF SHEPHERDING

The gift of shepherding is the gift of mentoring and providing spiritual guidance to others to help them develop in the discipleship and faith formation. Shepherds take an active and individualized interest in the life of faith of others. Shepherds share from their own faith journey to make the way easier for others. Shepherds are good at asking provocative questions, recommending appropriate resources and experiences, and helping people find their own way to the next level of their development.

The Greek word “poimen” means pastor. In Paul’s spiritual gifts listing in Ephesians 4:11, this term is translated “pastor.” Although the word “poimen” is translated pastor only one time in Scripture it is used sixteen additional times. The remaining sixteen are all translated “shepherd.” Therefore, we are discussing the GIFT of shepherding, not the POSITION of pastor. Though a good pastor must have the gift of shepherding, everyone who has the gift of shepherding is not called to be pastor. The gift can be used in many positions in a church.

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TEACHING

The gift of teaching allows people to transform data and information into life changing knowledge. Teachers do not have to stand in front of a class to teach. Often gifted teachers communicate best in informal, one-on-one settings. Teachers have the uncanny knack of helping people learn effortlessly. People internalize and retain the knowledge and learning they receive from gifted teachers. Good teachers transform more than they inform. (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Your exhortation is Matthew 28:19

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF TONGUES

The gift of tongues is a communication gift that allows people to speak foreign or spiritual languages they had not formally studied. People with this gift “pick up” the ability to communicate across barriers of language, culture, age, or physical limitation (some people with the gift of tongues work with the deaf or blind).  The identification of the gift of tongues as a “secret” prayer language is often misunderstood. This gift is given for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12:10, 28, 30; 1 Cor. 14:1-40; 1 Cor. 14:13; 1 Cor. 14:26-28)

Because of the controversial nature of this gift, here are several observations:

  1. Paul qualified the public use of this gift, stating that in a meeting of the church, two or at the most three could speak in a tongue, it must be done in turn, and a person with the gift of interpretation must be present so that the body would be edified (1 Cor. 14:26-28).
  2. There are several differences between the manifestation of tongues at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) and its use in Corinth (1 Cor. 14), and these differences suggest that the two are not identical.
  3. In his list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul spoke of kinds of tongues. This, coupled with the statements in 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 14-15, 28, has led many to distinguish a private use of tongues, often called a prayer language (1 Cor. 14:14-15), from the public use of tongues which must be interpreted. Paul wrote that if there is no interpreter, the possessor of this gift should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14:28).
  4. This gift is easily counterfeited and often abused. It can be a source of spiritual pride, excessive preoccupation, and divisiveness.
  5. Contrary to some teaching, tongues are not the only sign of the filling of the Spirit, and not all believers are to manifest this gift (1 Cor. 12:17-19,30).

THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF WISDOM

The gift of wisdom allows people to understand deeper meaning and apply knowledge, beliefs, and experience to everyday situations. Wise gifted individuals make connections and help other make them as well — to understand the implications of our beliefs and actions. Those gifted with wisdom often understand root causes of disagreements, conflict, and barriers to growth and development. People with wisdom help others understand and clarify options to make good decisions. (1 Cor. 12:8). Your exhortation is James 1:5

None of the lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 is complete, and it is evident that there are other spiritual gifts apart from those listed above. C. Peter Wagner in Your Spiritual Gifts suggests these additions:

Voluntary poverty (the ability to renounce material comfort and adopt a lifestyle of relative poverty; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Martyrdom (the ability to display an attitude of joy while suffering or even dying for the faith; 1 Cor. 13:3);

Hospitality (the ability to welcome and provide for those in need of food and lodging; Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:9);

Intercession (the ability to pray for a long period of time on a regular basis for the ministries and needs of others).

Other spiritual gifts (e.g., music, craftsmanship) are also given to members of the body of Christ for mutual edification.

