Spiritual Gifts: Why?

I’m writing about this to sort out my own thoughts, to leave this here for anyone who needs it, and to open a discussion on this with my dear friend  over at Dark Brightness who is still in a cessationist church.

I grew up in a cessationist church.   We didn’t discuss the spiritual gifts much, if at all.   When I moved to my current church, the spiritual gifts were taken for granted, but because we’re a very orderly church, unless you went to certain services, the more supernatural gifts weren’t on display.   But you were encouraged to figure out what yours were, and gradually I met people who had the more … interesting… gifts.

It was comfortable to do the tests and say, “I have the gift of counsel!  I have the gift of organization!” – they aren’t very woo-woo.   Pretty normal, everyday “things I’m good at”, really…   But any life that is truly alive grows and changes, does it not?  And you *are* exhorted to ask for more gifts, more of what the Spirit wants to see in you.   We are supposed to be walking the path of sanctification, not sitting in the pews of complacency.

1 Corinthians 14: 39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.

And eventually… something pops up that can’t be explained by natural means.  And then you have to deal with that.

“Dealing with that” isn’t a simple matter.  *Would that it were*.    There are charlatans to the skies, and I neither wish to be deceived by one of them nor do I want to become one.  God forbid.  Literally.   I am HORRIFIED by the idea that I might be out of sync with God.

What I learned from the folks who have the more supernatural gifts, back when I was just talking to them, is that, one and all, they were uncomfortable with sharing them – especially at first, and most especially with strangers.   (First test:  Is the person who is talking to you brash and overconfident?  Fishy).   And I heard them say that the experience was that you would get an assignment from God, and usually you’d argue until it didn’t get done… about that time, you’d see someone else step forward to do what you’d refused to do.   And OF COURSE I thought, “well, I’d not do that!”

Until I did… until it was my turn to have a Word for someone and (since it was God’s word, *not* mine, and I didn’t know anything whatsoever about what I was called to say, I didn’t want to say it – especially not to a stranger I happened to be praying with) I argued in my head for a couple of minutes and the woman sitting two places down from me opened her mouth and gave that word.  The Word I was supposed to give.    And then the shame comes – I was commanded, and I disobeyed.

But you still have to DEAL with the mess that is this fallen world.   Words (and other supernatural gifts) can come from God – or they can come from the enemy (read your Bible – he does have power).   Words can also come from one’s own fevered imagination and not be supernatural at all.    Of course one’s commitment is always and ever to follow Christ, but how do you KNOW when it’s God, and when it’s not???

I’m very much still working this out (please leave any input), but I have hints:

  1. Did I go looking in the crystal ball?   Highly Fishy – and the “crystal ball” is metaphorical here.   God’s Words come from Him, not me trying to sort something out – except when I ask and get an answer much later.  They’re also not MY answers – they come from Him, not me.
  2. Did I get a date/time?  At least for me, super fishy.
  3. Anyone who acts like a medium between you and God can go jump in a lake.
  4. Would I *really rather not* but I’m feeling pressured, and it’s outside my comfort zone?   Ah, that sounds more likely…

So why, with all the effort and headache of discerning truth from falsehood, what’s the point of the more supernatural spiritual gifts?  Why do we have them, and why do we have them today?

  1. I think it is good for us to be reminded that we serve a God of miracles, to be reminded that this bread-and-porridge world is not all that there is.   That yes, our lives can – and will – be interrupted by the miraculous, and we should open our eyes.  This keeps us humble and awestruck.  “My help is from the Lord”.   I, at least, need frequent reminding that I am NOT supposed to be doing this life thing on my own (entirely natural) strength – and that I CAN and SHOULD ask (and expect) help on the daily.    The attitude that “God’s got this” is helped along when you see His -unmistakable – hand.
  2. Encouragement.   A little bit of “God hasn’t forgotten you” can go a long way when you’re in a desert place.  Even knowing that it can happen to someone you know is very encouraging.   A close relative has been granted miraculous relief from some things that should be quite painful, and is developing Healing as a gift.  Praise God!
  3. Confirmation.  “I’ve been praying on this, and reading my Bible and I think this is what’s going on but… Oh Hi Susie, what?  Oh.  Wow, yeah, that’s helpful!  Thank you”.  (I’ve heard many the time that people can hear God well enough on their own.  I sure hope so!  But see the list above – sometimes you’re pounding hard on something and you can really use a backup to your own research – or am I the only one who questions herself constantly?)

Now if all this hasn’t been sufficiently clear – TEST THE SPIRITS.   Test, test, test.   Go through all of my tests and test again with your own.   Do *not* just accept what anyone says to you or does for you or..  But having tested – let God be God, and accept that He gives gifts as He will.

It sure does look like things on this planet are about to get “interesting”.   I think we’re going to need all the gifts, active and working, to get through.   Not just the “gift of service” that unflinchingly cleans the church bathroom for 20 years – but the stuff that looks right weird to the outside world.

Anyway.   I am dealing with this, and it’s not especially comfortable, but I figure God’s got a reason for what God does.  I’d love to hear how you’re dealing with your own walk and your own giftings.

9 thoughts on “Spiritual Gifts: Why?

