Spiritual Transformation: More Information is Not the Answer

The Jews had the Law for 1300 years before Christ came. There were all kinds of details in the Law about how to live, what to do in various situations, and how to maintain holiness and deal with sin. As we know today, the Law was not sufficient. What did God do in its place? He could have just handed down more legal code. God could have had people pen more and more words and bombard the world with oodles of information via text. God chose to do something else. Instead, God sent his son, Jesus Christ into the world to embody/show us how to live and what the kingdom of God is really like. John 1 tells us that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

I am afraid that we haven’t taken this example very seriously. When we are presented with a problem or issue in the church our knee-jerk reaction is more teaching when the reality is people still need to see the biblical kingdom priorities lived out among them. We think somehow if people hear about something more that change will happen automatically. Mike Breen says it like this,

“This is my fundamental issue with the ‘go deep’ kind of people. If I can make  mass generalizations for a moment, I see them this way: They want to go into the endless minutiae of scripture, which can be a good thing, but they rarely want to do anything with it. They think that knowing about something is the same thing as knowing something. They have bought into the lie that knowing more scripture changes you.

It doesn’t.

Doing what scripture says and responding to God’s voice changes you…If you are not actively seeking to live in it, you don’t really believe it.” (Breen, Multiplying Missional Leaders, 23)

We have a whole generation of young people who sat in Bible class twice a week who are no longer with us. If information was the solution they should have been rock solid. Information is foundational but left to itself, non-incarnated in the Christian community it is not enough. If we followed Jesus’ example we would develop people through more than Bible class. We would take time with people to walk alongside them, teach them, train them, and send them. That takes time and investment and that is what makes it difficult. But let me ask you this, how well has the time we have invested in our current model made disciples? (I probably subconsciously stole that question from Breen’s book somewhere). Breen’s approach has been to use information as well as apprenticeship/imitation of a more mature disciple. That is huge. That is the missing piece in much of the work we try to do to make disciples. Many of us have bought into the lie that more information = greater disciples to the neglect of time in the trenches with those we are discipling with the intent of launching them out. Much of our discipling works fosters too much dependence on a sole leader rather than maturing people to be, as Breen would say, leaders rather than program/ministry managers.

If this is something you would like more specifics on or have struggle with this yourself, I cannot recommend enough these two books:
Multiplying Missional Leaders
Building a Discipling Culture


1 Corinthians 13…the Best Chapter on Spiritual Gifts in the Bible

Whenever I do a wedding there is this feeling that somehow you have to fit in 1 Corinthians 13 because the word “love” is mentioned so many times. Love have made this chapter one of the best known in the whole Bible. Really, I do my best to avoid that chapter at weddings. When you preach or teach 1 Corinthians 13 as if it were about love it really sounds kind of strange. I mean what’s love got to do with speaking in the tongues of men or of angels? What’s love got to do with prophesies? What’s love got to do with wisdom and spiritual insight? What’s love got to do with it? The follow up question to that is, Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? Anyone?

The problem people have with 1 Corinthians 13 is a problem that people have with many verses in the Bible. It is a problem of stripping verses from their context, examining them in that isolation and coming to conclusions that were never intended by the original author. Read 1 Corinthians 11 through 13 all at once and see what chapter 13 is about. The NIV heading is “Love” but it is actually about the primacy of love in using our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts in the early church were gifts given to people by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they could not do otherwise. This included things like speaking in tongues, prophesy, extra wisdom, interpretation of those who speak in tongues, and many more. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about problems of disunity and hostility in the church. Then in chapters 12 and 13 Paul gives us two things that, when properly understood, should bring unity and purpose back to God’s people. In 1 Cor 12 Paul writes about the unity of the body and how we all have different gifts but the leadership comes from the head of the body, Christ, and not ourselves. In 1 Cor 13 Paul talks about the fact that many people have gifts but they are all meaningless unless they are done lovingly. The point is, don’t get caught up in the gift. Get caught up in the one who gave the gift, God, and how He wants us to use those gifts in loving ways. Having great gifts is no excuse or substitute for treating people right. Do treat others poorly, no matter how great the gifts makes you nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).

