THE TAKE AWAY
Works Gift-Wrapped in Love
By Kersley Fitzgerald
It was about five minutes to the start of worship and I was hurrying to the "stage." A friend, our teenage soprano, was fidgety and chagrinned.
Her mom gave me a little grimace. "Apparently she has to sing a couple of solo lines in one of the songs, and she's nervous about it."
"It's not that," the girl said. "When I sing solo I get all prideful and selfish and I'm not really worshiping God."
What are we doing?
I smiled, thinking back to another friend, twenty years ago, who actually quit the worship team because too many people were telling her she had a beautiful voice. She felt her worship was falling into pride.
"Do you know why I'm on the team?" I asked. My friend shook her head. "Because I've been an alto in the seats with no one to show me my part. It's awful to feel like you can't sing because it's out of your range. I sing out of my gift of service—to help other people out there who want to sing parts.
"You can do the same thing. [Our leader] isn't going to lead that song. I tried but I sounded like a wounded water buffalo. We need you."
I don't know what she thought of that—I had to rush over and tune my guitar. But she sang great.
That got me thinking about potentially prideful situations all over the church—and there are a lot of them. Teacher, preacher, elder, leader…anyone who is up front and getting attention. It's a heady thing to do something for the church and get attention for it. But it's stuff that needs to get done. And it's honoring to God if it's done well. So where do we go from here?
We talk about how the Holy Spirit equips us and builds up the church (Ephesians 4:11-13). And we talk about spiritual gifts (some more than others). And then we talk about how we should serve no matter what, even if the task isn't related to our gifts.
I think we forget what the purpose of spiritual gifts is. It is a particular manifestation of the power and love of the Holy Spirit that He exhibits through us. It is the way we are designed to show the church God's character in practical ways. And I think if we can get underneath that, we can solve a lot of issues.
Living out of our gifts
I have a friend who has the gift of helps. She helps people all over the place. She does not have the gift of sitting behind a desk and checking kids into children's church and missing the service. But she does it because it helps the children's director.
I think it's incomplete to say, "It doesn't matter what your spiritual gift is when there's a job that needs to be done." I think it's better to say, "Here's a need; how can I use my spiritual gifts to fill it?"
Some are obvious. A Sunday school class needs a teacher? Anyone with a speaking gift should be able to find joy in teaching. A meal needs to be made? Call someone with the gift of helping or giving or mercy.
What about those situations where it isn't so clear? Meals need to be made? A leader could manage the sign-up sheet; a teacher could write down recipes with the meal; an exhorter could send a note. Does someone who is homebound need a visit? Sitting and talking might drive someone with the gift of service to tears, but not if she offers to clean a little or brings a puzzle to do together. Chairs need to be set up? A leader could gather the kids to help; someone with mercy would remember to create a space for those with special needs; a preacher would have unique insight on how to set the chairs up so the speaker would be most comfortable. Or what if the person who regularly gives announcements is gone? A server would emphasize the needs of the church, while someone with the gift of exhortation would remember to thank members for helping in the past.
When we're faced with an opportunity that has the potential to bring pride, discomfort, or insane boredom, we should be more creative with it. Every spiritual gift can bring something unique to the situation that might even inspire those who are so comfortable they don't even think about what they're doing. The thing is, when we crucify the flesh (Galatians 5:24) and submit our desires, it doesn't mean we crucify or submit the Holy Spirit working in us. It means we release the Holy Spirit to do amazing things.
Wrapped in love
I think parents might be the best example of this. The other day, a friend whose husband is deployed posted that her Wildman of a 3-year old woke up at six in the morning wanting to duel with her. Apparently spilled coffee was involved.
I know this woman. Her spiritual gift is not getting up at six in the morning to "duel" with her son (lightsabers?) before her morning coffee can make it to her insides. But her love for her son inspires her gentleness to new heights. Because a spiritual gift more conducive to epic battles would also be more conducive to yelling, "For pity's sake it's six in the morning go back to bed!" and, ironically enough, not accepting the challenge.
She lives out the fact that below our own personal spiritual gift inventory is the motivation for even stepping out in the first place. Acting out of our spiritual gifts will quickly slide into pride or selfishness or resentment if we're not motivated by love. Not schmoopy, feely love, but agape love (1 John 4:7). The acknowledgement that the church is one body, led by Christ, fathered by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The acceptance that the members of the church are family, held together by mutual submission and the act of everyone building everyone else up to more fully follow God. And then the decision that this is important to us. Because it is a decision. You can't dedicate your life to spend with people—and find any joy in it—until you decide in your heart it's what you want to do.
There is some phileo—some brotherly affection—in there, too (Romans 16:16). But that's also a choice. The decision to take the most cantankerous curmudgeon and decide to both see him clearly in his sin and find affection for his more benign personality quirks will inspire us to serve him in a way that shows God's love. And might even inspire him to stop being so cantankerous. Phileo turns a musical solo into a favor lovingly bestowed on a friend who can't reach the high notes. It turns a visit with an invalid into a mutually-beneficent moment of grace instead of wasted time. And it cuts through the resentment long enough for us to figure out why God put us here in the first place.
I knew a woman who refused to learn her spiritual gifts. She thought the whole exercise was foolish, and that if you knew your gift, you'd be more likely to refuse to help where you were needed. I've seen people refuse to work in a ministry because they didn't think the need fit their gifts. And I've seen people run from their gifts because they were too vulnerable to pride. All of these things reject what the Holy Spirit has for us.
I think it's a step toward spiritual maturity to have a healthy view of our gifts and how they fit into the church. They're not something we should be afraid of or limited by. They're just a way that the Holy Spirit connects with us. And I think that if we can imbue our gifts with love and creativity, we can better see how God uses creativity, fueled by love, to reach us.
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