Spiritual Gifts

by Joel Ramshaw (2009)

Many people go throughout their Christian lives without ever looking into their spiritual giftings. Spiritual gifts are often thought of as being reserved for anointed prophets and special chosen people. There is also a common belief that spiritual gifts were given only to the early church to help establish it. The idea of spiritual gifts being available to everyone is quite foreign to many people. Yet it is something that must be understood.

            Everyone has the potential to have spiritual gifts. Different types of spiritual gifts are given however. Paul writes, “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 through the same Sprit… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”[1]

            The Holy Spirit desires to empower us with these spiritual gifts. Each of us has a unique place in the body of Christ, and thus unique giftings. We cannot simply expect the spiritual giftings to automatically come though. We need to pray and perhaps fast for them. The disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem, and not leave until the Holy Spirit came. They then prayed fervently for the Spirit. In Acts 2, the Spirit then came and filled them with all with unique giftings.

We are living in disobedience if we do not seek to operate in spiritual giftings. Jesus placed such a high priority on the baptism of the Spirit that He instructed them not even to begin ministry until they had received Him. This shows the immense importance of desperately seeking the Holy Spirit. It is also a display of pride to hold the attitude that we can serve God on our own without His power. We need to come with the attitude “God, my life is five loaves and two fish. Take it and transform it by your Spirit, so that it can be greatly used by you.”

The importance of spiritual gifts can quickly be seen in the book of Acts. The entire book would be lifeless without the power of the Holy Spirit. Miracles abound throughout the book. Healings, prophesies, and miraculously given languages were all common occurrences. Perhaps the most important of all though was the amazing convicting power their Spirit-filled messages had on the audiences. After preaching the first sermon after Pentecost, three-thousand people joined the new church!

All this goes to show the awesome power present when ministry is done with the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is essential therefore that we discover which spiritual gifts we should be striving to operate in.

So how can we ourselves determine which gifts we should have? First of all, we need to seek God to give us the gifts. Being a Christian does not mean that we automatically receive our spiritual gifts. We need to consistently pray or even fast for them until God gives them to us. We may even have to wait a long amount of time before receiving them. Sometimes God needs to mature us first, so that we will not misuse the gift to be entrusted to us.

We should never give up though, in seeking the gifts. God often requires persistent prayer over a period of time before He will answer. Jesus told a parable regarding this, “Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.”[2]

As it can be seen, God sometimes makes us wait to receive answers to prayer. The important thing to remember is that no prayer in a good heart is ever wasted. Even if God does not answer the way we want Him to, our prayers still build relationship with Him, and provision will be given, even if it is a different gift or answer than we expect.

            While praying for spiritual gifts we should not fall into the trap of thinking we must be specific. If we are not sure which spiritual gift we are to have, we can just pray a general prayer, that the Holy Spirit would give us spiritual gifts. God does not expect all of us to know exactly which gifts we are to have. Sometimes we will have a strong guidance and love for a certain gift and God’s will will be clear to us. Other times though, we will be in doubt as to which gift we should seek, so we should pray a general prayer for spiritual gifts, not praying for any specific gift.

Some spiritual gifts are to be desired over others though. Paul points out prophesy as being a better spiritual gift than others, because it is so useful in building-up and encouraging the church: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.[3] An interesting fact is that although the gift of tongues has been commonly set on a pedestal among traditional Pentecostal thought, Paul clearly teaches that prophesy is to be desired over it. In another verse in the chapter Paul also says, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. . .”[4] Thus some gifts are to be desired over others, because they yield more benefits. All gifts are valuable, however rather than be content with simply a vocational gifts (apostle, prophet, evangelist. . . ) we should also seek God for several manifestation gifts such as tongues, miracles, prophesy, etc.

It is impossible to be exactly certain which gifts Paul is talking about when he says the “best gifts” but it is clear from the passages that some gifts are more useful than others. We should desire the gifts that are most useful for our ministry, even if some of them do not seem like the “best gifts.” It is essential not to seek gifts out of a heart of selfish ambition, but rather a heart of humble servanthood. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that having many spiritual gifts makes us “higher” in the body of Christ. Even if we seek certain “best” gifts it is still up the Holy Spirit whether to give them to us or not. We must accept the gifts the Holy Sprit gives to us, even if they are not the gifts that were expecting, or praying for. If one does feel a call to a certain gifting though, they should keep praying and fasting until they receive that gift. Oftentimes God will give one gift at a time, and we may not receive certain spiritual giftings until we have a good amount of experience in our Christian walk.

It is a good idea not only to pray and fast for spiritual gifts, but also to have godly men to lay hands on you. Especially someone that already operates in the particular gift that you are seeking. Timothy needed the elders to lay hands on him before he received a spiritual gift. Paul wrote to him “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.”[5] In the letter to the Romans Paul writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established--”[6] If Paul could have simply given them spiritual gifts by prayer, then he would not have worried about visiting them in person. Therefore, when seeking spiritual gifts, it is preferable not only to have a committed heart and to pray diligently, but also to have godly men lay hands on you, to receive the fullness of the giftings.

Some gifts are harder to discern than others. For example, it is very straightforward to know if one has the gift of miracles or healings. The result of these gifts is plain to see. On the other hand, someone may have the gift of faith and not even be aware of it, assuming it is just part of their personality.

After knowing and discovering our original spiritual giftings, we should be praying for even more giftings. Everyone starts off with some kind of vocational gift such as apostleship, prophet, teacher, evangelist, giver, or helps (or other that Paul has not mentioned). Rather than abruptly trying to use a gift such as the gift of miracles, tongues, or prophecy to see whether or not one has it, it is a better idea to persistently pray to God first, then when faith is given, to attempt to operate in the gifting.

Thus concludes this examination of spiritual giftings and the importance of knowing and seeking them. Ministry is like trying to feed the five-thousand with our five loaves and two fishes, our human ability. Without God’s Spirit, we will burn out and only feed a few people. With God’s Spirit though, our ministry can impact hundreds or thousands, and rather than burn out, we will have more leftover.

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[1] 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.

[2] Luke 18:1 - 7. All scripture references taken from the New King James Version.

[3] 1 Corinthians 14:1-3.

[4] 1 Corinthians 12:28-31.

[5] 1 Timothy 4:14.

[6] Romans 1:11.