What is Your Gift? Part 1

Over the years I have walked with Jesus I have heard a variety of teachings regarding the use of spiritual gifts, different teachings on how they function, and various opinions on whether or not they even exist today. Let me outline a few thoughts and the option of a different paradigm regarding parts of 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 (this will come in a future post). Prior to looking at 1 Corinthians there is a key passages I would like to address, Romans 12:3-8. Here I believe Paul is referring to motivational gifts, manifestations of who we are.

3  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4  For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7  or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8  he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8 (NKJV)

What do I mean by ‘manifestations of who we are?’ I believe the types of gifts in this list are illustrative not exhaustive. They are given by grace and are specific to us as individuals. The grace is that the Holy Spirit builds motivational gifts into who we are, our personality. The development of them is an art. We have a part and He has a part, and as has been said, “God won’t do our part and we can’t do His part.” The gift or ability is given but it must be developed. We need to work to develop it and pray for His help in the process. For years an ongoing part of my prayer life has been asking for wisdom as to what to give and when and where to minister.

To illustrate how a motivational gift can work itself out in our lives let me us my own life as an example and also address the blessing and challenges that can come with a gift. A dominant gift in my life is teaching. Even though it is a double negative, I would say I cannot not teach. For example, recently my wife asked me what I thought of the sermon. My response was to lay out my view of the passage the pastor had preached from and my view of it. This later led to a further conversation and a further explanation on my part which she said clarified the passage for her. What led to this is I was thinking as a teacher while listening to the message.

Where my gift is both a blessing and curse is that I find it difficult to listen to a sermon or teaching session and simply receive. I automatically start weighing things against what I know and understand about scripture, the historical context etc. It is something like what I heard John Wimber once describe. John had been a professional musician prior to his conversion and, among other things, a gifted worship leader and song writer after. He said that while he loved worship he found it hard to listen to it at home because he heard everything in the music; how the instruments functioned, the focus etc. He found himself analyzing the worship rather than engaging in it.

So, let me use my own life further. When I was younger one way my teaching gift manifested is that I would see other or different ways of doing things. I remember trying karate at age 19 and as I learned suggesting to the teacher another way of doing a technique. He actually took my suggestion and applied it and jokingly named the new technique after me. Over time I have continued to see other ways of doing things and a negative manifestation, that it took me awhile to become aware of, was that I thought there was the way I did things and a number of wrong ways! That is, I thought my way was best. I am, for the most part, over this and I see and accept that there are many ways to do many things. Getting to this place has strengthened my teaching gift as it helps me to help others see options in how to get from point A to B. This obviously does not apply to everything; there are some core truths such as what Jesus said in John 14 that make it clear there is only one way to do something.

6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 (NKJV)

My tendency to teach comes out whether at work, home or in other areas of my life. I usually use it to support and help others but when I work out at the local recreation centre I frequently have to resist offering ‘help’ to others. I have learned that when someone is not ready to receive it is not a good time to offer a different way of doing things! It has also ‘occurred’ to me that what they are doing may be working well for them.

A good way my gift manifests is that when I see someone doing something different I often ask why and learn new ways of doing things. For example, I have a well-trained dog and have had a number of them over the years. The way I got here was that when I got my first dog about 30 years ago I talked to a friend with an extremely well trained dog and sought his advice. He recommended a book and shared some aspects of how he trained his dog. I read the book, applied the theory in it along my friends teaching, and it has worked very well over the years.

Bring strongly motivated by teaching I am always internally driven to see, analyze and teach and needed to develop understanding and maturity in my gift and wisdom around how and when to apply it and I still need to develop much greater understanding and maturity. In our lives wisdom and understanding are not automatic; they are acquired, or may be acquired. As the expression goes, “Age is inevitable, maturity is optional.”

There is an expression, ‘Teachers make complicated things simple. Theologians make simple things complicated.’ (A host of professions could be inserted here). The real gift lies in the simplicity. I recently read in a marketing book that referenced research that while university students think they will appear more intelligent using large words the professors actually believe the people who can communicate clearly in simple language are more intelligent.

I am aware that at times I complicate things for people and I am also aware that I also have a tendency to try and take people to far too fast and need to be pay attention to this and know when to pull back. In my life this manifests as trying to do too many things at once. I know the concept of doing a few things well compared to many poorly, and have shared it with others. Yet I still have to fight the urge to do many things poorly!

The reason this post is later than usual is a good friend told me to take more time and sit on what I had written before sending it out. Given he is a gifted English teacher (he would say correctly, ‘A teacher of English’) I have tried to heed his advice.

Another thing I see operating in my life is that I regularly see gifts, callings and abilities in the lives of others and it took me some time to realize that I need to relate more to who they are than who they are called to be, while at the same time encouraging and supporting them to get there. I still have a lot to learn regarding how to do this.

So, how do we apply this to our lives? We look at Paul’s list in Romans 12 and reflect on what drives us. We then need to look around to find others who can help us develop and walk out our gifts so we can be a blessing to others. It is also important to recognize that properly walking in a gift will cost us something. The gift is free; the development of it tends to be costly. I recently heard Bobby Connor say something very crucial in an online teaching. He talked about our tendency to want to be able to do what the saints of old did but then asked, “Are we willing to do what they did to get what they got?” Are we?

A Heart That Hears Part 4

A couple of posts ago I referenced the idea of our spirit being a ‘womb,’ a place of birthing, noting that the word translated as ‘heart’ in John 7:38 is the Greek word koila.

38  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38 (NKJV)

2809. κοιλία koilia noun, Cavity, belly, stomach, womb, uterus, innermost being.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The .

So if one function of our spirts is to serve as a spiritual womb, how does it work in practice? In speaking of our natural bodies and our future resurrection bodies Paul told us,

46  However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 1 Corinthians 15:46 (NKJV)

How does this tie back to spiritual births? If we think of the natural conception and birth of children, thought this it is not always true, it is the Lord’s design that children are conceived in a place of intimacy. In a similar manner Jesus desires that we come into a place of intimacy with Him so that he can birth things in our spirits and they can be released to bless others. The natural parallels the spiritual.

Let me illustrate ate with an Old Testament example.  In Psalm 46:10 we have an admonition to be still and experience intimacy with Yahweh.

10  Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

The Hebrew word translated as ‘know’ is below.

  1. ‏ָידַע‎ yādhaʿ verb

to know, to understand

Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – The.

The word ‘know’ is used numerous times to refer to the physical intimacy between a couple that produces a child. Part of a natural intimate conception process is the involvement of both parties. The same is true spiritually. When Yahweh tells us to be still and be intimate with Him we are being invited into a shared experience, not a shared concept. We need to focus on Him, open our spirits and seek to listen to what He is speaking. This is the place where dreams and destinies are often released.

In seeking to respond to Yahweh’s invitation the context of Psalm 46 is important. As Psalm 46 begins it describes chaos and trouble and in the midst of it there is an invitation to intimacy; a message that we can experience His peace and presence no matter our circumstances. Through the Holy Spirit He wants to release new ideas, plans and purposes to and through us but needs us to first get quiet with and before Him.

For those of us who think this is not possible in difficult of stressful times let me share a story. A number of years ago there was a movie called “We Were Soldiers” that was based on actual events in Viet Nam. In the movie Mel Gibson played a Colonel who led his troops in the first major US engagement with the North Vietnamese. The scene was chaos and I believe the battle lasted continuously for well over 24 hours.

