|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 15: Secure in my Gifting
“ For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do ”
In this chapter we go back again to consider our calling, this time to consider our role in the body of Christ. Many Christians are unsure of their role, their gifting or their call to service in the body. When we are sure about these things we can be secure in the way we minister to one another.
15.1 The Fact of Gifting
An Old Testament example
When we look at the life of Jeremiah we find something very distinctive: God called him to the ministry of a prophet even before he was born, i.e. God had a plan and a purpose for him even before he arrived on this earth. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:5)
It is clear from this verse that
But merely because God chose one individual does that mean He chooses each of us in the same way? We've already seen in an earlier chapter something of the sovereignty of God as seen in the way He dealt with individuals in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we find various clues that the same is true for all of us who are Christians. Previously we considered Eph 1:4,5 and the three possible ways of viewing those verse, and we suggested that they didn't make us what we now are. They aren't as explicit as God's words to Jeremiah but they do indicate God's foreknowledge, at the very least, so we need to look elsewhere for more concrete direction.
Rom 12:3,4,6 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 judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you . Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so…We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
Gifts are Given!
Three times in these verses 3 & 6 Paul speaks about what we have been GIVEN by God. Grace in this context is simply the divine enabling to do something you naturally couldn't do otherwise. Faith in this context is the ability to believe the unseen. The emphasis in this is that what we have is a GIFT from God, not earned (see also Eph 2:9), so we have no room to be proud about the particular ability that God has given us.
Peter's exhortation in 1 Pet 5:5 applies aptly here: “ All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The greatest danger with gifts and ministry is that we take them to ourselves and claim what belongs to God alone. Yet for those of us feeling inadequate, insecure and unsure of ourselves, the important thing to remember here is that what we have is a gift from God to bless others. But it is a gift and therefore we don't have it because we earned it or God thought we were worthy of it. Perhaps (and this is an encouraging thought) God knew our potential and so gave us what He knew we could use well.
Gal 3:5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
As Paul chided the Galatians about their legalism, he had to remind them that the miraculous things that God was doing among them were not because they kept the rules, but simply because they believed God, received and responded to His love, and let Him move through them. It was belief and availability, not deserving or earning, that opened the way for God to move in those wonderful ways.
Personal Application: If we are insecure, we may measure either our spirituality or God's love by the measure of gifting we can see in ourselves. Wrong! We need to hear again these are ‘gifts' from God and they are not a measure of either our spirituality or the extent of God's love for us.
If you're still not sure about this read the story of Balaam in Numbers, chapters 22-24. Here is a highly unspiritual man and yet God gifts and uses him! Check out Samson in Judges, chapters 13-16, another highly unspiritual character on whom the Spirit of God came. No, God's love is measured by the Cross, gifts are just a bonus!
Gifts are Different
A second thing to observe is that in verses 4 & 6 Paul says we do not all have the same function and we have different gifts, and the emphasis there is to remind us that we are different from one another and we shouldn't try to be like one another. The reality is that we will have different gifts and different measures of gift.
This is important to understand because so often there is a pressure to conform or, to be more precise, to become uniform, and so in church circles we might feel we all have to have the same things. Over stating Scripture can do this. For example the apostle Paul says in 1 Cor 14:5 “ I would like every one of you to speak in tongues but I would rather have you prophesy ”, suggesting a possibility of all Christians speaking in this heavenly praise language. The pressure may therefore be, in some quarters, to ensure that everyone speaks in tongues.
it as clear cut as that? Back in chapter 12 Paul spoke of the gifts of ministries, one of which was speaking in speaking in different kinds of tongues (v.28). Indeed later on he asks, “Do all speak in tongues?” (v.30), clearly implying that the answer is no. Again reconsidering 14:5 Paul's “I would like every one of you…” could be taken to mean, “If I had my human wish… but I know it isn't like that”.
So what is this to say to us? From what I've seen in practice, I would suggest that the possibility is there for all of us but because of the particular place in life we find ourselves, and because of the limitation of God's grace that has been given to us in this matter, the expression of the gift through us is varied, from nothing to extensive! Let me tell you of an illustration of this.
