Created Design (LifeLift #14)

lifelift podcast May 12, 2020

Something perplexed me for several years after I became a Christian. I was taught that our spiritual gifts were a result of our “second birth.” I still believe that to be true.

Here’s where the confusion came for me… 

Looking back at my life, I’ve always been a teacher. I’ve always been able to see the bigger picture, pull loose concepts together, and explain them to people in an easy-to-understand way.

When I was in junior high, one of our youth ministers pulled me aside and said, “Hey, why don’t you start leading and teaching some of these Wednesday night Bible studies. I think you might be gifted in this area…”

So I did. I enjoyed it, so much so that I looked forward to it all week. And, people actually learned.

When I was in high school, I wrestled. Our coach was an incredible man and led our team well. Sometimes, though, it helps for athletes to hear or see something from the perspective of another athlete. Especially one they know, someone who’s on the mat with them. 

“Why don’t you show them that move,” coach often said. “Explain it as you do it. Make sure they get it.”

They always did, because teaching was my natural bent.

I didn't see any of this at the time, of course. In fact, I didn’t see it for myself until one day during my freshman year in college. We were required to give group presentations. That meant we had to speak… in front of our peers.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says speaking in public is the number one fear of most people. According to him, “Death is number two.” He humorously adds, “What? Death is two? That means if you’re at a funeral you’d rather be in the casket that performing the eulogy!”

Turns out, he nails it. Most people in my class were mortified. 

Not me. I looked forward to the day, anticipating not having to sit through a lecture and take notes while, at the same time, getting graded to do something I was good at and really enjoyed. 

When I finished speaking to the class, several of my group members pulled me aside: “How did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Talk?”

“What do you mean talk?”

“It just made things make sense,” one of my friends said. She elaborated, “We were all scared and you were just… present… and actually pulled people in, like you were just having a conversation with them.”

“How did I do it? I don’t know what you mean,” I replied. “It honestly just comes naturally…”

That’s the key right there: it came naturally. Whereas other people in our group for that project naturally encouraged people by seeing unique ways to compliment them, I didn’t. Whereas others on our team  naturally looked for unique ways to serve— by bringing snacks to group meetings or arriving early to reserve tables and save seats, such thoughts never crossed my mind. Whereas others naturally consoled people who experienced a rough day in class— and made sure they expressed sympathy to them before our meetings could officially begin— I didn’t. No, I pulled ideas together, packaged them in a way people could comprehend them, and then presented them. I taught…

 

Created with unique blueprints

We all have a unique bent. In fact, there’s a verse that speaks to this. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go. When he’s older, he won’t depart from it.”

I’ve heard pastors, other spiritual leaders, and people console parents with wayward teens that this verse means something like “Teach those kids the Bible when they’re young. They may leave the faith- like a lot of kids do when they hit the teen or young adult years. They may rebel, but if you trained them right, they’ll be back.” They propose this verse promises a “spiritual boomerang" for parents who impart spiritual wisdom at an early age.

Thankfully that happens. When we stray, God calls us— and our kids— back to Himself. There’s nowhere we can run from His presence (Psalm 139:7f.). 

Even though the Father always draws us to Himself, that’s not what this verse says at all, though (John 6:44). Rather, this verse means something like this: “Find that child’s design, the blueprint for them… discover how they’ve been created by God. Look for their unique bent, their hidden skill set… the diamonds that are in the rough. Then call those forth… and train them in that.”

In other words, this isn’t just a “teach them the Bible” verse. This is an all-of-life verse.

I teach, and I have for most of my life.

Regardless of the venue, I’ve taught and I continue to teach. Before everyone had map apps on their phone, I was the guy you would want to bump into and ask for directions. You’d know exactly how to get there in just a few sentences. 

Regardless of the topic, I’ve taught and I continue to teach. 

A few pages ago I told you this was confusing. 

Here where the confusion came for me. One of the most followed leaders in the 20th Century was… get this… Adolf Hitler. He was chosen Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1938. Within four years, he led a murderous assault of 6 million Jews, peaking at the rate of 15,000 per day. And that number doesn’t include other casualties of the war. 

Where did Hitler get that kind of leadership ability? 

Yes, God created him. And God created him with the capacity to lead at an extremely high level.

Just because we have a natural-born skillset, though, doesn’t mean we’ll use it in a way that honors our Creator. In the talent resides the potential for great grace or massive destruction. 