  1. Sara Jane Kehler

    This is such a huge subject that it’s difficult to make a glib comment on what you’ve written.
    I’ll just say that I admire your guts to write about it. It’s a sensitive subject for many.

    We’re all trying to figure these things out, and whether or not we feel we’ve found the answers already, your article opens our minds to consider the topic again. So, thank you. 🙂

  2. Sara Jane Kehler

    Actually, I’m kind of afraid that anything I say will sound bitter. I’ve been hurt many times by people who believe “all” Christians have the gift of tongues, or “everybody has all the gifts”. I mean, these statements seem ridiculous to me.

    I think we get caught up in wanting more gifts, rather than recognizing the gifts Holy Spirit is already growing in us. If we keep walking in step with Him, he’ll keep growing us. I don’t know why I have to desire particular gifts. I just want more of Him.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Say it out, we’ll sort it out together like sisters should. I’ve heard what you say before from other folks raised in churches like yours. It’s a pity.

      BTDT with the gift of healing. I’ve got friends who believe – solidly – that all of us should be able to Heal. Now, I believe that God can use me in that way if it suits Him and He sends me to do that. But it’s *not* my gift 99.99% of the time.

      Having come from a church w/o the woowoo gifts, I was expecting to hear folks speaking in tongues really disturbing, but all the ladies I know who pray in tongues do so discreetly, quietly, and it sounds rather like a babbling brook over stones – most pleasant. Do I want tongues? Never say no to God’s gifts, but … um, not on my Christmas list. 😉

      1. Sara Jane Kehler

        LOL. “not on my Christmas list”. Thanks! I needed that.

        I often feel like people treat the gift of tongues like the world advertises sex: if you’re not getting it, you’re missing out. So frustrating.

  3. Lisa Laree

    Like you, I grew up in a cessationist church…one that actually had a church split over the gifts, because some of the ladies were praying in tongues at a home prayer gathering and the leaders found out about it and gave them the left foot of fellowship. They weren’t promoting it or making a big deal about it but they did it and didn’t back down from it when confronted. At at 14 I could read ‘do not forbid speaking in tongues’ in 1 Corinthians myself and I wondered why it was a problem. Now I find myself in a full gospel church…on that doesn’t push the gifts, or question your salvation if you don’t pray in tongues, and there’s not a big deal made or distinction drawn between those who do speak in tongues and those who don’t. But it is practiced openly and prayer to receive what they refer to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is offered frequently. But there is no pressure.

    So many people have been wounded by folks who insist they must have one gift or another (even my cessasionist congregation believed every True Believer had the gift of evangelism, they just didn’t phrase it that way) that there’s just no reason to push onto someone what the Holy Spirit will pull out of them in His time if that’s what they need. I kinda think Paul’s statement, ‘You desire the more excellent gifts’ was sarcastic, chiding the Corinthians for wanting the BEST gifts instead of working with what they were given (Is tongues better than wisdom? Is prophecy better than administration?).

    I told God I would take any gift BUT tongues…I didn’t want that one, it was too controversial. Suddenly, praying at home alone one day,I found myself unable to pray in English. The English words just…went away. What came out was not English. It was disturbing. But it was also funny. God definitely has a sense of humor.

    It’s harder to speak a word over someone. Praying in tongues is one level of letting go; prophecy is another one all together. What if you get it wrong? But there’s nothing more astonishing than overcoming your reluctance to share something…and then hearing it confirmed by others. As long as it’s offered as ‘I think I hear the Spirit saying’ and not ‘Thus says the Lord!’ most folks will not feel threatened. We are all instructed to judge prophetic words. I once heard ‘It’s time to fly!’ for a friend in a prayer line; I’d forgotten all about it until later in the year she moved far, far away and she reminded me, ‘Girl, you prayed that over me! I was arguing with God about the move and you told me it was time to fly!’ Yeah. Jaw on floor.

    I think your situation was just a training session…God teaching you what it sounds like to hear His word and be prompted to share it. And maybe you were just supposed to confirm the lady who gave it. That’s how He teaches. No shame in taking time over the lesson. That’s the enemy….

    1. Elspeth

      That is a funny story about your receiving the gift of tongues. I can recall a time when I thought I didn’t have the Holy Spirit because I did not have the gift of tongues. My thinking has evolved on this issue over time, and I’m not sure that it has evolved into a healthy place, honestly. By that, I mean that I just stopped thinking about gifts several years ago.

      We go to a church that is not a cessationist church, but neither is there a big emphasis on spiritual gifts. The teaching is that they are a thing, and believers are given gifts, but I can’t think of a single instance in the 20 years that we’ve been there when anyone has had a conversation with us as a congregation or in a Bible study about what gift we have received and frankly, I’ve found that to be a great relief.

      My experience is that when the issue of spiritual gifts divides believers, it’s mainly because of wrangling over the gift of tongues and/or prophecy. Gifts of exhortation or administrations or even teaching don’t warrant the same level of discord.

      1. hearthie Post author

        It’s the woowoo gifts that make us uncomfortable. Which means, by extension, that it’s the supernatural that makes us uncomfortable…. at least that’s what it seems to my eyes. Discuss?

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