These are Not Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual fruit is produced from within; spiritual gifts are bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Fruit relates to Christlike character; gifts relate to Christian service. The fruit of the Spirit, especially love, should be the context for the use of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit are worthless. Fruit is eternal, but gifts are temporal (1 Cor. 13:8); the former is a true measure of spirituality, but the latter is not.

Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. Unlike the natural abilities which everyone has from birth, spiritual gifts belong exclusively to believers in Christ. In some cases, the gifts of the Spirit coincide with natural endowments, but they transcend these natural abilities by adding a supernatural quality. Both are given by God (Jas. 1:17) and should be developed and used according to their purpose for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

All Christians are called to a ministry, but not all are called to an office. Ministry is determined by divinely given gifts and opportunities (Eph. 3:7). Offices (e.g., elder, deacon, evangelist, and teacher) are humanly recognized and appointed spheres of ministry within the body.

Have the Gifts of the Spirit Ceased?

You are probably familiar with the following verses, but do you remember what is says about the gifts of the Spirit?

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

So now that you’ve possibly just started exploring your spiritual gifts, I give you pause. But fear not.

In the video below, Raymond Goodlett discusses whether the Gifts of the Spirit have ceased to be present or necessary in the modern age. Did all or some of the gifts cease to be given since the time of Jesus? You will need to skip an ad before getting to the good stuff.

Video Discussion of Whether the Gifts of the Spirit Still Exist.

Diversity and Unity in the Body of Christ

When the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, a new entity was created. This entity consists of all those who have received the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus and become sons and daughters of God. The most frequently used metaphor for this new creation is the body of Christ.

The three major New Testament lists of the gifts are all introduced by a description of the unity and diversity in the body of Christ. Paul’s metaphor for the church could not be more appropriate, because both the universal church (all believers) and the local church (geographically localized groups of believers) are unities which are built out of diverse elements. All believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ is the head, the ruler of the body (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col. 1:18), and believers are the individual members or components.

In this analogy, each Christian has been given a special function to perform and the ability to fulfill it in a way that will benefit the other members. There is quantitative and qualitative growth when believers discover and actively use their spiritual gifts. Each part of the body depends on the rest for its well-being, and there are no useless organs. This is why edification through teaching and fellowship is so necessary in the local church. Just as no organ can function independently of the others, so no Christian can enjoy spiritual vitality in a relational vacuum. The Spirit has distributed spiritual gifts to every member of the body, and no single member possesses all the gifts. Thus, growth does not take place apart from mutual ministry and dependence.

Developing Your Spiritual Gift(s)

Having discovered your gift or combination of gifts, you are accountable to yourself, others, and God to develop and cultivate that which the Spirit has implanted within you. In The Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, William McRae suggests that the gifts of the Spirit are developed in three ways:

By exercise. Like natural talents, spiritual gifts are developed by practice, not just by desire. Without regular exercise, they will suffer from atrophy. Continue to pursue opportunities and persevere in the use of your gift(s).

By evaluation. Be open to the evaluation and counsel of other believers. Periodically ask godly people to evaluate your ministry in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and ways to improve.

By education. More educational and developmental materials are available today than ever before. Take advantage of the best books, classes, tapes, and seminars that can help you improve your God-given abilities.

Danger of Abuse

The mobilization of spiritual gifts is critical to the qualitative and quantitative growth of the body of Christ. For this reason, we must be careful to avoid the many pitfalls associated with this crucial subject. Here are some guidelines:

Spiritual gifts are not merely for personal use. They are designed for the edification of others. Others should benefit primarily; the barer of the gift should benefit secondarily.

Spiritual gifts cannot be useful through your power alone. If they are not used to channel the power of the Spirit and through the love of Christ, they are of no value (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

The discovery and use of spiritual gifts is not a game or an option. Your gifts will determine your ministry, and your ministry can have eternal consequences. God has called us to be committed and faithful to Him, and this is reflected in part by our stewardship of the abilities and opportunities He has given to us.

