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Podcast: What They Are, What They're Not (LifeLift #17)

lifelift podcast Jun 02, 2020

To understand the gifts more, it’s helpful to outline what they are— like we’ve done in the previous two talks (here and here). By now, you probably recognize where you’ve seen them in action.

It’s also helpful to articulate what these supernatural manifestations are not, though. So, in this chapter let’s make four observations as to what these expressions of the Holy Spirit moving through us are not. This will help us set some guardrails in place, ensuring we stay focused on our mission. 

  1. Spiritual gifts are not the same as your created design or your natural talents
  2. Spiritual gifts are not the same as a title, a position, or a role that you have
  3. Spiritual gifts are not confined to the four walls of the church— or even to “ministry” in the formal sense
  4. Spiritual gifts are not instances in which the Spirit takes over and “controls” you


First birth or second birth?

First, spiritual gifts are not the same as your created design (which we discussed in the previous chapter). 

  • You receive your created design at your first (read: physical) birth.
  • You receive your supernatural, spiritual gifts at your second (read: spiritual) birth.

Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents— though they probably will work together with your personality type and your natural abilities. 

As I rewrote this book I shared the manuscript from the previous talk with several friends (particualry the part where I listed the gifts). 

They asked me, “Why didn’t you include Romans 12 in this chapter? Doesn’t that passage speak about spiritual gifts?”

Romans 12:6 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (emphasis mine).

By now you probably realize what’s happening here: the word gifts isn’t there. Our translators supplied it. The term is actually charismata, that is, “grace effects.”

Remember, we saw this word earlier (in chapter 15), when we discussed the “spirituals” and “grace effects” and “appointments” in 1 Corinthians 12:1. Paul also uses this term to refer to Israel’s election in Romans 11:29, when he writes that the “gifts and calling” of God are irrevocable. In other words, throughout the New Testament this word most often does not refer to “spiritual gifts.”

Others asked about Ephesians 4— because Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 are often the “go to” passages for finding spiritual gifts. We’ve already referenced each of these, as well as 1 Peter 4:8-11.

There are two reasons I didn't include either of those passages in that chapter. 

  • First, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 both predominantly refer to something else. Ephesians 4 refers to people as gifts— to the “equippers.” Romans 12 refers to service— in general— as an act of worship. Thus far, throughout Romans, Paul has argued that Israel did not follow their created design, to be a light to the world, and now we’ve been grafted into that story.  
  • Second, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, I believe the gift list is “open-ended.” I don’t feel burdened to provide a summary list and catalog a tidy list of gifts, because I’ve chosen to work from a relational point-of-view and use our working definition to determine what the gifts are rather than allow a list to dictate the expression of the Spirit. 

Whatever the case, and wherever you fall on the Romans 12 issue— that is, whether those verses refer to spiritual gifts or created designs— the bottom line remains this: you’re born with a unique bent and the “spirituals” arrive much later, when you’re born again. Therefore, your created design is not the same as your spiritual renovation. 


Given by God or given by God?

Second, spiritual gifts are not the same as a title, a position, or a role that you have. You can be gifted and not have the title— or you can have the title and not have the empowerment from God to do the job. Ideally, you can find a role where you can use your gifts!

This one tripped me up— big time…

After I felt the Lord nudging me to be an “equipper” (to use our language from Ephesians 4), I redirected my energies from pursuing a career in law to navigating the terrain towards seminary. That meant shifting a few classes my final year of college. And, it meant not studying to take the LSAT, the entrance exam commonly used for applying to law school. Instead, I took the GRE and applied to grad school.

I earned my Master of Divinity degree from Baylor University and then began working in a new church just a few weeks later. In fact, I commuted back and forth from Houston to Waco the final week of school as I completed final exams. 

Soon thereafter, we moved to Birmingham to work in another church. I had a title and an actual office with a working telephone. I had book shelves where I could set my things. 

Eight years into it, I shifted gears and began working in a faith-based nonprofit, still operating in my gifts albeit with a different title. I still had an office, though, and had my name in a small framed placard by the door. 