Given this was their first engagement the military wanted to learn as much as they could so conducted extensive interviews with the survivors (these parts were not in the movie). As a result they were considering court martialling the Colonel because some of his troops said he was sleeping during the worst parts of the battle. When they met with the Colonel and laid out the accusations. He was shocked. He explained that when the battle was the worst he tried to get very quiet and focused inside (hence the appearance of sleeping). He said he did this and then asked himself three questions;

  • What’s happening?
  • What’s not happening?
  • Where do we go from here?

I won’t go into detail regarding the purpose of the questions other than to say that they became part of a military training manual. My point is that with men dying around him and being shot at the Colonel not only found time to become quite and focused, he believed that was what he needed to do to lead his men and help them survive. Given this, in our difficult times, how important is it to respond to Yahweh’s invitation, “Be still and know that I am Yahweh?”

A few years ago while a small group of us were engaged in worship He gave me a song, it begins, “I am here to worship, Intimate One.” In Psalm 46 that is how He wants us to see and know Him, as the Intimate One. In reflecting on responding to His invitation, ‘be still and know’ we can think of our invitation to know this ‘Intimate One’ as;

  • Be still and open your heart to me
  • Be still and receive my heart
  • Be still and hear My thoughts
  • Be still and open your spirit to me
  • Be still and rest in my presence
  • Be still and receive My love
  • Be still and give Me your heart
  • Be still and love Me

These approaches and others are aspects of entering into intimacy with Him. Which one is He speaking to your heart today?

A Heart That Hears Part 3

I said I would look more deeply at how we experience the Holy Spirit in our ‘belly’ and how He desires to birth things in our lives out of a place of intimacy with Him. I think the key thing is first understanding that we have a spirit, where we experience it, and then learning how to do so. I believe we can train ourselves to pay attention to our spirits. I have the privilege of having some friends who know what it is to sit in Jesus presence and experience Him. They consciously cultivate an intimate hearing heart. Something I believe we can all do to varying degrees. After all He said if we would draw near to Him then He would draw near to us.

8  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 (NKJV)

Think of a hearing heart like a muscle, it only gets stronger through exercise. If you have ever broken a bone or spent a period of time lying in a hospital bed you know that your muscles atrophy. They are still there but they need to be rebuilt and strengthened. Similarly many people resolve to ‘get in shape.’ What they are referring to is exercising muscles to make them more functional, usually stronger or with more endurance. It is no different learning to exercise our spirits. The first step is having a desire to exercise our spirit; the next step is actually doing it. A neat thing I can tell you from experience is that sometimes you can do a new exercise and start to become aware of muscles you never knew you had. You may have been vaguely aware that they were in your body but you now develop a refined ability to use them. When we start to exercise our spirits it is also a process of awareness leading to refinement.

In my last post I referenced 1 Corinthians 2:9 and the meaning of the word entered. The word ‘entered’ in verse 9 has a specific meaning in Greek.

303. ἀναβαίνω anabainō verb

Ascend, go up, bring up, to spring up.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The – The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Alpha-Gamma.

Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 2:6-9 is that if the rulers in the natural realm had been able to pay attention to what was arising to their hearts and minds from their spirits they would not have crucified Jesus. He then makes his point (verses 9-12) that being born again we have the capacity to receive in our spirits from the Holy Spirit and not only is the Holy Spirit willing to reveal things to us, in fact He desires to! He points out in verse 11 that we can naturally know what is real via our spirits and in verse 12 highlights that if the Holy Spirit is in us we can know what we have been freely given and what has been purchased for us by Jesus.

In understanding more about how to experience our spirits it is instructive to look at what Paul taught. In Ephesians 1:17-21 we have Paul’s famous prayer for spiritual revelatory insight. In less depth he in essence prays for the same things in Philippians 1:9-11 and Colossians 1:9-11. For Paul, going deeper and moving to maturity in spiritual matters hinged on the eyes of our hearts or understanding, our spiritual eyes being opened. A primary message of Ephesians is Paul praying that our spiritual eyes, which we have, would be opened. The problem is not what is available to be seen and known, it is that we need to see and know! It is like someone going for counselling. It doesn’t matter how clearly the counsellor can see the issue, unless the client can ‘see’ it they will not make any changes. Just so we need to learn to ‘see’ spiritual things. If we are born again we have the spiritual eyes we need, but if they were automatically opened much of what Paul wrote would have been unnecessary.

