Growing Your Spiritual Gifts
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost • October 7, 2018
Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
Pastor Jeff Wells
You are gifted! Yes, every one of you is a very gifted person. I love the way the character put it in the video clip from the Lego movie: “You are the most amazing person in the universe!” That’s what God thinks of every one of us.
As I survey the community of the Church of the Village, I see a host of obvious gifts among us. We have a lot of gifted singers in the choir. Anita just showed off her gift of hospitality and welcome. Erich demonstrated his gift for leading worship. Walter Roberts has a wonderful gift of drawing portraits and human figures. Some of you have the gift of praying for others. Some have the gift of being able to dance beautifully. I would have to go on well past my time if I were to even name a few of the many gifts that each of you has exhibited. Being in community together gives us a space and the support to develop and share our gifts.
In the passages in the New Testament that speak of spiritual gifts, the lists are limited to a small number of specific gifts, so Christians have often had a very narrow view of what giftedness or even spiritual gifts means. But all of life is “spiritual,” so when we are speaking of gifts, we should not limit ourselves to only those traditionally conceived of as “spiritual gifts.”
Let me share with you what I believe about our giftedness. I believe that God gives certain gifts to all of us. We all receive the gift of love. We all get the gift of caring about others. God gives all of us the gift of compassion and the gift of desiring justice for everyone. We all receive the gift of forgiveness. In truth, it is better to say God gives us the potential to develop these gifts.
With the right modeling, training, and affirmation, these are things all of us have the potential to do well. Sometimes our potential gets sidetracked or is left undeveloped. For example, our potential to love can get damaged by abuse, trauma, or just neglect. Yet, even then, it is possible to repair the harm and learn to develop those gifts in relationship with God and in community with others.
I also believe that God gives each of us a set of gifts or potentialities that are unique to us as individuals. Again, sometimes our gifts go unrecognized or suppressed out of fear of embarrassment, intimidation, low self-esteem, or lack of affirmation. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. I mean a fiction writer and a songwriter. It did not come easily or naturally to me. I did not know how to go about it and when I tried to write, I did not get the encouragement and affirmation from my parents or teachers that might have propelled me to stick with it. So I developed my abilities to write non-fiction instead. Until I was 54 years old, that is, and took my first fiction writing class called, “Get That Novel Started.” I finally found the encouragement I needed to be able to recognize and grow this gift.
Now, I don’t mean to say that we are born with all the gifts and talents we are ever going to have. Some gifts, talents, and skills are acquired later in life. Which gifts discover and develop depends on our circumstances, experiences, and interactions with others, along with God’s loving guidance and inspiration.
There are limits, of course. We are not all going to become great at anything we happen to desire, no matter how much dedication and determination we bring to it. I could never have won the New York City Marathon because I have a long torso and short legs. That did not prevent me from trying to be the best runner I could be. And in 2009, when I was 52 years old, I trained for and completing a half marathon.
Too often, we doubt ourselves and our giftedness. We don’t always believe that we can do the things we feel passionate about or feel called to do. But God believes in us. God sees all of the potential and possibilities in us. God longs to see us develop our gifts to the utmost and to give the best we have to offer – to ourselves, to God, and to the world.
God does not want us, either individually or collectively as the church, to be too comfortable. They – the Trinity of God, that is – they do not want us to rest on our laurels. God does not want us to settle for being just “good enough.” As the scripture lesson says:
“God handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. God handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
I love the image of God working in us through gentle invitation and inspiration. Picture Jesus standing in front of you and saying, “Come unto me. Join me in growing your gifts. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” That’s a very soothing vision. But my experience has taught me that God employs some pretty forceful Holy Nudging, as well. I am thankful for an occasional push from God to move me in the right direction.
So God invites us and nudges us. God says, “I am so proud of what you have already accomplished and the ways you have grown. Don’t stop now – go for the gold! I want you to be all that I know you can be. I’ll inspire you. I will help you feel courageous. But you have to work at it. You have to practice. I want you to give it all you’ve got.”
I don’t mind admitting to you that I was not a “born preacher.” I was very introverted and painfully shy when I was growing up. I pushed myself to overcome this. And, looking back, I now believe God pushed me, too. God inspired me with a desire now to allow this part of my character to limit me. At the time, I did not have any idea I could be a preacher, I think God did. So, I joined the drama club and got used to being in front of an audience. I took a class in debating. I ran for student council – on a platform of more student control of the school, of course. By the time I graduated from high school, I was chosen as one of four commencement speakers. I was not until 1999 that I experienced God calling me to preach. But I am sure God was working to prepare me for that all along the way. And I am still working to become the best preacher I can be, thanks to God and this community.
My experience is not unique or unusual. All of you have gifts and abilities that God is working with you to grow. God loves us enough to push us to be the best we can be and to really use to the best effect and fruitfulness our gifts and abilities. Like the best of loving parents, God says to us, in effect, “Don’t squander your gifts. You have such potential. Don’t waste it. Be the best that you can be and be blessed to be a blessing for others.”
God calls us to live in community and relationships with others. These are venues for growing our gifts. They are spaces for us to mutually support, encourage, and helping each other to recognize our gifts and giftedness, overcoming our fears and issues of self-esteem.
Growing our gifts is always not simple and straightforward. Growth demands long and patient effort. It can also be painful sometimes. We have to work and to strive together to become the best individuals we can be and the best community of disciples we can be. As the apostle Paul wrote, “I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel…. And…do it with humility and discipline.” Welcome to Spirituality 201!
God nudges us, cajoles us, tries to inspire us, and pushes us to learn, mature, grow, and be transformed – to become the persons we were created to be by really tapping into all of our potential. God can see what we cannot. God can see all that we have the ability to become and all the ways that we might have a positive impact on the persons and the world around us. God ask so much of us because they love us so much.
We are privileged to know something about God’s love for us and to have a community that values our gifts and supports our growth. One purpose of the church is to facilitate each person’s growth in their particular array of gifts and talents. In turn, we all have the chance to give ourselves to the building of community through the gifts we have to offer. This places on us the responsibility to make every day count. Our gifts and abilities are not primarily for ourselves, but to give away in love for others and for building God’s kin-dom.
Friend, we are called to be one body in Christ – the living incarnation of Christ for the world. The crucial ingredient and context for our oneness and for the expression of our gifts is love. Nowhere is this sense of oneness in love better captured than when we join together in Holy Communion, as we will in a few minutes. In Communion, God’s love is in full display as we relive Jesus’ offering of his life for all of us. In our Communion, God calls us to do the same – to be blessed, broken, and given for the life of the world. Make us one in your love, O God, make us one.
Copyright © 2018 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.