Let’s circle back to my situation… 

Teaching might be a spiritual gift. It’s certainly one of those five “equipper” positions I mentioned in chapter 13 (see Ephesians 4:11-12). In either case, whether it’s a gift or a five-fold office in the church, teaching is something that comes with the Holy Spirit. And, as we’ve learned, the first time the Holy Spirit moves in when you become a Christian— when you’re “born again.” 

Notice the graphic above. It highlights the differences here.

  • First birth = created design. Your natural talents, abilities, and the bent Proverbs speaks about are given to you when you are born. They’re part of who you are. Sure, you may develop them and grow in skill, but they are a result of your first birth.
  • Second birth = spiritual gifts and / or equipping role. The Holy Spirit moves into your life when you become a Christian. At this point, you receive spiritual gifts and/or an equipping role in the body of Christ. These are a result of your second birth.

For a long time I thought, “Maybe my ability to teach was given to me when I was born, because God knew that one day— in my early 20s— I would become a Christian.”

I thought my capacity to teach was a spiritual gift— or an equipping role.

But that’s not how either of those things work. Gifts and five-fold ministry roles arrive with the Holy Spirit. And that doesn’t happen until the second birth. In my case, then, that didn’t happen until after my sophomore year in college— well after all of the examples I referenced earlier in the chapter.

So where did the teaching gift come from?

Teaching is part of how I was created. It wasn’t a result of my “second birth,” that is, of the supernatural working through me. Rather, it was a result of simply showing up on this planet over 40 years ago. When I was fearfully and wonderfully made in my mother’s womb, the Lord placed the ability to teach inside of me. It’s part of my created design.

OK. Enough about me. Let’s talk about you…

 

Your created design

We see seven created designs in the New Testament. Though you may express yourself at any given time through any of them, you probably naturally lean towards one or two of these seven. We read about them in Romans 12:4-8 (ESV, emphasis added). Paul references the “body of Christ” analogy and then lists them. Notice— 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Above, Paul lists the seven unique bents:

  1. Prophecy
  2. Service
  3. Teaching
  4. Exhorting
  5. Giving
  6. Leading
  7. Mercy

These designs are one of the first places in which we begin to look, think, and act differently than one another. Think about it: the commands God gives us in Scripture— including the verses we discussed in chapter 12 which reference “will of God”— are the same for all of us. He wants us all to be saved. He desires for everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He  delights in our sanctification. The “spiritual disciples,” as some people call them, are the same for each of us.

But we’re different. And that difference begins with… get this… how we were created. 

And how we were created includes our created design. That is, it includes the unique blueprint Proverbs 22:6 references.  

Again, most theologians call these created gifts (or designs), because you're born with them. Again, when you were created, these came with the package! 

After studying this chapter, you’re going to understand a lot about you— why you do things differently than others. And, you’ll understand this about the people closest to you, too!

The creation story is one of the clearest ways to understand how these created design works— and how they’re different.

Over the next few pages, let’s evaluate each of the seven created designs in the Creation story. We’ll cover them in the order they appear. Notably, these appear in the exact same order in the creation story and in the Romans 12 passage we just read. I’ll explain them and provide you with a Biblical example of each one.

 

1- Prophecy = speak what should be

God spoke creation into existence, using His words to generate spontaneous order (Genesis 1:3-5). In the same way, some people’s unique design is to create order and destiny with their words!

We see this on Day 1— and on every day thereafter. The refrain throughout Genesis 1 is “Let there be…” and then there is!

Some people carry the capacity to speak into chaos and call forth life and design— even destiny. They declare things that are “not” and identify things that are not as they should be— and bring the gold forth! 

Proverbs tells us that life and death is in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Anyone can condemn and diminish; some people have a profound ability to use the power of words to generate life!

Our Biblical example is Peter. Of course, Peter was also the recipient of this gift, when Jesus called forth the greatness that was within him (as we saw in chapter 2). We see Peter address the crowd at Solomon’s Porch (after healing the lame man while on the way to pray with John). When the crowd seeks an explanation for how the miracle happened, he declares to them their true identity as people who are destined to be blessed as well (see Acts 3:25).

 

2- Service = bring order by helping

On Day 2, God separated the firmament, dividing the water above the sky from the water below the sky (Genesis 1:6-8). Some people’s natural design enables them to wash others— with words or deeds— in such a way that peace comes.