Spiritual gifts should not be a cause of pride. Since they are distributed according to the grace of God, they ought to be regarded as divinely entrusted responsibilities, not status symbols, achievements, or trophies. Christian character and maturity are measured by the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), not spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts should not be sought as ends in themselves. In some circles, there is a tendency to exalt the gifts above the Giver.

Avoid extreme positions on the gifts that are not warranted by Scripture, like the teaching that we should not seek to discover spiritual gifts, or the teaching that a Spirit-filled Christian can have all the gifts.

Avoid the temptation of projecting your gifts onto others. Our thinking is naturally colored by the gifts we have been given, and if we are not careful, we will take the prescription that works for us and turn it into the norm for everyone. This can lead to a judgmental perspective on our part and a sense of guilt on the part of others who are not gifted in the same way.

Conclusion

Here are four principles that should govern our use of spiritual gifts:

Remember that the Holy Spirit is the true dynamic behind the gifts. They must be exercised in dependence upon His power.

Spiritual gifts function best in the sphere of love (the way that is beyond comparison; 1 Cor. 12:31). Paul placed his great description of love (1 Cor. 13) right in the middle of the most extensive biblical passage on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14). It is no accident that the two other major lists of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12 and Eph. 4) also include exhortations to love (see Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 4:15-16).

In your ministry, concentrate your energy in productive areas. It is wise to maximize time in gift-related activities and minimize time in activities for which you are not suited.

On the other hand, Scripture commands all believers to perform certain ministries regardless of individual gifts. Christian roles like intercession, faith, service, helps, mercy, and giving are the responsibility of all Christians, not just those who are specifically gifted in these areas. For example, some have the spiritual gift of evangelism, but all believers have a role of evangelism that corresponds to the opportunities they have been given. Be careful to avoid the spiritual cop-out mentality that says, That’s not my gift!

If you found this post inspiring, interesting, useful or informative, please share it on one of the platforms below. Thank you.

References:

Kenneth Boa in his article “The Gits of the Spirit

Exploring Your Spiritual Gifts” by The Methodist Church

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus child walk away in forest

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me / Spiritual Meditations

In all my years of ministry, it might be one of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had with someone. A family member called me up early one morning (about 2 am) saying, “I think it’s my mother’s time.” After jumping in the shower so I could at least be presentable, I rushed the three or four blocks up the road with some sliced up whole wheat bread from our personal breadbox and some cranapple juice we had in the fridge so that I could administer “Methodist last rites” as requested by the person on the phone.

Walking into the living room felt like walking into a funeral home parlor. The mood was so somber that I guessed the person passing would be very young. A man approached me and led toward the stairs. I’d never seen him before in my life – to this day I don’t know how he got my phone number. “Mom never went to church that we know of” he said. “None of us do. We didn’t know who to call, but she started…. seeing things. She won’t drink, she won’t eat, and she started saying, ‘Just take me Jesus.’ I didn’t even know she thought twice about Jesus. So, we called you.”

Ever since that night, I have thought myself unbelievably lucky and blessed that, for whatever reason, this family reached out to me; a 23-year old, second year in solo ministry, new father and seminary student to attend at this woman’s bedside. For over a decade now, this one circumstance has shaped my understanding of the deep need and desire of individuals in their last days on earth.

Walking up the stairs of this house for the first and only time, the smell and the screaming were something terrible. I felt as if I had been transported into the middle of the film “The Exorcist” or something. What awaited me up there?

When I turned the corner, I saw her. Frail as could be, white as a sheet, curled up into a ball yet somehow sitting erect in her bed, wishing for death, and in absolute agony. As lovingly as I could muster, I walked towards her, placed a hand on her back and introduced myself, “I’m Pastor Nathan from the church down the street. Your family has called me here. They say you’ve seen Jesus and are ready to go.” She looked me in the eyes and said something I’ll never forget, “I saw HIM. He was standing there with my mother. I never knew He was real. I…. AM…. SO…. SCARED.” I looked at her with love and tears in my eyes and asked, “why are you scared if you think he’s here for you?” And the tears began to stream down her face as she entered into a coughing fit.