The whole spiritual gifts discussion in 1 Corinthians is a call back to love. While all the gifts they had may not be present in the same form as they were in the first century we still have something greater than all of that…we can still love. When we do the life and love of Jesus flows in us and through us and is more powerful than speaking in a tongue or having some great gift of wisdom. Christ is living in us and it will show. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).

How to Determine Spiritual Gifts

So how do you determine what your spiritual gifts are? I don’t think there is one thing that will tell you or confirm it. I believe you need multiple converging reference points that point you toward a particular gift or set of gifts. Here several of those reference points. I am sure there are more:

  1. Others – what do you find other people saying about you? Ask several people what they feel you are gifted at and listen for commonality. They may see something you never noticed and that an inventory would have never picked up on.
  2. Scripture – It is hard to know what you are gifted at if you are out of touch and communication with God, the one who gives the gifts. The more we immerse ourselves in scripture the easier it is for it to illuminate our lives.
  3. Prayer – Do some asking.
  4. Spiritual gifts inventories – Now this may leave you scratching your head. Here you thought I was trashing them and then I say they are good. I think they have a place but need to be considered along with the other four items in this list.
  5. Opportunity – You may never figure out all your gifts or fine tune them and to be honest I really don’t think it matters that much. Do you think Paul was paralyzed in his missionary journey until Luke showed up with the newest spiritual gift inventory? Nope. He just got to work with whatever opportunities presented themselves. I think the more we engage in ministy the clearer our gifts will be.

The point here is to find commonality across multiple reference points. None of these alone are sufficient but taken together the picture becomes clearer. Last, I am not trying to uniformly bash spiritual gifts tests and inventories. I am raising a red flag if we think they are the end all of determining our gifts. I think real life is a better determiner of the gifts God has given us and the ones that really matter will reveal themselves over time. I don’t think we need to sit on our hands or go unused because we haven’t figure these things out. The point is to be used, not to spend our time processing what our gifts are or aren’t.

One last point…I wonder how many people don’t do certain things or avoid certain opportunities because they believe, “that is just not my gift.” I wonder if we have fine tuned the life right out of spirituality and processed it to death or at least paralysis. That is hard for me to say because I am a stats and testing junkie who loves to process things but I am afraid it is true.

Five Flaws With Some Spiritual Gifts Inventories

The classic way to determine spiritual gifts is to take a spiritual gifts inventory. Now, a few posts back I hammered spiritual gifts inventories pretty hard. It is not that I don’t like them, would never use them, or think they are pointless. I think they have a place, which I will get to in the next post. I also think many of them have issues. Here are the five basic problems I have with the use of spiritual gifts inventories:

  1. I am not really certain they measure spiritual gifts given to you any more than they just confirm the things you enjoy doing. I have taken more stats and testing classes than I care to add up right now and one of the most important things to consider when developing any inventory is making sure what you are intending to measure is what you are actually measuring. There are many ways of doing these (internal and external reliability to name a few ways). The point is, these measures are useless unless they actually tell you something about how God has gifted you for the kingdom.
  2. There are some things that I just may have never been exposed to that I have no idea I am gifted at unless I try. My 11 month old would never eat a vegetable unless we give him opportunity and are persistent. Our three year old loves vegetables but only because we kept trying. Paper and pencil inventories asking you what you are better at or enjoy more may only get skin deep.
  3. There may be things I am gifted at doing that don’t bring me enjoyment. I may be gifted at conflict resolution but that doesn’t mean it is an enjoyable process. Someone else may be gifted at comforting the grieving and hurting…but that isn’t necessarily a happy experience either.
  4. An inventory is only as good at determining something as you are at accurately reporting it. If you are clueless or misguided about your gifts then a paper and pencil inventory won’t do you much good.
  5. They are impersonal. They don’t know you. The person who wrote the items and responses doesn’t know you. So how well do you think it can tell you deeper things about yourself more reliably than just going to three friends and asking them what they think your gifts are and listening for commonality?

To be fair, not all inventories have all of these problems. Some are exceptionally good. These are just my observations and I think it is important that people who use and administer these are familiar with the potential shortcomings of a given inventory so that they can avoid the problem of utilizing a single reference point in determining gifts.