A number of years ago I was leading a discipleship group in our church and arrived at the part where we teach on having a teachable spirit. As I approached this evening I was aware of the Lord provoking me to take it in a different way from usual and so I put aside the handout sheets and told the group I would like to teach in a very practical way, if they were willing. They indicated they were. I first of all asked them what Jesus last instructions had been at the end of Matthew's Gospel. They correctly told me that it was to “ go and make disciples … baptising them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you ” (Mt 28:19,20). “So,” I asked, “what does teaching involve?” There was a pause then came the reply, “Imparting information from God and then doing it”.
I then took them to 1 Cor 14 and we read the first five verses. We saw:
Now if you are an insecure person, leader or otherwise, you may struggle at what follows, especially if you don't believe in spiritual gifts. If that is you, I'd ask you to read Book 2, the chapter on Being Secure in Ministry, where I cover ministry from the aspect of creating a secure environment for others. For the time being here, I simply want to show you something else.
Having read these verses I asked the group what we had said learning ‘New Testament style' was. They said receiving knowledge or information and then doing it. “Very well,” I replied, “you've just got the knowledge. All it remains is for us to do it. Right?” There was an awkward silence and an uncomfortable feeling entered the room, so I explained further. “The likelihood is that a number, if not most of you, already get pictures from God but perhaps have not been aware of it. I would like to pray over you for a release of faith and then let you prophesy over one another. Would you like that?” There were some tentative nods. So I prayed over them, invited one person to come and sit in a chair in the middle and invited three others to come and pray over that person and listen to what they felt God might want to be saying to that person. “As you pray, imagine Jesus standing here. See him looking at this person and what do you hear him saying to them.” They was a silence for a minute or two then one, then another, started sharing what they felt they had received.
We repeated the exercise a number of times so that everyone in the room had participated. Now I try to be very careful to avoid abuse and to avoid taking the Lord's name in vain, as I hope you'll see in later chapters. All I can tell you is that in the course of that evening each person brought a word of knowledge, a word of revelation or a word of prophecy, frequently saying things that they could not possibly have known about naturally. We checked the things brought each time with the person in the centre chair. By the end of the evening there was a sense of God's goodness filling that room and a group of Jesus' disciples had a new sense of his presence and his love. We repeated the exercise in the wider church context and the same thing happened.
Now, and this is the point of the example, you might expect all these people involved in these exercises to really go on and develop these revelatory gifts, but that's not how it's been. One or two virtually never bring anything, the majority quite often find themselves saying, “You know I feel the Lord is saying this….” or “You know I've just got this picture that I believe is from the Lord” while just a few have gone on and developed a deeper, more mature prophetic gifting. Why? Because it is there for all of us, but for a variety of reasons we appropriate these things differently and grow in them according to the person we are and according to the gifting of God.
Personal Application: Don't try to be someone else. Rejoice in who God has made you to be. I came across a man once who yearned to be a public performer (for Jesus, of course!) yet who was clearly not gifted in that way. So focussed was he on this he completely missed what an amazing person he was when talking to the poor and needy and so he constantly felt miserable. Insecurity was at the heart of his problem. He felt he needed public acclaim to make up for what he considered personal deficiencies, yet all the while he could not see that what he took for granted, his ability to love and care in a practical way, was what Paul called the gift of mercy (Rom 12:8), and he certainly wasn't doing it cheerfully!
Gifts - their Purpose
God doesn't give us gifts haphazardly and just to give us a personal buzz! He gives them because He wants to bless and build the church, the body of Christ. I'll pick up on two of the New Testament lists of gifts in the later chapter that I've already referred to but for now consider whatever natural abilities you have and then whatever spiritual abilities or gifts that you have. Do you see these as gifts from God or have you simply taken them for granted and been proud about how clever you are, what a great musician you are, or whatever else you are good at? One day we'll have to account to God for these things, these gifts. They are given to bless others.