Her daughter, who was sitting near, said, “Well, mom has never believed. She always said she was an agnostic, but that’s probably because she didn’t want to just say she was an atheist. She always disliked Christians generally. She had me before she was married when it was socially unacceptable. She was married four times and had four divorces. She spent all her money quickly, and then in retirement had to move in with us. She doesn’t have a penny to her name and recently she was telling me that she didn’t think she was a very good person or mother. Now that she ‘saw’ something, she’s afraid of death.”

Who are the “Good” and the “Bad”?

This experience profoundly shaped how I understand the basic needs of most of us in this world, especially when it comes to the spiritual. Generally speaking, I think we fall into two categories as individuals.

  • Either we believe we are good people and so something good must be waiting for us after this life
  • Or We think we are not great people and we don’t think about what’s waiting for us or we don’t WANT to think about it.

The truth is, however, as we read the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, we understand that while we might have all started out OK, something along the way has become fundamentally broken in us. Most self-thought “good people” tend to spend most of their lives actively fixing what is broken or ignoring the brokenness of the world believing that they won’t be impacted by it – leaving them whole and good.

When we read the New Testament, we see these attitudes strikingly on display. In the stories of Jesus, we see self-thought good people – Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, religious leaders – who talked about their religious piety and constantly criticized Jesus and the disciples for attending to the broken underbelly of the world. Their criticism was simple – if you’re a good, righteous, holy person then you can’t possibly associate with the broken, unholy, and unrighteous people.

Jesus and the Leper

In Leviticus 13:45-46, we get a glimpse of why the stories of Jesus and lepers, caused such a fuss among the religious elite,

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as they have the disease, they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”

Anyone who the priests considered to be “unclean,” were thought to have been made that way as a punishment from God. Therefore, when Jesus related to them, even reaching out and touching them, He was associating with them and crossing the boundary set up in the minds of “good people”. That is just something you didn’t do in the Middle Eastern, Judeo worldview of Jesus’ day. If people were broken, in ill health, and suffering it was because of something bad they had done – in other words, they were “bad people.” To be a “good person” one must not associate with them.

Have things changed at all in our day? Don’t we still have a strong cultural current that says if someone is suffering it’s because they don’t work hard enough; if someone suffers from a mental illness it is because they are thinking wrong; diseases and even plagues are judgments from God? Certainly, we understand this view, even if many of us don’t subscribe to it in whole or in part. Yet the woman I met that night in the bed felt her death would be painful and she was awaiting her punishment, not because she cast herself in such a bad light, but because she had been told that everything she did was wrong. Yet at the last, as she was catching glimpses of the truth of Jesus, she wanted something different for herself. She wanted to be able to reach out and touch him. She wanted to be able to be with Him and NOT be afraid of Him. Is the scripture below so very different?

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

This person came to Jesus as “unclean, unclean,” and approached Jesus through a crowd just as Jesus had come down from the mountaintop to teach the crowd and disciples about the shape and character of His ministry and what His disciples should do. This person could have suffered from any number of skin diseases because back then leprosy wasn’t exclusively what we think of it, in fact it may have been merely a case of psoriasis. This person had been confined to the underbelly of society. Is he so different from any of us? If we understand the fundamental truth that none of us are “good people” and we are all in need of a savior to do what we cannot do for ourselves, then can we not see ourselves in this man? And is this man not even further along than many of us because he recognizes his own need?

Jesus’ Earthly Ministry to the Broken

I’ve built this up long enough, let me share with you what this scripture passage is really all about and why it matters. We have here in these four verses, an entire shorthand for the Scriptures and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. It begins with Jesus coming down from the mountain. The wording here parallels Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai after receiving the commandments directly from God. It also intentionally recalls God, in Jesus, coming down to earth and encountering the brokenness of humanity as typified in this leper.

God in Jesus had come to earth not to go to those who think of themselves as “good people” but to be with those who were ostracized, marginalized, felt penalized, and had been victimized by the brokenness and fallenness of this world. Jesus didn’t spend much time healing or ministering with the Herods, the Pilates, the Ceasars, the Pharisees, of this world. Only when people approach HIM with an acknowledgement of their own brokenness, of our own brokenness, can Jesus truly get to work. And this man, this leper did exactly that.

God, in Jesus, came down to this world to be in ministry and mission to the broken and acknowledging needy of this place. This leper approached him and cried out, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” Now, imagine that scene. This leper, this outcast, this less than a person in many people’s eyes, approached Jesus, through the crowd of “good people” coming down off the mountain with Jesus. Imagine how that sea of humanity might have parted in front of him as all of those “good people” got out of his way, casting a wide berth so that whatever punishment of God had fallen on this man would not fall on them. And he approached Jesus with something that looked a bit like faith, did he not? He didn’t approach Jesus with a question, “can you heal me?” or even “would you consider it?” He didn’t approach Jesus with a doubt, “I heard you might be able to do something.” NO, he approaches with what looks like a confession, “if you choose, you CAN make me clean.” It was a bold statement from someone we never hear from again in the story. It was a bold statement about who Jesus is – to this man, Jesus is Lord. The Lord who CAN do something. The Lord who at the strength of His word or grace of His hand can reach out and effect the situation.

The Living Dead

Did you know that lepers were known in the Bible as “living dead?” In 2 Kings in the story of the healing of Naaman the leper, we read that the king of Israel declared that all humanity is powerless over leprosy and that to heal Naaman would be like “[bringing him] back to life?” Yes, lepers were the walking dead, and here was the walking dead crying out to Jesus for what? For healing? Or for life? This one who the world considered dead cried out to Jesus not just for a skin healing, but to be raised to life! And the way it’s phrased, “if you choose, you can make me clean” is an early confession that points to the Easter truth that Jesus is the Lord of life and death! Jesus, yes, this Jesus, CAN bring the dead to life – but it only works for those who know they need it. In this man’s quest for healing and resurrection, he had placed the entire onus of this healing, restoration, and resurrection not in his own power and will, but in the hands of Jesus.

God Wouldn’t Want Someone Like Me

We have to this point the image of Jesus coming down from the mountain, God stepping out of heaven, into a world where many believe themselves to be good, but one person has come up to Jesus with the confession of His own brokenness and the confession that only Jesus, God, the Lord, has the power to save, if He wills. And I think back to that bedside and that conversation with that woman who had come to the end of her days and faced the realization of who she felt she had been and decided that she wanted a different ending to her story and, in the last moments, when she had come face to face with Jesus, didn’t know what to do. So, someone was called to step in and help her find the path. And her question for me was never going to be “how can I be saved” or “how can I have eternity”. It was always going to be the question that resonates deep inside of every single one of us, “Does God, does Jesus even want me???” The leper said, “if you choose.” This gave God, this gave Jesus who contained and assumed the power of God, the ability to choose this person’s fate. The question the leper was asking went like this, “I know you can, but do you even want me, Jesus?!” And isn’t this the question that burns in your heart? And isn’t this the question that burns in the heart of the world? And isn’t this the question that arises from those who are lost, and hungry, and hurting, and in need of healing, and broken? Isn’t this the question and the pain and agony of existence rolled into one that we hear repeated over and over, “God, do you even want me?” Or putting it in the negative which we hear too often, “God wouldn’t WANT someone like me!” And on this woman’s deathbed was her question and confession. “Why has Jesus come for me? What would he want with me? He wouldn’t CHOOSE me! He’s not here for me! Is he?”

