When we start thinking about spiritual gifts in terms of addressing brokenness of the world, it’s easy to suddenly wonder why on earth other people can’t see the needs that we see. Gordon Smith ends the section on Romans 12:6-8 (which we discussed in the last post) with this very important statement:
“My point is that your vocation [calling] will in some fundamental way be aligned with how you see the brokenness of the world. It is imperative therefore that you respond according to your own perception of the world’s brokenness. It is equally imperative that you not judge others if they do not see or feel the brokenness of the world as you do.”
I had an experience in college when I was a Resident Assistant where two different understandings of the world’s brokenness clashed. One of my dorm students was writing letters to Amnesty International and wanted everyone in the dorm to participate. She asked that I also write a letter. I generally feel kind of cynical about the efficacy of those measures and didn’t want to do it. I was annoyed about being pressured into an action I didn’t see a need for and my heart at the time was focused on discipling the girls in my dorm. We had a long discussion about why or why not it was crucial, and both of us definitely could have handled the situation with more grace, but I hurt her feeling by not supporting her cause.
Afterwards, I wondered for a few days if I should have written the letter. I worried about not having the same compassionate heart that she did. I wondered if my resistance was just human stubbornness or if some piece of it was legitimate. When I later read this book, this passage helped me to understand that we can see the brokenness of the world differently and that this is allowed! It is key to understand that others were made differently, gifted differently and have a different role to fulfill in this world.
Letting Go of Guilt and Comparison
On the other hand, this doesn’t let us off the hook for not doing the things we just don’t like. If you’re like me, you think “Oh great! Clearly I’m not called to all those set up, clean up and ‘serving’ tasks that I don’t like since I don’t naturally think about them!” That is not the point! Giving generously where it’s needed is always a priority. Learning to see brokenness and open our hearts to being stretched is very important.
The point Smith is trying to make, however, is that we need to free ourselves from unnecessary guilt over things that aren’t our gifts. We need to figure out where we feel most alive in giving, and what that looks like so that we don’t feel guilty or frustrated with ourselves. It’s so important that we don’t focus our whole lives on trying to fit into molds that aren’t really us. So often, we end up narrowing our perception of what serving others looks like, because we’re watching how other people do it and assuming we should be doing things in a similar way.
Maybe you’ve been raised that the most important thing to do is encourage other people but you have the hardest time thinking of encouraging statements. It’s time to understand that there isn’t something wrong with you and find out where you do feel like you meet needs – maybe you’re the one contributing to others needs financially or cleaning the garage and serving tangible needs. Again, though just because you’re not a natural at encouraging others, doesn’t mean you should never try it. The point is that we shouldn’t let others define what one thing you “should” be doing as a Christian when there is such a broad variety of needs and spiritual gifts. Remembering our uniqueness is crucial.
Growing into Spiritual Gifts
While we mostly hope our callings will be things that come naturally to us, there’s also a paradox between calling to things that we’re naturally gifted in and calling to things that we never imagined doing, so it’s important not to dig ourselves in too deeply into niches where we feel comfortable (again resist wanting to just find a label!). Sometimes we can be called to things we really think we’re not good at (like public speaking) because we’re so passionate about a cause. There’s a fine balance to watch for. Gregg Levoy captures this need for balance when he writes, “Knowing our calls requires us to tread the path between two essential questions ‘What is right for me?’ and ‘Where am I willing to be led?'” In order to know what is right for us, we have to take the time to know who God created us to be – and then take the time to listen and follow where he wants to stretch and grow us in new directions.
I hope this short series on spiritual gifts has been useful! If you have more questions or feel like you still want to cover another aspect of this topic – please feel free to start the discussion in the comments!