Five years into that, due to some success in a home-based business, I was able to step away from working in a full time position completely. I no longer had a title; I no longer had a formal role. I had no longer had a desk or shelves or my name on anything. 

I’ll shoot straight with you. I don’t have a title or an actual “job” even today. 

While the transition was something that needed to happen— I was working 70 or more hours per week and my family was walking through  several crises— I found myself depressed with the transition. I had worked in full-time ministry roles for forever.

Now, without a title or a position or a formal role, who was I? 

It took me about a year to figure it out, but I finally settled it in my soul: I am still me. The gifts remain, and the calling never left. Though I don’t lead in a church any longer, I actually have a bigger platform and wider audience. I now have the opportunity to do things I never had the time or mental space to do when I held a formal position. 

Proverbs 18:16 tells us, “Your gifts always make room for you” (my translation).

You don’t need a title to walk in your gifts. In fact, the opposite is true, too. I’ve seen people with titles who clearly don’t have the gift-mix by which they’ve titled themselves. 

Not too long ago I met a self-proclaimed “apostle.” And a self-titled “evangelist.” And a “teacher.” They had a “prophet” and “pastor,” too. In fact, they referred to themselves as a “five-fold” team. Leading a small church, they actually use the phrase “five-fold” more than they used the word Jesus— no exaggeration. 

Now, full disclaimer: these are gracious and gentle and kind people. They’re well-intentioned. But they’re clearly trying to title gifts and roles  that they don’t have. 

How do I know they don’t have those gifts?

Quite simply this: there’s no fruit. 

The titles aren’t the gifts and the gifts aren’t the titles. The two are mutually exclusive. It’s beautiful when the roles and words we use to express what people actually do collide and we’re able to understand everyone fully. But that doesn’t always happen. When it doesn’t, the gifts trump the titles every time.

In another chapter, I’lll provide you with five specific questions you can ask yourself in order to gauge the gift mix you feel may be operating in your life. 


Not confined to the four walls

Third, spiritual gifts are not confined to the four walls of the church building— or even to “ministry” in the formal sense.  Spiritual gifts work” everywhere you go, as they are the expression of the Holy Spirit loving the world through you.

Sure, the gifts are certainly for building the Body of Christ. Paul tells us that one of the reasons that “equippers” exist is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” in order to first build the Body of Christ. Emphatically, you should use your gifts at church.

Sometimes in the church we equate “full time ministry” with more spiritual work and “full time something else” with less spiritual. Or we relegate the things we do “at church” as being more valuable than what we do away from church. In doing so, we create a false dichotomy, a hierarchy the Bible doesn’t espouse. Thankfully, the church is swinging the pendulum back to the middle, upholding the truth that people can be called to do all sorts of things. That is, a teacher can be just as called as  a pastor who can be no more called than a fireman who can be just as called as an evangelist.

Remember, “Christ in you” goes with you everywhere you go. For you to live, like Paul, is Christ (Philippians 1:21). You carry His presence. The gifts work everywhere you find yourself, meaning you can use them in the marketplace, at school, your home... in your neighborhood!

A few years ago I taught about healing at a church on a Sunday morning. At the end of the service, we invited people to come receive prayer if they had a physical issue they wanted to see remedied. 

After praying for a few dozen people, I noticed a young woman wanting prayer. 

“What can I do for you?” I asked. That’s my customary way of greeting people who come for prayer— I don’t assume anything. 

“I feel like God wants me to heal people, too,” she said.

She didn’t want physical healing; she wanted to heal. But she said it reluctantly, as if she was holding something back.

“Tell me about yourself,” I said. “What do you like to do…?”

“I’m about to finish school,” she replied. “I’m in college. I’ve got a family, and I’ve been working on my degree for a few years. We’ve all made sacrifices so that I can finish, but I feel like I’m supposed to be healing people with God’s power, with His touch…”

She explained that she was ready to work, and that her family desperately needed the income. Her husband had been working two jobs to keep the family afloat during her schooling season, and her young children had hardly seen her. 

At the same time, though, she felt this tension between doing what God called her to do and having just taken a (costly) run at college for a few years and now needing to help with those family finances. 