1 Pet 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
In that verse the apostle Peter clearly makes this point. Whatever gift we have received is to serve others. The gift is an expression of God's grace through you to them. When Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he kept on speaking about gifts ‘edifying' or building up the church (1 Cor 14:4,5,17). Specifically he says:
Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church (v.12) and
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (v.26)
Personal Application: So why are we considering these things? Because very often, insecure Christians use gifts and abilities as a means to create a sense of personal worth, instead of a means of blessing others. When you use your gift, are you so filled with the love of God so that it overflows and the person or people before you fill your heart. Gifts are for giving, not for personal glory.
15.2 Limited or No Gifting
A cry that comes from many Christians, especially where there is insecurity, is “But I don't have any gifting!” This probably won't apply if you are a leader, but if you are one of the many who are not leaders, then it is quite possible that you have read all that has gone before and have felt, “Well this is all very well but this doesn't apply to me because I don't have any gifts!”
What is the Truth?
Can I talk to those of you who feel this? Can I tell you of an experience that I've had a number of times? I sometimes teach on the prophetic gift and I usually start the seminar by asking who has prophetic gifting, and to make it more interesting I ask the group to imagine a line across the room. At one end is ‘zero', which is for those who have never had a glimmer. At the other end is ‘ten', which is for those who are getting prophetic words from God every day. I then ask the group to go and stand somewhere on the line to indicate where they think they are in their experience of prophetic gift. Usually the group stands along the line from about where ‘six' is down to zero, with most people down at zero.
After we start talking about the subject I suggest God speaks more than they are aware and then I ask how many of you hear from God? Few responses! I ask how many have had Scripture speak to them? More responses! I ask how many of them ever get a ‘sense' of what might be the truth for someone, or for a situation? More responses! I ask how many of them have had a feeling of what God might want to say to a friend. More responses! We talk about prophecy as the gift of God simply speaking His will so that you hear it and are able to pass it on. More people begin to understand that they have been hearing God but just didn't realise it.
A few years ago I encountered a more elderly Christian man who constantly seemed to be angry. He agreed to spend an evening with me talking about his life to see if we could see why he was so angry. After he had been talking for about an hour I asked him, “What gifts do you think you have from God?” His reply was quite clear, “Oh, I haven't got any gifts. I'm a nobody!” I laughed, “You know that's interesting because as you've been talking for the last hour or so I've noted there is one phrase you keep using which I don't find most Christians using. It is ‘And God said to me'. You hear from God - a lot!”
After some more talking he acknowledged the truth of what I had said. Why was he angry? He was frustrated! He was constantly hearing God, constantly ‘seeing' things for his church situations but did not feel he could do anything about what he was sensing. He was released from his anger and frustration and from then on relaxed into the gift that God had given him. Whenever I saw him at odd occasions after that he had a word for me - and he was always right on target. He has an amazing gift but just didn't realise it.
So I've just used the example of prophecy but it could apply to many other gifts. I wrote earlier on about the man with the gift of mercy, the man who was so taken up with trying to be something else that he had missed that gift. It's true of so many of us. Many of us have such a low expectation because we've been brought up in a church culture where there is a one man ministry and only the paid professional has the gifts. That is not how Paul speaks about church life in 1 Cor 12 when he speaks about the body with its many parts.
A Negative View of Ourselves?
Many of us have such a low opinion of ourselves because of what we've been told earlier in life. When one of our sons was at junior school he had the misfortune of following a year behind his sister in the same class. The teacher had thought his sister was wonderful and when he arrived, showing very different characteristics, her expectations were dashed and so she saw him as a time waster, constantly distracted by others in the class. She wrote him off and for the next two years schooling for him was a dreadful experience. So dejected did this youngster become that we were on the verge of taking him away from the school. We were only saved from doing that by this particular teacher leaving and a new one coming. The new one took to my son, gave him responsibility and suddenly life was new.
Many years ago when I was teaching, a young man came into my tutor group. After three months I risked a dangerous conversation. “Jay (not his real name), I've watched you over these three months and you don't believe in yourself. Has anyone told you that you were stupid?” Fortunately he took it the right way. “Yes, my parents, all the time” he replied. “Well that's not a problem,” I answered, “because as I've watched you I've noticed that there are a number of things you're really good at. As a teacher I can tell you that you're not stupid and I've got high expectations of you.” From that moment on he changed.
