What is the greatest gift you ever received?
The greatest gift I ever received I got for my 50th birthday. My entire life, I have wanted to go to Ireland. Maybe it’s because I have a name like Michael Colin Fitzpatrick, but I’ve always been drawn to the Emerald Isle. So, my wife was having a conversation with her family about my upcoming birthday, and she got the idea, “Why don’t I take him to Ireland?” AND So, she did!
Not only did the experience live up to my expectations – it exceeded them. It was the greatest gift I ever received.
Now, imagine my wife got me plane tickets to Ireland and she’s giddy with excitement and we get to my birthday and she gives me the tickets and I enthusiastically thank her and then I put the tickets on a bookshelf and leave them there forever.
That would never happen!
Think about how much would have been missed!
My wife would have missed out on the joy of me enjoying a gift she thought long and hard about and was super excited to see me experience. I would have missed out on the experience of a lifetime that I had thought and dreamt about. And Ireland would have missed out on the prodigal son returning home. (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch).
Everyone Loses When a Gift is Unopened and Unused.
God has given each of us particular talents and skills that can be used, that need to be used in order for us all to see the full picture of God, and draw people into the powerful movement of God.
In the Bible, 1 Corinthians is a letter written by Paul to a group of believers in a town called Corinth. Paul was very close to this group of believers, having established a Christian community there during a previous visit. Now, a few years later, these believers reached out to Paul because they had some questions. And when we get to chapter 12, Paul addresses those questions:
“There are different spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; and there are different ministries and the same Lord; and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
When Paul talks about spiritual gifts, what the heck is he talking about? The United Methodist Church website defines spiritual gifts as, “…the grace of God at work within us, empowering us to match our deep passions with the world’s deep need.” The gifts are given to individuals, but they are given to build and strengthen community and to meet the needs of those around us.”
God gives us the gift of God’s grace – it’s an unconditional, undeserved love – and in that grace are deep passions. This could be a passion to speak or to help or to teach or to garden or to play the guitar or to counsel or to build up or to administrate or to heal or a myriad of other options.
But that’s not all.
What is the deepest need you see in the world? Is it wounds from racism? Is it kids and teens who need to know Jesus? Is it individuals who are gripped with addiction? Is it children who don’t have a home or a family? Is it people who are not sure where their next healthy meal is coming from?
When the passion that we feel inside of us meets the hurts that we find in the world, that place is our spiritual gift.
Your gift is a GIFT
The word that Paul uses in v. 4 that is translated as ‘gift’ is the Greek word ‘charis,’ the same word from which we get the word ‘grace.’ This is not some kind of a burden or cross to bear. This is one way that God shows you that God loves you – God created each of us uniquely and awesomely. God allows us to be used in a way that is near and dear to us in order to bring about healing in this world.
The problem is that we often, as Christians, take the gift God has given us and put it on the shelf. We don’t fully appreciate and live into the ways that God has blessed us. And as a result, everyone loses.
You were given a passion. The brokenness of the world was implanted inside your heart and you get to be part of what God wants to do to heal the world.
Your gift is YOUR gift
God’s gifts aren’t random. God doesn’t mess up and give you the wrong gift. God is infinitely wise and knew what and who you need to be. God didn’t make you, with the passions you possess and with the issues in the world that break your heart implanted in you, and then say, “Oops! I blew that one.” The gift God created you with is YOUR gift. It is the unique and specific way that God created you to join God’s movement in the world. And just like your fingerprints, you are one of a kind.
“There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” 1 Corinthians 12:6
The same God who created someone else to have certain passions and cares for the world created you to have completely different ones. God knew what God was doing.
This diversity of Creation is such a good and beautiful thing. I have told the accountants if the numbers were up to me, we’d all be screwed. And a lot of folks have told me how grateful they are for my work with teenages.
Everyone is different, and different is so, SO good.
Your gift has a PURPOSE
Just like my tickets to Ireland had a purpose – to celebrate life and to celebrate me! – the gifts that God has given you have a very particular purpose.
Paul writes in v. 7 that “the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
Using your gifts will show the world who God is. The Holy Spirit works through our gifts to demonstrate the diverse and amazing kind of God we follow. Serving with your gifts will benefit the wider faith community in some way, encourage the body of Christ and point people to Jesus. Following Jesus is about seeking out what we can do to benefit someone else.
As we are shaped more and more in the image of Christ, as we lean further and further into our gifts, we come to realize that it’s less about me and more about us. Less about what I can do for me alone and more about what I can do for you.
In another letter, Paul paints a picture of what this looks like by looking to our ultimate example:
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8
When we say yes to following Jesus, we say yes to living as he lived.
This week, I had the opportunity to talk to my friend Jon about what all of this means to him: