Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the spiritual gifts God has given to each of us. After all, he is the master gift-giver—God never gets it wrong.
There’s always that one person in every family isn’t there? That person that somehow manages to always get it just right when it comes to selecting the perfect Christmas gift. And they get so much joy from the task—it’s never a chore. But not only that, their pleasure is ongoing as they witness that look on your face when you open that perfect gift. How on earth do they do it?
For others of us, the gift selection process can be hair-raising and stressful. What on earth am I going to buy? Perhaps this year I should make something so it’s more personal—special? And then there are those moments when something spectacular catches your eye in a store and we just have to buy it for someone—but who?
There’s a stark difference between these two types of gift selectors. The latter tries to fit a gift to a person—which is a bit hit-and-miss—while the former considers the person first, their likes, needs, stage of life, vocation and passions are all given thought.
The ultimate skill in gift gifting of course, is anticipating what someone might need in the future. What season are they stepping into? What gift don’t they know they even need or want yet? Imagine if we could see into the future and select gifts accordingly.
Jesus, of course, received three gifts at his birth from the Magi. And we’ve heard all the jokes ever since—what good are gold, frankincense and myrrh when you need nappies, bibs and baby powder?
But these gifts announced the truth about who Jesus was and who he would become. Gold for a king, frankincense for a high priest and myrrh for burial—signifying the sacrifice Jesus would make on the cross. Strange gifts for a baby, and yet given the angelic encounters both Mary and Joseph experienced prior to the birth of the child they already knew to be special, such treasures must have piqued their curiosity—both delighting and frightening them simultaneously.
Can you imagine being given a gift that foretold your future? Perhaps you already have. I received a travel coffee mug when we were first appointed to Northern divisional headquarters in Auckland. At the time I was considerably underwhelmed by the gift. Little did I know it would soon become my constant companion, as we sat in morning traffic on the way into the Queen Street office. The gift-giver had been so very wise and knew just what I would need—even though I was none-the-wiser when I first received it.
God is also a wise gift-giver. Just as Jesus received the perfect gifts at his birth—gifts that foretold his future and expressed who he was and would become—we too receive spiritual gifts from a loving father who knows who we are and who we have the potential to become. He knows everything about us—he made us and loves us and has a purpose for our lives—so he knows exactly what gifts we need to fulfil that purpose and be fulfilled in doing so. God is the master gift-giver! Even, and especially, when at first the gift may appear ill-fitting. And he never gets it wrong.
Like the scratchy handknitted woollen jersey Nana knitted me for Christmas when I was young, that needed a few washes and sojourns on my body before it felt like a second skin, some of us need to give our spiritual gifts a little time. All too often we scoff at them and even reject them, instead of trying them out and wearing them in, until we are comfortable and wouldn’t feel like ourselves without them.
I can testify to struggling with one of my gifts on and off over the years. But I can also testify to hearing the still small voice of God which said, and still says to me, ‘Jules my precious child, I know leadership wasn’t on top of your spiritual gift request list, but I have given you specific gifts for a purpose. If you develop your gifts, I know you will come to enjoy using them, because when you do, you’ll become who I created you to be. And as you allow that growth, you’ll find fulfilment and joy in being part of my Body—building it up and glorifying me.’
The same can be true for you.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul says, ‘Now about spiritual gifts, I do not want you to be ignorant’. The NRSV says, ‘I do not want you to be uninformed’. Paul makes it plain that spiritual gifts are something every Christian needs to be informed about—they’re God’s idea and part of what it means to be a Christian—part of how we live the Christian life.
So, what are spiritual gifts? Paul provides us with an answer. Verses 4–5 say, ‘Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’
Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In other words, when Christians use their gifts, the Holy Spirit is revealed—unbelievers believe, and believers are encouraged. A spiritual gift is not simply the ability to serve others, but also the channel through which the Holy Spirit ministers to others.
Verse 11 says, ‘All these (gifts) are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses’. The Holy Spirit chooses—not us. Many of us would like to choose our own spiritual gifts, but just as I would never have chosen that travel mug, or the gift of leadership, my life wouldn’t be the same without them. And in the case of leadership, I would not be doing the work God has called me to today—let alone becoming who he created me to be as the journey unfolds. And of course, it’s difficult to find fulfilment and joy when you’re resisting and wrestling with God.
Spiritual gifts are just that—gifts. And gifts are both given and received. Our spiritual gifts have been carefully chosen by a loving father for a precious child—you. And he is the master gift-giver—he never chooses something ill-fitting and never gets it wrong. But he does require our co-operation.
And thankfully—wonderfully—the gifts God gives us are not static possessions that belong to us, they are constantly being renewed by the Holy Spirit as we grow and move through life’s journey.
So, this Christmas, will you accept and embrace the spiritual gifts God has for you? Will you unwrap them and use them? Develop them and grow them? Become who you were created to be? Do what God has purposed for you?
You may feel as perplexed and frightened as Mary and Joseph at times, but just as there were moments when they marvelled, you too will marvel at the work God does in and through you, as the Holy Spirit is made manifest in your life—for his glory and the benefit of others.