What Are Spiritual Gifts?

SELF | Alli Patterson | 6 mins

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Many people think the term “spiritual gifts” is just religious-talk for our natural talents and genetic predispositions. However, the Bible makes it clear that spiritual gifts are actually something activated at a specific point in time by God Himself. And they may be the key to bringing all the different pieces of you together.

We have an incessant need to gather information about ourselves: Myers-Briggs, DISC, Enneagram, etc. I even took the “What Disney princess are you?” quiz. Turns out, I’m Pocahontas. She’s brave and smart, so I’m here for it.

I like the interesting insights from these tests, but self-discovery without God will always come up short.

None of this ever felt as helpful to me as beginning to understand and use my spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts cannot be unlocked by a quiz. They cannot be earned. They are something given and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We get “spiritual” gifts from the Spirit of God.

God is the giver of ALL the various kinds of gifts that you have. Psalm 139:15-16 tells us about the God who saw every piece of us before we lived;

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Some of the things we might call “gifts” we are born with: personality traits, physical build, or natural talents. Other gifts we discover as we work; gaining skills because of unique capacities we have to learn or grow in certain ways. And then there is a whole new set of gifts made possible within us at the time we come to faith in Jesus. These are what’s meant by the term “spiritual gifts.” They’re the key to bringing out the best in all of who we were made to be.

When I was a kid, I loved books. I’ve always loved the strong creative power and significance of words in written and spoken language. I love to encourage with words. I love to word a question just the right way. I hate small talk because it seems to waste words on insignificant things. I have always wanted a depth of relationships, information, and conversation. These are just some of the things about me that made SO MUCH SENSE after I came to faith and began to uncover gifts of teaching and encouragement. Now those pieces of my personality, my preferences, and my gifts are pointed in a satisfying way to help others get to know God and his Word in the Bible. Feels so right for a girl who loved books, doesn’t it?!

Spiritual gifts may be the very thing that brings other parts of you together—all the pieces of information you’ve gathered over a lifetime. Understanding a spiritual gift may feel like “ohhhhh right…that makes sense!”

These gifts are not out of left field: they’ve likely been present in the shadows of your life, but it is our faith in Jesus that brings these gifts to life in us. The Giver, Empowerer, Enabler, and Activator of spiritual gifts is the Holy Spirit, who takes up residence inside us at the moment of genuine faith in Jesus. And He brings gifts! These “spiritual gifts” enable us to love, build, and grow the Kingdom of God here on earth.

No follower of Jesus has all the gifts, but all of us have at least one. The Bible says about God and his gifts that “….he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor 12:8-12). The New Testament outlines three different passages with various kinds of spiritual gifts. You shouldn’t think of these gift-lists as exhaustive: God can give gifts to empower us whenever he wants, however he wants. Certainly among the possible gifts are at least the ones we find in scripture: Administration, Apostleship, Discernment, Encouragement, Exhortation, Evangelism, Faith, Giving, Healing, Hospitality, Interpreting tongues, Knowledge, Leadership, Mercy, Miracles, Pastoring, Prophecy, Teaching, Speaking in Tongues, Serving, Wisdom.

God gives amazing gifts. Through the power of His Spirit, we get access to these incredible gifts from a God who had them planned for us all along. Our gifts are not there to maximize ourselves but instead to maximize God by bringing his grace to other people.

You’re the manager of your gifts, and they are on loan to you.

1 Peter 4:10 says, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” You’re a manager - the “steward”- of the gifts you’ve been given. God’s purpose in giving them to you is to pass out his grace to people around you. Your gifts are God’s grace in disguise. God gave ‘em to you. God empowers them in you, and God wants you on his mission with them. When we use our gifts to bring glory to God (not us!) and for the good of others (not ours!), that’s when our gifts start to lead us to a satisfying, thriving life.

If you want to uncover the spiritual gifts that may already be sitting in you, start by asking these questions. Then watch for patterns in the way that God uses you over time.

Ask yourself today:
What opportunity is right in front of me to bring grace to someone else today?

Ask a friend today: What do I consistently do that relieves, frees, blesses you?

Ask God today: Will you show me my spiritual gifts and allow me to put them to work?

You have gifts! They’re there on purpose, for God’s purpose. The world is desperate for the grace of God, and you have an unending supply of it inside you just waiting to come out through your gifts.


Written by

Alli Patterson

Writer, teacher, Buckeye fan. The-one-who-always-asks-"why." Despiser of small talk. Runner who's getting a little slower every year. Committed wife and mom of 4.

Published on Sep 21, 2020
Process, journal or discuss the themes of this article - here's a few questions to get the ball rolling...

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  1. What strikes you most about this article? Why that?

  2. How does it feel to know that God wants to empower you with special gifts that are meant to matter in the world? That people or situations might actually be waiting for you to activate yours?

  3. What’s your experience with discovering your spiritual gifts on a scale of “never started to actively growing in them?” What’s working about it and not working?

  4. Take Alli’s challenge a step further, and forward this article to three friends. Ask them which gift from the list she shared feel like yours?

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