Many people walk with a grace and humility that empowers them to cleanse and minister grace to others, nourishing them in a profound manner. It never seems contrived; it always appears at the right time.

By the way, notice how Paul says that husbands should love their wives in this way, washing them with the water of the word (see Ephesians 5:26). Though is something we should all do, it’s definitely a natural bent for some people.

Tabitha (also called Dorcas) is our Biblical example. She’s holds distinction as the first person we see resurrected after Jesus’ ascension  (see Acts 9:36f.). After her death the Church was deeply saddened. We read that she spent most of her days making tunics and garments for the widows in their community (see Acts 9:39). 

By the way, serving doesn’t have to be “making something” for someone. For instance, we read about another Judas, the man who invited Saul into his home after his Damascus road experience. Though he receives only one line of text in the Scripture, he obviously played a pivotal role, as his home is the sacred space where the apostle was healed, filled with the Spirit, and grew in enough strength to begin his ministry (see Acts 9:11). 

 

3- Teaching = find seeds that grow into life

On Day 3, God separated the water that covered the face of the earth, creating land masses (1:9-10). Then, He spoke forth trees and other seed-bearing plants (1:11-13). In the same way that trees bear seeds which continue bearing fruit, some people have a design that enables them to speak nuggets of truth that empower others to either bear fruit or find spiritual refuge.

Biologically, each tree carries unlimited potential for growth. For instance, when an apple tree blossoms its apples, each apple contains numerous seeds— meaning each individual fruit from a tree has unlimited potential itself!

Some people teach and expound upon truths in a unique way, multiplying revelation and insight, making it simple an accessible to  others. Rather than living “in the clouds,” as some intellects do, these people have the ability to continually produce “low-hanging fruit” that others can easily grasp. 

Natural-born teachers don’t make things more complex; they make truths more accessible! They deliverer supernatural precepts that were previously inaccessible to others in a way they can see, understand, and then apply them.

Our Biblical example is the apostle John. The Bible tells us that Jesus did so many things during His ministry that the world could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:25). Obviously, this is an exaggeration— but it makes the point. Jesus did a lot! However, John boils down the essence of what Jesus did into a Gospel that, really, you can read in about 45 minutes. His biography of Jesus’ life contains some of the most quoted passages in the entire Bible. As well, the short letters he penned to his churches distill the essence of Christianity to two actions steps, walking in love and light.

 

4- Exhorting = awaken hope & courage

On Day 4, God called forth the sun, the moon, and the stars (1:14-19).  We read that everything in the Heavens was created by Him and continually declares His glory (Psalm 19:1). Some people have an incredible ability to call forth the glory of God in people, so that they shine like stars in the universe (see Philippians 2:15). 

People with this design literally encourage others in such a way that they call forth the glory that resides in each of us. 

In Christian circles, we often focus on the “negative” side of accountability (i.e., making sure people don’t do the things they aren’t supposed to do— things they should stay away from). True encouragers  walk with a worldview that causes them to call forth the destiny of people by, naturally, encouraging them to be the person they’re designed to be (the positive side of accountability). They bring hope alive!

Barnabas is the perfect example— for multiple reasons: 

  • When the Early Church was a young movement and had few resources, Barnabas sold a field and gave the apostles the money (see Acts 4:36f.). 
  • Then, he was also able to see in Paul what others couldn’t see (Acts 9:26-30). 
  • Later, when John Mark bailed out on a mission trip, Paul refused to take the young man on the next one— but Barnabas stood by him and took the young leader along with him, splitting with Paul (Acts 15:39-41). Apparently, Mark grew into his role, because Paul called for him as he was aging (see 2 Timothy 4:11), and Mark went on to pen the first Gospel that was published.

Paul planted tear most churches. John Mark wrote the first Gospel to be published. Barnabas was present in both of their lives at pivotal moments. 

 

5- Giving = overflow tangible grace to others

On Day 5, God spoke forth the fish and the birds, followed by every other living animal (1:20-25). In the animals, we witness a new facet of  the created order. We see relationships begin to take place— something that, until this point, hasn’t happened.

Animals began caring for each other in a special way, connecting in groups in a way different than how plants did. Whereas plants do have symbiotic relationships with one another, animals create habitats, gather food for their young, and give of themselves in a special way.

Some people have a true gift of giving— a way of extending of themselves in a way that overflows with life and grace. In the same way that parents don’t consider what they are “giving” when they tend to their young, these people never see it as a loss when they extend themselves to others— particularly when leveraging resources to empower someone else. 

King David is a prime example. He earnestly wanted to build a temple for God. However, the Lord promised him that the project wouldn’t happen in his time— that his kingdom would be firmly established, but that a son of his would build the Temple since he wasn’t so occupied with war as David had been. 

David’s response? 

He made all of the plans and raises all of the provisions for the temple so that the next generation can easily build something he will never see (see 1 Chronicles 28-29). He literally set Solomon up for immediate success on this project. 

 

6- Leading = show the way & empower improvement

On Day 6, God created man and woman in His image (1:26-30). He gave them a unique position to steward all of creation— to, in effect, make it better by their presence. Of course, there are people with a unique design whereby they do this at an extremely high level!

Men & woman were given dominion and authority over all of creation. Adam was given authority to name the animals. Eve was known as the “mother of all the living”— even before she birthed a child (Genesis 3:20).

All humans have dominion— it's who we are. However, some people have a special ability to lead and to exercise authority in some a way that things are better because they are present and providing direction to others. Whereas all people are destined to “reign in life” (Romans 5:17), these individuals often create order that empowers them to do  something and then point the way for others, blazing a trail that makes what was once impossible become accessible for many.

Peter is a great example of leadership, as well. Peter did what a lot of leaders do— he acted impulsively— jumping out of the boat to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-23), rebuking Jesus (Matthew 16:22), even promising Jesus he would die with Him (Matthew 26:35). That’s a leader’s natural bent. And, it illustrates why we must begin at instructional obedience and remain tethered to Scripture rather than simply focusing on our gifts and abilities. 

Peter learned to demonstrate leadership in a healthy way. The same boldness that once seemed impulsive was present in the Upper Room when a disciple was chosen to replace Matthias (Acts 1:15). Shortly thereafter, he stood and made sense of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the first post-resurrection Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

 

7- Mercy = create sacred space for rest

We read that on Day 7 God rested from His labor (1:31). He saw that all of His work was good, and then He ceased working— for the day. This was a unique moment, because later Jesus tell us that the Father continues working even now (John 5:17). 

By their very presence, some individuals bring others into a place of sacred rest— just like that seventh day of creation. These people have a gift of saying the right thing, creating the right environment, or simply being present… and it puts others at peace. 

Often, these people can create a “holy moment” at any time and place— just by the mantle they carry. As a result, people feel comforted, at  peace, and their strength is renewed.

James, Jesus’ younger brother, is a great example from the Bible. Though he uses words to convey this, he seems to be a man of mercy. If you read his epistle, you may get the idea that he’s all “black and white.” Yet a closer read of James’ epistle reveals that he defined the essence of Christianity as… notice this… demonstrating tangible mercy. Care for orphans and widows (James 1:27). Feed and clothe your needy brothers and sister s (2:14-15).

The way James responds at the Jerusalem Council is profound. When the question was posed as to whether or not circumcision and other elements of the Law would be required for Gentile converts, James is the one who created peace by laying very few requirements on them (see Acts 15:13-21).  In fact, without James’ leadership it’s doubtful the church would have continued growing through the Gentile nations as rapidly as it did.

 

Review and apply

As you just read through the descriptions, one or two of the gifts may have resonated with you. As such, you can probably identify your created design by evaluating how you’ve naturally responded in past life situations— or how you would respond to a hypothetical one.

Here’s a quick review: 

Now, let me provide you with a situation. Think about how you would respond and think about how others would respond.

Here’s the scene. We’re at a birthday party. There are dozens of us present. 

The host calls the birthday girl to the center of the room, and the rest of us gather around. A friend lights the candles, then begins making his way through the room as we all begin singing, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to…” As with every other instance the song is sung, we’re all a bit off-key. It’s beautifully awkward and fun.

At the precise moment we mention the birthday girl’s name in the third line of the song, someone (who’s maneuvering to grab a photo and place it on social media) bumps into the man bringing the cake to the forefront so that our birthday gal can make a wish and blow out the candles…

The cake tumbles to the ground, landing (of course) face down. 

