In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
(Romans 12:6-8 NLT)
Gifts. The sound of that word being spoken is enough to bring a smile to any eager child (or anybody, really). If you mention gifts to my kids, you will immediately have their full attention. And although I know in the above passage, the word “gifts” is synonymous with “ability”–we are to use the abilities God has given us–God also recently spoke to my heart the other aspect of gifts as it relates to the idea of using our talents.
Let me explain. The other meaning of “gift” is “present.” We give presents to wish someone a happy birthday; we give presents to celebrate weddings and births; we give presents for holidays; and sometimes we give presents just to let people know we are thinking of them. Regardless of the occasion, I personally enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them (although if you ever give me one, I certainly won’t refuse it!). When I am picking out a gift for somebody, I am very purposeful. I typically pray for God to lead me to the right present. In my search, I consider the person’s personality, desires, likes, and dislikes. I want the person receiving my gift to see it as my heart sharing something with her heart.
I also, when I give a gift, do not expect anything back, for a true gift is one which is given freely, with no strings attached. Yet while a gift is freely given without expectations, it is usually given with the purpose of being utilized and enjoyed. We typically don’t give gifts to people so that the gifts remain unopened, unused, or hidden in a closet somewhere. I’ve never thought to myself, “Wow! This is completely useless and meaningless! My friend will love it!” No. We give gifts so the recipient can use and enjoy them.
So how does this relate to the gifts and abilities God gives to us? First of all, it is indeed God who gives us our spiritual abilities. He gives them to us freely; we don’t deserve nor earn them in any way. I am not an encourager because I deserve it; I am an encourager because God, knowing how He made me, chose this gift especially for me. Furthermore, God gives us the gifts in order for us to use them. God doesn’t give useless nor meaningless gifts. He also doesn’t give gifts so we can keep them hidden.
Furthermore, if God gives us abilities and wants us to use them, then it only makes sense we use them for His glory. Actually, God’s desire is that we do use them for His glory. Paul doesn’t just write that God has given each of us different abilities; he then encourages us to use those gifts well as God has called us to do. In 1 Peter 4:10-11, we read the following: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 P eter 4:10-11).
Both the passage in Romans and the one in 1 Peter exhort us to not only use the gifts given to us by God, but also to use them well. We are to use them as God intended us to use them–“that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
Yet how many of us would admit that sometimes we lose focus? We use one of our spiritual gifts and then hope others notice–and not just notice but compliment us for it. We want the glory for using a gift we did not deserve and did not earn. Or if we avoid the sin of pride, we fall prey to being jealous of those who use their gifts as God intended or whose gifts differ from ours. We look with envy at the leader who leads with diligence. We question the motives behind the person who gives so selflessly and freely. We wonder why people don’t encourage us like we exhort them. We sulk in our seat as we listen to the gifted teacher open up God’s Word and explain it in a way we never could.
Yet look again with me at the passages from Romans 12 and 1 Peter 4:10-11. As you look back at them, I want you to pay attention to what is NOT said; for sometimes what is not said is just as important as what is said.
So what isn’t said? What’s implied? By accepting and using the gifts God has given to us, we are also accepting and understanding that it is part of God’s plan that others do not have those same gifts nor display their gifts in the same capacity. In other words, our gifts and abilities are as unique as our individual personalities.
The above passage does not say encourage others then secretly hope for a thank you or a return in encouragement. It does not say lead and then wonder why others don’t lead like you. It doesn’t say prophecy and be proud that you hear from God differently than others. It doesn’t say give and then hope others will give back to you as well. No. It says prophecy, serve, teach, encourage, give, lead, be kind because that is the gift God chose for you. God chose our gifts; as the recipients, we are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace. Being a good steward doesn’t mean we belittle or judge others who have different gifts. Being a good steward doesn’t mean we envy those who possess different or more well-known gifts. Being a good steward means we use the gifts God has given to us as a means of worshiping Him. Period. What others think about our gifts or what others do with their gifts should not affect our willingness to serve God in accordance with how He uniquely created us to serve Him.
For me, I know God has gifted me with encouragement and the ability to use the written word to express encouragement. But this doesn’t make me better than someone else who is not a natural writer or encourager. If I encourage a friend, then I have done my part as God has called me to do. I should not then expect that friend to return the same encouragement, especially when I know God has not gifted that friend with that particular gift. It would be like someone gifted in speaking in front of masses expecting me to do the same. Put me in front of a large crowd of adults and this prolific writer becomes a rambling idiot without a focused thought or rational argument. Deer in headlights? Yes, that would be me in front of large groups of people.
Yet my dislike of public speaking doesn’t make me less of a Christian. I am not a public speaker. But that doesn’t make me any less of a child of God than the one who is. I am an encourager, but that doesn’t make me any better than the one who is not. Sure, God calls us all to encourage one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, so to some extent, we are all designed to be encouragers, but I shouldn’t expect the same gift of encouragement to flow through others in abundance or in the same way as God designed it to flow through me. Why? Because God chose me to encourage others; He chose each of those around me for something else. And even if He did choose someone else to have the gift of encouragement, that individual will not necessarily display that ability in the same way I do. For in the same way each of us is created uniquely, so also we manifest God’s gifts in ways specific and unique to who we are in Him.
As I conclude, let me summarize what God spoke to me as I read Romans. What I read in the above passage is, yes, use the gifts God has given to you. Even more, use them well and for His glory. Yet as you use those gifts, be diligent to keep your focus on the giver of all good things, not on the actual gifts. Do what you were called to do; leave the rest in God’s hands.
So are you a leader? Lead! Are you a teacher? Teach! Are you a writer? Write! Are you an artist? Paint, draw, sculpt! Whatever it is God has given you, use it, and use it in the way He calls you to use it. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you what others thought of your gift. He’s not even going to ask you about what you thought of the gift He gave you. He’s going to ask you how you used the gift He gave you to draw people to Him. So make this your focus; make God your focus. Follow the encouragement God penned through Paul in his letter to the Colossians:
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him….Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” – Colossians 3:17, 23-24