Let me illustrate a little further. I have a good friend who is now 88 and has walked with Jesus for about 80 years. She has more spiritual discernment than anyone I know and she knows how to live out of His presence. When I first began having regular contact with her in 1991 I would sometimes call her and rather than asking how I was she would tell me how I was doing. She had made an agreement with the Lord to pray for me every day so the Holy Spirit would let her know how I was doing so she would know how to pray.

At times this dear friend would attend a home group I led and afterward would tell me at a spiritual level what had happened in the group. When she first started doing this it was like we had been at different groups as she would describe numerous spiritual things I had missed. When she did this I could reflect back and see what I had missed. I still think I miss a lot of things in meetings but now having walked through this process a number of times I learned and now discern a lot more than I used to. However, none of this would have happened without;

  • a hunger on my part to know more,
  • a willingness to learn from her and others,
  • a desire to know His presence, and
  • learning to pay attention to my spirit.

I think there are some important elements in learning to discern in the spirit and learning to sit with Jesus. My own belief is that if we don’t learn to do this on an individual basis it is difficult and less effective on a corporate basis. I know when Mike Bickle and others began Kansas City Fellowship in the 1980’s (The International House of Prayer, now famously known as IHOP, grew out of Kansas City Fellowship) they had numerous corporate prayer meetings. At the same time the leaders were quite clear that if those attending did not have an individual devotional life with Jesus they did not want them at the corporate prayer meetings.

My experience is that we need to learn to sit in His presence, learn to experience Him with our spirits and let our head observe and learn from the process. I know that when I do this it affects and stabilizes my spirit, soul and physical body (see 1 Thess. 5:23). I feel at rest, His shalom is present. Then in a corporate setting I pay attention to what I feel/sense/experience deep within and become aware of what is going on in the lives of others in the room. I sense needs and have an awareness of how to direct my prayers for others. I don’t see this as some mysterious mystical thing; I think it is normal Christianity as defined by the New Testament, not normal Christianity as defined by the experiences of the bulk of Western Evangelicals. My experience and that of others is that as we learn to honour the Holy Spirit and what He desires to do in our lives and the lives of others He shares His heart with us regarding the needs of others.

I am not suggesting this is easy in our busy, hectic and driven culture. However, if Susanna Wesley (the mother of the famous John and Charles) could find time each day to focus on his heart, in the midst of raising 19 children with no modern conveniences, perhaps we can find a few minutes for Him. However, easy or no, I am saying unequivocally that it is worth it, both for ourselves and others.

A Heart That Hears Part 2

In my last posted I noted that this time I would talk/write about how to perceive or experience our spirits. There are a couple of key verses that lay a foundation.

27  The spirit of a man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the inner depths of his heart. Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV) 37  On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 39  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:37-39 (NKJV)

In the Proverbs reference the footnote in the NKJV says that the phrase “inner depths of his heart” in Hebrew is literally “rooms of his belly.” This tells us something about where we locate or experience our spirit. Scripture being consistent with scripture, this is also what the Greek literally means in John 7:38. The old King James has belly instead of heart. The NASB translates it as “innermost being” but has a footnotes that says it means “out of his belly.” The Greek word is not the one normally translated as heart kardia, from which we get cardiac. It is a different word, koilia.

2809. κοιλία koilia noun, Cavity, belly, stomach, womb, uterus, innermost being.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The – The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Zeta-Kappa.

What is significant is that while koilia refers to the belly or stomach area, it is also the Greek word for the womb, and is translated that way 12 times in the NT in the NKJV. The womb is the place of birthing. I believe the significance in this is that the Holy Spirit is telling us He wants to birth things in our lives through our spirits.

