I haven’t made any for years—it’s too depressing breaking them after a week!
So, instead, how about restarting the year with the question: “God, what can I do for you this year?” It’s one of those “Big Questions,” isn’t it? In other words, What’s my purpose here? How can I be significant? What do you want from me, Lord? Frequently, these questions are asked by overweight people as they reach 50+ years—having spent the last 20 years in the same job. Or by the housewife who studied and gave up a career to raise the kids. Now, perhaps, the kids have left home and she’s wondering God’s plan for her life.
The Good News is that God does have a plan for us and he blesses us by participating in this plan with us. He will not harm us, but he has created us to join with him in the good work he has planned for us:
In Jeremiah 29, we’re told that God has a good plan for us and he wants to bless us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
In Ephesians, God goes one step further and Paul tells us that God’s got a plan not only just for us, but with us: “He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.”
Consider this. God has given us unique personalities and gifts, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those around us. He’s a second-hand giver—do you know what I mean? Simply, when we need something, he’ll send someone to fulfill that need for us—the gift of wisdom, understanding, encouragement, hospitality, compassion, mercy, and so forth.
I think that if we’re honest, most of us come to church with the expectation to get something; fellowship, teaching, a chance to worship or share prayer requests. The important point is, if we’re not using the gifts God has given us to share with others, then we’re all going to leave empty-handed.
God equips us for his service with spiritual gifts. We need to keep in mind what they are and why this teaching matters. Let’s look at the classic text is 1 Corinthians 12. I’m going to use excerpts of it from The Message (please click the link above to follow along).
What the apostle Paul is saying is that each of us is gifted and has a talent that God wants to see being used for his Kingdom. They’re not for our personal benefit, but “for the common good,” for the building up of the church. If you utilize the gift, God will do fantastic things through you, not because you’re talented, but because the Holy Spirit uses what you do to create things of eternal significance.
On the other hand, if no one is using the gifts God has given them to share with others, then we’re all going to leave empty-handed.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists seven spiritual gifts for use in the church, and Romans 12 lists a few more. Biblical scholars have identified 25 gifts. However, I don’t think God is limited to these 25! I think they are examples of the roles we can play in church—a template, non-limiting examples.
It’s not my intention to look in detail at the gifts listed. Instead, I’d like to emphasize that God’s plan for your and my church isn’t to be like a bus or train with one or two people driving and everyone else a passenger. Rather, it is more like a 17th or 18th century sailing ship where each of us have a role to play—each with our various skills and strengths. If you’re a Christian and if you’re not playing the part that the Holy Spirit intended for you, then your church isn’t going to be as great as it could be otherwise.
Paul explains at length that our gifts complement each other and that the sum is greater than the parts. We’re not all called to be helpers or organisers, because otherwise we’d have events with no focus. We’re not all called to be teachers or prophets, because otherwise we’d teach eloquently with no one to hear. We’re not all called to be miracle workers or healers because, without clear teaching, we’d lose our way. It’s only when all of the spiritual gifts are being exercised in harmony that “God communities” spring up testifying to the world the great God to whom we belong.
We’re like a mosaic of many pieces that don’t look like much on their own, but when put together they form a brilliant, inspiring picture. If you go into an older church in the UK, and some here in Germany as well, you’ll likely as not see some beautiful stained glass windows. Do you know what they are? In its component parts, you have a bunch of mismatched pieces of coloured glass that wouldn’t make much sense if you sorted them into piles, or randomly strewed them on the ground—a few shards of glass and a lump of one of the weakest metals out there—lead!
Now if you work all the pieces together, it makes sense. And then, when you place it in its completed form in a wall with the sun rising behind it, its real, spectacular beauty is revealed—all things working together like a well-functioning team. Similarly, on our own, with our own talents, we don’t amount to much. But when God joins our complementary gifts together with others, and the Holy Spirit takes our mundane, physical acts of service, and turns them into spiritual acts, the real beauty is revealed. We see God shining through what we do by the power of his Holy Spirit. We form that great, brilliant picture that becomes a beacon of hope to those around us!
In preparation for “Thy Kingdom Come” event in 2017, the head of the Anglican church said something that I hope we can participate in again this year:
“Without the work of the Holy Spirit, the church is no more than a club, and it’s not a very good club either. The wine is fairly indifferent and the rows on the managing committee are terrible. And it is entirely incapable of facing the forces of darkness, the things that undermine our lives, the things that disrupt. It cannot love, it cannot act, and most of all it is incapable of being Christ in today’s world. When the Holy Spirit comes, by contrast, the frightened will overcome their fear, the weak are strengthened, the witnesses stand up and give their testimony. The club becomes the greatest army in history. It grows into an army without weapons, an army of peace that overthrows empires and brings revolution with hope.”
When the Holy Spirit inhabits his church through the gifts that he’s given us, the mundane becomes spiritual. We can help people on our own, but if the Holy Spirit inhabits that help, it becomes a powerful ministry. We can speak the Word of God to people, but only God can save as he applies his Word to people’s souls. If we use the gifts and talents that God has given us here in our churches, then special things happen; people that were hostile to the Gospel start hanging around, things that are impossible from a human perspective start happening.
Because the Holy Spirit is working through us…
So what talents has God given you, and are you willing to share them—to pool them for the good of the Gospel? If you’re not sure what your gift is, my recommendation is that you simply try out a few things and see what gives you joy (as long as it’s moral!), because that’s a real indication of what God wants you to be doing. He doesn’t give us the gift of teaching, and then make us afraid of standing up and talking (unless you’re a second Moses). In the same way, he doesn’t give us the gift of hospitality, and at the same time a hatred for people. If we’re serving as God has planned, it resonates with our spirit and it’s fun, especially when those around you are using their gifts, too.
And there’s no age limit here either. There’s no legal drinking age for the Holy Spirit and Christians don’t have a “best before” date either.
If you think you’re not doing what you’re good at and what you believe God’s calling you to do, find someone you trust and talk to them. The most stinging accusation that was ever levelled at me as a member of a Christian leadership team was that we were hindering the Holy Spirit by not endorsing a particular ministry. In retrospect, I’m reasonably confident that the accusation was unfounded, but the concept was so shocking to me that I’d much rather err on the other side and see something try and fail, than prevent someone from trying at all.
What I’m saying is, if God is encouraging you to do something, set something up, or come alongside on a ministry, talk with your pastor or elders and see how you can coordinate things. Ask them to help you discover and live out God’s wonderful plan for you.
After Paul has finished laying out this plan for church, he offers the Corinthians a warning not to treat their own gifts as more important than others: But now I want to lay out a far better way for you. You see, the Corinthians had problems accepting each other as they were. They had this tendency to split into groups with each group looking down on the other.
Now what comes after 1 Corinthians 12? If you don’t employ the Gifts of the Spirit in love, if you end up lording it over each other because you think your gift is more important than others, then you’ve missed the point. Remember: Over all these things, put on love!
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11).