There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, by the same Spirit is the source of them all. ~ 1 Corinthians 12:4
In two main places Paul wrote about spiritual gifts: 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12. In these passages we find some similarities and differences, with 1 Corinthians offering the most detail. You could sum up Paul’s core teaching on spiritual gifts as this:
When we come to follow Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit and he provides us with different talents or abilities (either different from or enhancing our natural talents) in order to serve others, especially in our churches and community. By using our gifts, the body of believers (the church) takes care of itself and grows in health while being a witness of the Spirit’s work to others. Gifts, therefore come in a variety, some are even more noticeable than others, but all have a God-glorifying and other-serving purpose.
When you read about the gifts in 1 Corinthians and Romans, you’ll find there are some similarities among the lists, but you’ll also find that Paul listed several gifts to the Corinthians that he didn’t to the Romans and vice versa. This indicates that God doesn’t just show diversity in giving various gifts to different people within a single local church, but that he also diversifies each of his churches throughout the world. If we belong to Jesus, we all as individual Christians and individual churches have the same Holy Spirit within us and worship the same Lord Jesus through the grace of the same Father, but he gifts us in different ways according to his wisdom and will.
Some people like to use a spiritual gifts inventory to help determine what gifts they may or may not have. These can be an okay tool so long as one understands the limitations of the tests. But I think a better way is to ask four questions of yourself as you seek to serve and follow Jesus.
First, look up—Are you daily devoted to following Jesus and seeking to grow in God’s grace, especially through spending time in the Bible (hearing from God) and in prayer (talking to God)? Since the gifts are from God to serve others while glorifying God, our relationship with God is essential to the discovery and healthy use of our gifts.
Second, look in—What are your passions and abilities that you believe God has given you to serve others? If you’re passionate about feeding the hungry, God may be gifting you to serve in such ministry. The same is true if you have a passion to get clean water to those in need, or you have a passion to teach and share God’s word with others, or you have a passion to write God-glorifying songs for the church to sing, etc. This would also be a good question to ask of others: What abilities do you see in me that will help me serve others?
Third, look out—What needs do you see in your church and/or community? If you see a lot of children around but no ministry focused on children and families, then God might be gifting you to pursue such. If you see a lot of single mothers but no one helping them with child care or home needs, then God might be gifting you to build such a ministry. The needs you see could be a strong indication of how God is gifting you. But don’t be discouraged if others don’t immediately seem to see the same needs, God might be gifting them and leading them to a different ministry.
Fourth, look around—What other ministries are available in your church and/or community to meet the needs you see? If you’re passionate about feeding the hungry but a food pantry already exists within your church, then God may be leading you to work there. But if one doesn’t exist in your church or community, then God may be leading you to start one. Part of the planning process is also to look around at others and see who might be willing to help you in this ministry.
A final word: you might go through the look up, look in, look out, and look around process and still might not be sure what your gift is. That’s okay. Just be sure to serve in some place where you’re needed. You might work with a children’s program for a year and discover that is where you belong. Or you might realize that God has not gifted you to serve there. That’s okay, too. Finish out your commitment and try something else in the future.
God doesn’t always show us every detail of his plan for us, but he does expect us to follow Jesus and that includes serving others and meeting needs. So try to discover your spiritual gifts, but always be willing and ready to serve.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.