Spiritual Gifts: Dependence and Trust

What is one thing you can do that would require God’s involvement for it to be successful? There are two ways of looking at that question. One way is to say that really everything depends on God, without God allowing me to live, breathe, move, etc I can’t really do anything. The more helpful direction I want to take this question is this…how many things do we do that are so small that we really don’t expect God to have to be involved in it for it to be a success?

I don’t think anyone says they don’t need God but sometimes we live like it. We don’t consult him, rely on him, or do anything other than what we think we can handle on our own. Too often we don’t learn to trust God because we stay too comfortable. More often we need to engage in things that recognize the need for God’s involvement for it to succeed. We need more times where our faith and God’s faithfulness intersect on a regular basis. Only then will we learn that it really does all depend on God. Self-reliance and self-sufficiency are myths…they just aren’t true. Without God it all falls apart. Paul recognized our own weakness when he wrote this,

” 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” – 2 Cor 4:7-9

Without God’s involvement these verses would read very differently, “We are hard pressed on every side and crushed, perplexed and in despair, persecuted and abandoned, struck down and completely destroyed.” The difference is not the jar of clay of self…the difference is God. We only have hope in Him and so we have to depend on Him for everything but before we do we have to learn to trust Him. Most Christians’ lack of trust is less about outright defiance and more about outright indifference. We just don’t think about it and go out on our own and do our own things.

What does this have to do with our gifts, talents and abilities? It is important that we use the things God has given us for His glory. In order to do so we have to trust God so that we can serve Him with our time, talents, and everything else we can give. Instead of using our gifts for our glory, our happiness, our success, we use them for God. Happiness or success may come as a by product of that dedication but it is not the end we are seeking. We have to rely on ourselves less and on God more. We have to start relying less on happiness as a general indicator of what is best to do and start trying to discern God’s will on what we need to do, regardless of whether it makes us happy or not. That takes complete trust and dependence to make the shift in how we utilize the gifts God has given us.

So let me ask it again, What is one thing you can do that would require God’s involvement for it to be successful?

Spiritual Gifts: General Spiritual Gifts vs. Individual Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts are not about seeking new gifts from God. Spiritual gifts are about recognizing and using the gifts God has already given (2 Tim 1:6-7). The New Testament teaches us that God has given all Christians some very specific gifts. These include:

  • The gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)
  • Salvation (Rom 5:15 & Eph 2:8)
  • Righteousness (Rom 5:17)
  • God’s grace (Eph 3:7)

These four gifts are things that God has specifically told us that He has given to all believers. They are revealed and general. God does not differentiate these gifts among his people but we are all the same when it comes to these four. When people discuss spiritual gifts they aren’t wondering about these gifts. They are wondering about what gifts God has specifically given them in addition to these. The gifts people are usually trying to discern are the individual, non-revelatory spiritual gifts. In other words, God gifts individuals with these gifts on top of the four mentioned above. What I mean by non-revelatory is there is no specific verse in the Bible you can turn to that tells you exactly what God has equipped or readied you for as an individual.

The four general gifts above are one piece of the puzzle of trying to understand our individual gifts. I believe that the individual gifts God has given you are best made known when you make use of the general, revealed gifts of God. You are going to best understand how God has gifted you as an individual if you live by the gifts that he has already made plain in scripture. If we have salvation, grace, righteousness, and the Holy Spirit but don’t care to live like it, how can we expect God to help us understand anything else? What good does it do you to take a test of your spiritual giftedness if you are living like a heathen? What good is it to pray for God to make His gifts known in your life if you trample over His grace without concern?

So the first step to understanding spiritual gifts is to realize that it all starts with God and what God wants. It does not start with self. The second step to understanding the gifts is that we have to make use of the obvious if we want to understand or discern the less obvious. This takes faith, action and total dependence. Is the life you are living one that requires God to be involved…or do you live like you don’t really need Him…don’t risk enough to warrant God’s involvement…or take on things so small that you don’t really think God needs to be involved for them to be successful? If so, that is a problem.