The upside is that the cake smashes all of the candles. No fire. No charred spots even on the rug.

The downside is that, well… the cake is ruined. Destroyed. Gone. Kaput. 

Now, freeze the frame. Think about how each of the people in the room react. And, of course, think about how you respond! You won’t have to do any soul-searching at all on this one. In fact, you probably already see yourself in action. And, you’re likely visualizing what your mother, your spouse, your friends, and others are doing… 

I bet that…

  • Prophets— speak out immediately. They say something intended to be encouraging, but it probably feels a bit judgey if they’re not careful: “If you weren’t in such a hurry, this wouldn’t have happened.” Their intent will be to bring order, but it might come across a bit abrupt and terse.
  • Servants— probably don’t say anything at all. They just begin cleaning up the mess. If they do speak, it's simply to find out where the garbage can is— and then where the rest of the trash goes for collection. 
  • Teachers— might evaluate for a few moments. When they speak, they do so analytically: “If you’ll just rearrange the furniture…” Or, “If we could just get everyone to sing from a different place in the room…” They may even provide suggestions as to how to do it.
  • Exhorters— just want the party to continue. Cake or no cake, everyone’s there and that’s what matters— let’s keep celebrating! We still have ice cream, other snacks, and the presents. No need to stop. 
  • Givers— might run to the store to buy another cake— without being asked. 
  • Leaders— begin telling everyone, particularly the people standing around, what to do.
  • Mercy showers— console the person who dropped the cake and/or the person being celebrated. (They may say something like, “Ahh… I’ve dropped cakes before…”).

Now, which people do we need the most in that example?

Or, who do we need the most if we change scenarios, and find ourselves at the scene of a car accident in which a few people are banged up?

Right. There's a place for everyone.

With this mental framework, you can probably recall other instances in your life where you’ve seen different created designs at work. Rather than creating a source of tension and conflict, we can embrace our differences! 

In everyday life, each design is needed. And, in ministry, each design is valuable as well.

We don’t want to judge others for how they’re created— we obviously need every design. And, we don’t want to mold our spouses or kids or friends into someone they're not. We want to celebrate who God has made them, realizing they fulfill a purpose we can’t fulfill. 

Many conflicts are caused just by not understanding how others are wired. We all see things— and serve— from a limited perspective. When we’re able to step back, pause, see things from other people’s  vantage point, we realize that we’re better together— particularly when we all function from our different strengths. 

Not only do we see politics and Bible verses and music preferences differently, we see ministry needs from radically different perspectives, too. If we’ll acknowledge— and embrace— those differences as part of our God-given created design, we can accomplish far more together. 

 

Your design declares your destiny 

I have a lot of tools in my garage. Over the past ten years or so, I did a lot of work to my house,  a major “fixer-upper” where I lived for 13+ years. Then, after promising to myself I would never renovate another house, I completely overhauled a “new” home that was (theoretically) “move in ready.” I never had construction experience before working on my own home, so I learned everything by purchasing books at the local shops and then trying what I read in the text and observed in pictures (I  began this process before YouTube existed). I’ve become acquainted with dozens of tools— many of which I had never seen before this home renovation excursion. 

In every instance the the truth is the same: once you understand what the tool was created to do, you know what to do with it. Hardwood floor nailers are terrible for framing houses. Screwdrivers are a miserable way to install a fence. But when each of these tools are used for their designed purpose, they make work faster, easier, and more of a delight than a drudge.

Understanding how God has created you is one of the first steps in recognizing how the Holy Spirit uniquely expresses Himself through you. When you understand how something is made, you understand what it was created to do. When you understand how God created you, you begin to understand your unique place in the world— your purpose.

Churches often take a “one size fits all” approach to ministry. They attempt to jam people into the same mold— into the specific jobs and tasks which someone in the church decided need to be done. Sometimes that “someone” is a committee, and quite often the task is simply being perpetuated because it’s “something we’ve always done.”

But… 

  • If God has placed the members of the body with that body just as He wants them (1 Corinthians 12:18)…
  • If God gives us each a unique design— a design that truly determines not only what we should do but where in the body we should be (you wouldn’t use your ear to walk nor would you place your foot on top of your head, right?)…
  • If God has given us each other for the common good of all of us (1 Corinthians 12:7)…

then doesn’t it make sense that we embrace our created design and the created designs of others?

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