Yet we have in this story of this nameless, faceless leper at the foot of the mountain making confession and plea to Jesus, the answer all of us wait to hear. The one that our hearts hope to receive. We have the words of Jesus and the response that the world groans and longs for each moment of each torturous hour, when Jesus reaches back out to the man and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”

We hear these words echo down through the ages when we listen for them. We feel them in our hearts in a new and vibrant way if we wait for them and long for them. Wherever we are and whatever circumstance we find ourselves trapped in or victimized by, however sin has manifested itself in our lives, however we have experienced our separation from God or from others. WE, WE TOO, can hear these words spoken through this text to us, into our lives and hearts today, “I do choose!” We can shout these words of assurance that “I, yes, even I have been chosen by God”. We hear these words of Jesus echo throughout this scripture into eternity to each of us saying “I. Choose. You.”

Jesus Christ Chooses You

The words I shared with that woman whose family had called me to be there before she took her last breath were these from Ephesians 1:4 “God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world.” In a different translation “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” And it didn’t matter to God, to Jesus, that she had waited her whole life before realizing that she was included in God’s heart and in God’s plan; that Jesus was there for her; that she was loved by Him; that He did choose her.

And for the first time since she was a little child in her mother’s church, she received communion that evening with a little sliver of bread from my kitchen. As it rolled around in her mouth, she did her absolute best to choke down the cranapple juice that stood in for the blood of Christ, even though her body wanted to violently reject it – she wanted it for the first time. She wanted to make that confession. She wanted to say that prayer. And she laid there and said, “I do believe, Jesus. I know you can do something.” And she wretched and she wasted, but she was also overcome by – peace.

I can’t tell you that there was a physical miracle that occurred, and she returned to health and lived many more years. I can tell you peace came over her that night and after she passed away a week later, her family told me that the last week of her life was the most peaceful and joyful they had ever experienced with her. That the pain had gone, the violent thrashing had gone, and when her time came, she “went with Jesus with a smile.” I believe that her peace came from knowing that God and Jesus Christ chose her.

Conclusion

John Wesley had an experience we call the Aldersgate experience because it happened at a meeting on Aldersgate street. He wrote in his journal about that evening and the power it had over him and how it set the course for his ministry, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” We can hear this story time and time again, through the leper, through Wesley, in the course of our lives, and from this woman. Yet what matters is this – do you know? Do you know and believe and trust that yes, Jesus is saying “I. Choose You.”?

Written by Rev. Nathan W. Carlson

child reading Bible in bed

The Baffling Look of a Christian | Spiritual Meditations

Who or what is a Christian?

The ambiguity encourages criticism and accusation of hypocrisy against all Christians when non-Christians witness, or become aware of, unchristian acts performed by professed Christians.

In a broad sense, a Christian is anyone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ. Some people are better at this than others.

Christians Are Not Perfect

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Granted, nobody is perfect and, try as we might, we do the things we don’t want to do and we don’t do the things we want to do. (Roman 7:15) It may not be in a person’s personality to be generous because their economic circumstances were less than desirable as children. Or perhaps, due to low self-esteem, someone criticizes others a little too much. But for the person who is trying to live the teachings of Jesus, these should be mistakes, not a way of life.

Christians are Diverse

The amount of devotion to Christianity varies widely among individuals and progresses along a continuum. On one end are the politicians who say they are Christians to solicit the Christian vote. On the other end are the people who have dedicated their lives to God’s work through various ministries or by becoming missionaries.

In between there is a host of people, from many denominations, with priorities that they have chosen or have been imposed upon them. Their development toward God can stall at any point as they mature, resulting in a group that lacks uniformity with an inconsistent application of Jesus’ teachings.  Christians do not all develop their faith at the same rate or at the same time.  I expect there is a continuum of devotion or interest with most religious and secular groups.  We humans have the free-will to decide the extent to which we want to be involved.

My Relationship with God is of Little Importance

Many individuals were taken to church by their parent when they were children. As soon as they reached puberty and had more voice in their activities, church fell by the wayside. Another group views church attendance as a part of the expected festivities on religious holidays, similar to fireworks on Independence Day.