After hearing her story, I asked her, “What’s your degree?”


“Nursing?” I replied. “Do you enjoy it.”

She told me she did. But, somehow she felt she was supposed to be healing people. 

“Does it feel like toil when you do the nursing?” I asked. “Or does it feel energizing and life-giving.”

She smiled and told me— shyly— that she loved it. That’s the word she used: loved. However, a church leader (an “equipper”) had recently insinuated that if she was really following the call of God for her life she would pursue ministry full time. 

I explained to her that she had chosen the perfect profession for a healer: “Where else are you going to have access to people at their most vulnerable moments? Where else do people need a touch? I mean… you’re going to be with people and their families when they are sick and desperate… when things seem hopeless… and you’re going to be able to carry your light there…”

I told her that she could pray for them, that people might actually invite her to do so. And, even if sometimes it had to just be silent, it would still work… 

“And the medicine and technology you’ll have access to,” I added, “It’s all God’s, anyway. And He has it there for you…”

After about 60 seconds of coaching her through this, she got it. She looked lighter. She began smiling again. She left feeling empowered… and called.

That’s what vocation means. The root of the word, vocal, means to hear the voice, the calling, over whatever you do. Too often we presume the only “calling” that happens— and the only empowerment which follows— occurs when we serve (formally or informally) inside the church walls.

My oldest girl is about to graduate high school. In fact, by the time you read this, she’ll be done. Finished. 

How will she know what to do for the next chapter of her life? 

Human wisdom says, “Easy. Go get a job or go to school and earn your degree.”

But what kind of job? 

Or what kind of degree? 

And is 18 years old really old enough to make life-long decisions such as what you’ll do with the rest of your life?

The last stats I read suggested the average adult changes careers a minimum of seven times in their lifetime. That’s careers, not jobs. That means they move into an entirely different skillset.

Sometimes this happens because they’re looking for more money (to provide for a family). Others times life situations— such as moving to a new city— dictate the transition. Many times, people are just looking for fulfillment. 

So let’s talk about that final one, fulfillment. 

Doesn’t it make sense that if you know your created design and if you know your spiritual gifts… and if you realize that they work anywhere in the world that you go, doing anything that you choose to do… wouldn’t it make sense to lean into those as you seek to find your career?

Dan Miller wrote a book, 48 Days to the Work You Love, in which he  pushes people to pursue that voice— that calling. He reminds us that in the Biblical mindset from which Jesus lived, there was no distinction as to who was called and who wasn’t… 

Anyone can hear the voice and follow…

Miller writes, 

There is a Hebrew word, avodah, from which come both the words “work" and “worship." To the Hebrew man, his Thursday morning activities were just as much an expression of worship as being in the synagogue on the Sabbath. 

Nothing in Scripture depicts the Christian life as divided into sacred and secular parts. Rather, it shows a unified life, one of wholeness, in which everything we do is service to God, including our daily work, whatever that may be.

How might this look? 

Well, if your created design is teaching and you have a heart for young children, this helps orient you towards the training you need. Especially if you’re someone who walks in the gift of prophecy and consistently speaks Kingdom identity and Godly destiny to people. 

See how that works?

Sometimes when I communicate this people say something like, “I didn’t know I should get trained or educated in the area of my gifts. If God gifts me, then doesn’t He just gift me?”

Yes, he does.

And, yes, you should pursue training opportunities as they present themselves. 

In the same way that pastors and teachers and other leaders focus on developing their unique gifts (and callings), doesn’t it make sense that everyone in the body of Christ should do the same?

I believe this is a small piece of what Paul might have meant when he wrote, “Work out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12-13). He wasn’t suggesting we should “work for it,” but he was communicating that there is so much for us to explore!

Let me provide you with one more example.

For a season a few years ago I taught some health classes at a nursing home in town. One of the nurses who used to set up the room and gather the attendees for me had the created design of mercy. And, she had a natural love for people— along with a unique way of making them feel welcome. She loved elderly people; they were her passion. And, she had the spiritual gift of discernment. Her unique makeup empowered her to see and sense— at a deeper level— what her patients were feeling. She helped them navigate the emotional distress of health concerns and the grief of watching their closest friends die during that final chapter of their own lives. 