Many of us have been told that we're stupid, that we're no good, or whatever, and it stuck. We believed it and so when the Bible talks about God being a loving heavenly Father who gives good gifts to His children, we think, “Yes, to the clever ones, the ones that do well”, and we miss the wonder of what He‘s trying to do with us.
The Desires of your Heart
Consider the following verse.
Psa 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart
A very simple verse, but with profound implications. Question one: are you someone who “delights in the Lord”? In other words are you someone whose heart is set on the Lord? If you are then it is probable that He will have already started to put in you desires and what is more, He will work in and through you to give you the fulfilment of those desires. The problem for many of us is that our insecurity means we find it difficult to believe this.
Surely it can't be that simple! Well what do you really enjoy doing? Studying the Bible? Sounds like a possible teacher in the making! Praying? Sounds like a possible intercessor in the making. Perhaps it's not so obviously ‘spiritual', perhaps you've always had a hidden desire to write children's stories, perhaps to write poetry, perhaps to run a children's home, perhaps to care for the homeless, perhaps… perhaps…. perhaps….. perhaps some if not all of those yearnings were the implantation of God and you never realised it!
So many of us have things we just put down to hidden dreams, things we would never think of sharing with another because it perhaps sounds presumptuous. How can you check it out? Pray, ask God. Talk to a mature faith and Spirit-filled Christian about it. Test the water, do some writing, make some enquiries, make some moves! See if it works.
Then there are those of us who have some gentle stirrings and, yes, we have stepped out in faith - but it was only in a minor way! So why despise small beginnings? Yes ‘beginnings' because it's probable that God wants to develop what you've got and perhaps it's only your insecurity that stops your gifting growing and developing. Is that a reasonable assumption to make? Well 2 Cor 3:18 tells us that we are being gradually changed, more and more into Jesus' likeness and it would be reasonable to suppose that means in terms of service as well as in character.
Our Role in Developing Gifting
Many of us are unsure of ourselves and unsure of our gifting. The former is dealt with in earlier chapters and the latter is being covered now and in later chapters. There are a number of verses in the New Testament that give indication that it isn't just a matter of receiving from God, but that we also have a part to play:
Rom 12:6 If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.
The use of spiritual gifts requires faith. Faith comes through hearing God and so the more we develop our listening ear, the more we may develop our faith.
Phil 2:12,13 continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose
The changes that take place in us are a combination of our activity and God's activity. We have a part to play.
1 Tim 4:14,15 Do not neglect your gift , which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress
Paul's instruction to Timothy clearly indicates that Timothy had a duty to pursue the gifting that God had given him when the others had prayed over him. It was down to him to do it and develop his gift of preaching and teaching.
2 Tim 1:6 I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God , which is in you through the laying on of my hands
Again Paul exhorts Timothy to play his part and stir up the gift that he had from God. God had given it to him, now he had to do things that would fan the flame, so to speak, so that the gift would flourish. How do we fan the flame in such cases? If we are a teacher, we seek God, study His word, meet with and listen to other teachers, be provoked by them, take opportunities that are given to teach. Whatever our gifting we are to take every opportunity to use and develop it. We need to consider it and seek God for how to develop it.
Does God want your gifting to develop? Why shouldn't He? What is that gifting for? To bless others and to build the church. Those are God's stated goals, so He's not likely to back down on them. Exercising spiritual gifts is really all about letting Jesus express himself through you (see a later chapter) and so it's really all about availability. When we feel insecure and unsure of ourselves, we'll feel unsure of God's intentions. As we allow God's word to bring confidence to us in respect of who we are, may it also be in respect of what we can do with His enabling. To conclude with a verse we've considered elsewhere:
Eph 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do
When we came to Christ, God had a plan for our future and that plan involves us “doing good”. To “do good” means more than just being nice, it means doing the work of God with the direction and enabling of God. This enabling is what we call grace, or in this context, gifting.
15.3 And So?
So what have we covered in this chapter?
The Fact of Gifting
And so final questions:
Do I see that gifting is something given by God and not earned or deserved by me?
Do I see that my gifts are different from those of other people and are like that because that's how God has made it?
Do I see that my gifting is for the blessing of the church, of those around me in the body of Christ?