On Spiritual Gifts

To follow up on Sunday’s babbling about gifts, I want to point you to Andy Osenga’s salvo in the culture wars of how many celebrities ruin the message of the Gospel. Specifically, Andy O was taking on statements by Oprah Winfrey, which is amusing in its own right. It’s a good read, but I want to hone in on one little area: gifts.

2. “If You Believe It, You Can Achieve It.”

This one probably makes me the most mad, because it is the most obviously untrue. The simple fact is: You can’t always do what you want to. When I was in jr. high I practiced for hours a day at basketball. I played ten times the basketball that I played guitar. Guess what? I suck at basketball. I have no depth perception. I have asthma. I barely have enough balance to walk to the kitchen. I can’t play basketball. I wanted to join the team at school so bad. I tried out every year. I was never good enough. I guarantee you I practiced harder and wanted it more than most of those kids on the team, but it wasn’t going to happen.

On the flip side, I have a job that a lot of people wish they had. I know that. I get cd’s in the mail every week and after every show from people who want to be musicians. They feel they have something to offer, and the talent to make it. The truth is: most of those cd’s are pretty bad. I hate that, but it’s true. I’m very blessed to get to play music for a living, and I know that God has given me the gifts to do that. I also know there are people who want those gifts more than I do, and they flat-out don’t have them. No one wants to listen to someone who can’t sing in tune. That’s why American Idols ratings are down this season. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Some of these people, I know, have worked way harder than I have to create an opportunity for themselves, but it just won’t happen.

Why do I think this is a dangerous belief? Because it’s so good to hear. It’s so encouraging when you’re starting out, or discouraged. But it’s a lie. A lie is never helpful in the long run. I believe that we, as humans, were created with limits, and that those are a good thing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have goals, I’m not saying we should give up. I’m saying that life is easier when we accept that we won’t always succeed, because we won’t. We need to realize that there is more to life than failure and victory, especially when we all fail more than we don’t.

To follow up on Andy’s point, I think that it’s important to remember Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, where he wrote about spiritual gifts:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:12-26, ESV

As a person who woke up one day and found himself running a Web community, I’m sensitive to this passage. Some consider me the head; I do not. I far more see myself as the circulatory system, providing nutrients and enabling things. We’re still in a hierarchical model, but we’re slowly moving towards a more fully collaborative model. But in any of that, it’s important to remember that, in our community, each person has their talents and holds their own place.

This is far more true and important in our churches—which is, after all, what Paul was discussing. [Who, me, diverge? Surely not!] I’m coming out of a church experience where I was trying to do too much, and probably most dangerously, serving without being served. That experience was of my own creation, but I had help; with my eyes affixed on a more balanced experience, I should do better this next time.

There’s more to tackle on spiritual gifts; I’m leaving that for tomorrow, because I’m still processing some of that. Then there’s this email I got tonight from Rick that I want to excerpt—with his permission—after that.

Until tomorrow …


  1. Feel free to use what you want from that e-mail. Much of it I initially wanted to put in a comment here, but never got to. (I got sidetracked by registering and then just questioned whether I should chime in)

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