Spiritual gifts emphatically do help you find your place in the world, so doesn’t it make sense that, if you know what God has created you to do, and if it “works” everywhere, that you should focus on that as much as possible?

Remember, the spiritual gifts— the manifestations— are a unique way in which the Godhead works through each of us. Think about it for a moment…

  • The truths God outlines in Scripture which we’re to live (instructional obedience) are the same for each of us— not much differentiation there.
  • The created designs, the seven “bents” we see in Romans 12… this offers us some differentiation.
  • The area of our spiritual gifts offers us even more unique expression, though.



Fourth, finally, spiritual gifts are not instances in which the Holy Spirit takes over and “controls” you. A lot of people get confused about this. They presume that when someone speaks in tongues, for instance, that the Holy Spirit “takes over” and does it for them. In actuality, they speak, but He speaks through them.

Others use the notion that the Spirit is in control as an excuse to speak whenever and however they want to. For instance, a man with the gift of prophecy attended a church where I served for a few months. He believed that whenever the Lord gave him a message it was his cue to immediately make his way to the stage and grab the microphone— regardless of what was happening in the service. 

“The Lord is speaking through me,” he always told me. 

Though he was always accurate (and even encouraging with his words), his lack of sensitivity betrayed his immaturity. That’s right, his immaturity. The gifts work even if we’re not totally healthy and whole.

This man needed to heed Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:32 that “the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets.” 

In other words, the Holy Spirit doesn’t “take over” anyone, causing them to lose control of their faculties when they use a more “demonstrative” gift any more than He “takes over” control of someone when they exercise hospitality, demonstrate mercy, or even teach a class. The Spirit is gentle. He works with us, not over us.

And, the Spirit graciously defers to the human leadership He’s placed in the faith community. That means that we often take turns expressing our gifts. 

As a gifted teacher, the Lord highlights new ideas and concepts to me constantly. When I hear someone else preach or share another piece of wisdom from the Word, the Spirit often reminds me of other things He’s shown me…

Many times I think, “Wow, I wish I could tell them this thing He’s showing me.”

But I don’t. Because at that moment it’s not my time to share— it’s someone else’s. Because of the abundance of the Kingdom, we will always have more than we can give away.

(Plus, part of me experiencing the gift of other teachers is that they awaken new concepts and ideas in me that I never see until they spark something!)

True wisdom includes knowing when to hold something close, as well as when to share it. True humility includes an awareness that even though we may have something important and valuable to give, the things others are sharing in the moment are equally as supernatural and needed. 

And, since the Kingdom defies time and space, there is no “rush” in the things of the Spirit. We are free to be present and to enjoy receiving what the Lord is doing in our midst, knowing that when we come together we all have something to give (1 Corinthians 14:26). 

Here’s a graphic to help you visually review the four guardrails we just discussed.


God believes in you

A few paragraphs ago I referenced Romans 11:29, the verse which encourages us with the reminder that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” Again, you probably recognize that gifts in that verse is charismata, that is, “grace effects.”

Let’s look at that word irrevocable. Some translations supply the word “without repentance” instead of “irrevocable.” The literal meaning of the ametameleta which Paul uses is "without regret.” 

I like that second translation better, “without regret.” Here’s why: I used to read this verse and think, “Oh, once God gives us the gifts He can’t take them away. He’s stuck.”

Now I don’t read the passage that way at all. I don’t see it all as God being “stuck” with us. Rather, I see it as a dear Father who doesn’t change His mind. Whereas many of us have been taught to “believe in God,” we learn through verses like that— as well as through stories like Peter’s— that God believes in us. As such, He gifts us His very presence so that we might work with Him to love His people in tangible ways.

In the next talk we’ll outline the six reasons we’ve been given these gifts. Earlier ago I referenced that they’re for ministry and for mission, that is, that they function inside and outside of the church. We’ll flesh that out a bit a more, taking as deeper dive.

Then, after that, we’ll talk about how to discover your gifts.


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