While I do not believe our spirits are simply in our abdomen, I believe that is generally where we experience them. I won’t go into all the scripture but the other point is that whether or not people have been born again they still have a functional spirit, it just lacks the Holy Spirit rebirthing it with a new nature, Jesus nature, and residing in it. However the idea of the centre of our body as the place where we encounter our spirit goes across cultures and belief systems. The Japanese in some traditions refer to the centre of the body, the belly, as the hara, the source of spirit and energy. The Chinese use the term dantien to refer to the same thing. So there is understanding across cultures and beliefs that our spirit is located in the centre of our belly.

However, whether or not other cultures possessed that understanding the key thing is the testimony of scripture. Look at what Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 2.

9  But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10  But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11  For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:9-12 (NKJV)

Paul was clear that we ‘know’ things via our spirit and the Holy Spirit in us reveals the things of God to us. When we seek to bless others in ministry He will reveals things about them so we may help them and they know it is from Him because they are things we could not naturally know. Very importantly in this passage Paul tells us how receive from our spirits and the Holy Spirit. The word ‘entered’ in verse 9 has a specific meaning in Greek.

303. ἀναβαίνω anabainō verb

Ascend, go up, bring up, to spring up.

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Alpha-Gamma.

Paul is telling us that things rise or spring up into our hearts from our spirits. So why are not more of us aware of this and why do we not pursue more? A little evangelical history will help in understanding why so many miss out on operating in spiritual gifts. A. W. Tozer was a key leader in the Alliance church in the mid twentieth century and I think one of the very important writers and prophetic voices in the church in his era and still today. I highly recommend his books and have had the privilege of reading most of them and even listening to recordings of some of his sermons.

That being said there is a however coming. The Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination (generally known as Alliance churches today) preceded the Pentecostal movement. As movements they were both seeking the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Spirit as a post conversion experience. The early focus of both movements was a baptism for holiness. When the Pentecostal movement began it split into different streams but a dominant emphasis for most was a second experience of the Holy Spirit marked by speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Holy Spirit. This became a divisive issue in both movements.

One of the outcomes was the Alliance church formulated a position, as I understand it led by Tozer, of ‘seek not forbid not.’ The intent was noble, to maintain unity and avoid division. However, I believe it led to the quenching of the work of the Holy Spirit in many places and spread across other evangelical movements as a positon of being ‘open’ to the gifts and work of the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to be ‘open’ to whatever the Holy Spirit has for you in the context of pursuing intimacy with Jesus and an expectation that something will happen, not being sure of the ‘what’ but being open as long as it aligns with scripture.

The problem with the ‘open’ position that I see is that it often manifests as passivity. We are ‘open’ but not genuinely seeking or pursuing anything. That type of ‘open’ position, noble as it may seem, stands in opposition to scripture. Scripture says we are to pursue love and desire the gifts of the Spirit, not one or the other. In fact the word translated as ‘desire’ in 1 Corinthians 14:1 in the NKJV version is below.

2189. ζηλόω zēloō verb

Strive, fervently desire, be zealous; be jealous or envious.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The – The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Zeta-Kappa.

While I understand the intent of the positon of Tozer and others the scriptures exhort us to fervently desire and be zealous for spiritual gifts while pursuing growth and maturity in loving others. As much as I admire and appreciate Tozer and others, I want to follow the scriptures in this area and the scriptures calls us to learn how to live out of our spirits. In fact the way Paul framed it elsewhere it is the key to victory over desires we struggle with that are contrary to His desires for our lives.

16  I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (NKJV)

In my next post I will look deeper at how we experience the Holy Spirit in our ‘belly’ and how He desires to birth things in our lives out of a place of intimacy with Him. I will also share more of my own experiences and those of others as a means of both example and encouragement. It seems fitting here to give Paul the last word.

1  Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (NKJV)