This group self-identifies as Christian, but is missing the regular reminders of what their relationship with God could be and what kind of people they need to be to have a relationship with God. As a result, they have less knowledge of what the Christian life entails. They are not guided by the Holy Spirit and are, therefore, more likely to provide a poor example to non-Christians.

Is Church Necessary?

It is possible to have a healthy relationship with God without Christian fellowship, but it requires much individual study of resources that you may not be aware of. Building your understanding and relationship with God can take years and not everyone has the inherent personality traits that allow the consistent prayer and dedication required. Church resources and the help of other Christians makes it easier.   If you are a person who wants to help others, such as the economically disadvantaged, service opportunities are generally already initiated by churches and you can just plug in to them or lead new ones.

Once a Week is Enough for Me

There is a group of people who attend church regularly because they started as children, were told it was the right thing to do, and it is now a habit. Some churches try to frightened parishioners into attendance and are successful in doing so, but the individual may regard it as a duty rather than an opportunity to grow in their faith. Yet others have so many commitments that church attendance once a week is all they can manage. The type of services to others, that Jesus asked his followers to embrace, is largely ignored.

The exception in this group, of course, are the folks who have served God during their earlier years, but no longer have adequate health to continue in an active way. They generally do their best to attend religious services regularly and contribute financially to support others in good works.

I’m Born Again

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”  Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:1-8)

A ‘Born Again Christian’ is someone who has had a conversion experience. A person accepts Jesus Christ into their life and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They may have already considered themselves a Christian or not. It may be a very quiet or a very charismatic episode, but it is always emotional. Afterwards, the individual is highly motivated to learn all they can about Jesus and God and they are ‘on fire’ to put their new found Spirit into active service.

Their heightened response to the experience may continue for a life time or it may resolve into a more internal dedication, depending on the personality. Some people may have a decline in interest, called ‘back sliding’, but this can reverse again at another time. Jesus compared being ‘born again of the Holy Spirit’ to the wind….it is difficult to explain and must be experienced.

Let Me Help

You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone. (James 2:24)

Individuals who have developed a connection with God, no matter how strong it is, get involved in God’s work. Having received the Holy Spirit, they cannot help themselves…. they are compelled by God’s love from within to do so. Their contribution can be physical and/or financial.  It may be out of their own abundance or, as Jesus extoled, they may give all that they have. (Mark 12:41-44 see below). For those that can, the occasional mission trip may be part of their service to God and humanity. Local community needs are identified and church groups are organized to address those needs.

I want to Minister to Others Full Time

….to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Jesus Christ, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Cor 1:2)

One hundred years ago a trained missionary moved to an area in the world where non-Christians lived and tried to convert them to Christianity. They were the administrators of evangelistic schools, hospitals and churches

People involved in missions today, sacrificially cross social, cultural and political boundaries to spread God’s love through service. They come from all walks of life and may receive many months of training which is broader based than a century ago. With the advent of cheaper airfares and the internet, medical, business, agricultural, and apostolic short term and long-term missions have proliferated. There is now an emphasis on working with a community to develop solutions to its needs and train it to maintain those solutions.

The ministers or pastors of churches are generally called by God to fill that role. Additionally, they must meet the educational and experience requirements of the church that is hiring. This could be very little or could include up to four years of college and two to three years of graduate school. This is a big decision, but because of their ability to sense God’s guidance, it is a decision they are confirmed in making.

Conclusion

Those who lump together all Christians, expecting them to meet the single perfect standard that Jesus encourages, are not aware of the continuum of spiritual development. The amount of time and effort one puts into reading spiritual texts and meditating on Christian values, which is invisible to non-Christians, is the determining factor in the level of Christian maturity that is achieved.

Each Christian may be the only Christ that some people will ever see and we must be vigilant to be the best role models we can be. It is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Relevant Scripture

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you (John 14:26)

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watch the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, the poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on. (Mark 12:41-44)

Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

References

http://www.bu.edu/cgcm/files/2009/09/101015dldanarobertpaper.pdf

The Bible