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Striving for the Greater Gifts

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. -1 Corinthians 12:29-31a

In the Quaker tradition, we have found that God gives spiritual gifts to the whole community – the body of Christ. These gifts manifest in the lives of individual members of the body, but their purpose is to build up the life of the whole church, not merely to satisfy the individual.

The Quaker understanding of spiritual gifts is one deeply rooted in our experience of God’s action in history. We have found that the Spirit does not give gifts randomly, or according to mechanistic laws nature. Rather, God pours out gifts in particular times to particular individuals in the context of particular communities.

The gifts of the Spirit are an important way that Jesus continues his ministry on earth today. He heals the sick, teaches us, gathers communities, cares for the flock, and declares the truth to an unbeliving world. He does all of this through us, his friends, by the power of the Holy Spirit that he has sent us.

Sometimes, though, it seems like God has not given us all the of the spiritual gifts we need to carry out our mission. Maybe my community needs more teaching ministry, but no one in the group appears particularly gifted to teach. Or perhaps we feel called to engage in greater outreach to those around us, but none of us seems called and equipped for the work of evangelism. What do we do in these times, when the call that God has put on our heart seems to run counter to our community’s competency?

It seems to me that there are several possibilities here. One would be that we’ve misheard God. We think we’re called to a particular form of ministry as a community, but in fact we’re called to something else. If that’s the case, it shouldn’t be surprising that we don’t have the gifts we think we need!

Another possibility is that we do, in fact, have the gifts we need; we’ve just failed to recognize them. This possibility suggests that we should develop ways to help each person in our community discern their spiritual gifts, and to exercise them. What does it look like for our communities to always be discerning our spiritual gifts and encouraging one another to put them to use?

But what if neither of these are true? What if God really is calling us to a particular ministry, and what if we honestly don’t have the spiritual gifts necessary to get the job done? I believe I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions, and it’s deeply frustrating. More than that, it calls into question the Quaker doctrine that God does not call us to any service without also equipping us to be faithful.

How should we respond if our community truly feels called, but honestly doesn’t feel equipped to carry out the calling? Could it be that God is inviting us to receive greater gifts, both as individuals and as a community? What does it mean to strive for the greater gifts that only God can give?

I’m not sure how this all works metaphysically, but I do know that my community and I desperately need God’s guidance and power to live into the mission that Jesus is calling us to. I’m praying that God will send us the gifts of teaching, to help us better understand and integrate the good news of the kingdom into our lives. I’m asking that God will bless us with the gift of evangelism, showing us how to radiate Christ’s love into a world that does not know him. I’m seeking God’s help to raise up leaders who are ready to dedicate themselves to a life of discipleship and service to others – healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons and announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom.

Are there spiritual gifts that seem lacking in your community? What discernment have you done around your shared sense of calling and assessment of the spiritual gifts already present in the body? What would it look like for your community to strive for the greater gifts? Do we have the courage to confess, like Moses did, that we can’t do this on our own – that we need God to act in our lives?

  • There are other possibilities. Perhaps God will develop spiritual gifts within community members as the community follows Christ where it was led. Perhaps God will bring into the community someone with the needed gifts after the community first steps out into the ministry. God works many ways.

    What is key is really learning to hear God’s voice, spending time really listening, setting aside our preconceived notions, fully trusting God to provide even when no means of provision is evident to us and always being ready to be obedient. And in my experience, it’s very easy to fail at any of these. And a lot of the time we may feel a lot like we are stumbling in the dark, but if we are sincerely trying to be faithful good will come out of it.

  • broschultz

    Check out Matthew 25:14 to 29. God often tells me “use it or lose it”. The more I use what gifts god has given me, the more he gives me. Being able to make use of those gifts we have been blessed with has a lot to do with Grace but that’s another story.
    Back to how to get gifts check out Paul in 1 Cor. 12 through 14 where he advises his readers to covet and seek after the best gifts. Another scripture tells us that the fervent prayer of the rightous man availeth much. It’s also possible for people with certain gifts to be able to pass them on to others by prayer and laying on of hands. I’m not an evangelist, but I know several. It’s a gift. It burns inside them. Sometimes I think the problem is we put them in churches where they preach to the choir instead of leaving them out in the fields where they can gather in the sheep. I pray your community can affirm the gifts within and that those who grow in their gifts realize in their heart that such gifts are not about them but as you and Paul write for the building up of the body.

  • BicycleThief II

    I would just like to ask if you are a theist and if so why? I hope that doesn’t seem hostile but your ministry and the community of which you are a part seems inclined towards a more non-theistic version of Christianity. I mean to say that you seem much more focused on the teachings and example of Jesus. Nobody can work out the metaphysics of it all because as soon as you try to do that you immediately undermine yourself. Metaphysical TALK is a contradiction in terms … it just is what it is, will be what it will be. YHWH. Tell him I am sent you … before Abraham was I am and so on. As Hegel put it ‘The LIVING ethical world IS spirit in its truth’!

    I would suggest that one way to move forward would be to read the Bible from within its own historical context as far as that is possible. What were the issues facing Christ and the very earliest Christians? How did this affect their presentation of the story of Jesus in their Gospels and Epistles? A good start would be looking at John’s Gospel for the perspective of John Louis-Martyn in “History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel” as your teacher http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=aPynbJK4auwC&lpg=PR7&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false. I think this might give you some insights and guidance. I think it would be a rewarding exercise for the group and I really wish that I could join in! Maybe do a google hangout to make people feel less exposed. As far as ‘teaching’ and ‘evangelising’ goes these are skills that are learned by habit and you at least seem well down that road _ if only through the Christ like example of your work.

    Personally I would also erase all Pauline writings from my scriptural arsenal!

    I read your blog regularly and I think you are a true inspiration and
    obviously open to exploring each and every avenue available.

    • broschultz

      I personally don’t see how a non-theistic view of Christianity makes any sense.. Why would anyone who doesn’t believe in God pay the price that following Jesus asks of us? I can’t speak for Micah but the point you are missing is that some of us live partly in, for lack of a better word, a supernatural world. I either have to attribute that to a personal God or I have to accept that I have a mental disorder. While I am willing to acknowledge that the latter may well be the case, I have made a conscious decision that I would rather live believing the former. To the extent that you are able to follow Jesus without believing in God I can only say you are a better man than I, which probably isn’t saying much. In any event I love that you believe in what Micah is trying to do and hope you are successful in your own endeavors to improve your neighbors lives in any degree whatsoever..

      • BicycleThief II

        I wish I could reply and at least say that I am agnostic but the fact is that I am a-theist. This is not some Dawkins like attempt to undermine religious belief it’s just the way I see things. The Buddhist doctrine of anatta (no-self) is what informs my a-theism but also John’s Gospel with its realised eschatology and emphasis on ‘works’. In sum I think that John’s Gospel can be understood as post if not a-theistic. To me this revitalises belief in Jesus rather than undermining it.

        I do not deny that there is a supernatural aspect to any form of belief … a-theism included.

        You ask “Why would anyone who doesn’t believe in God pay the price that following Jesus asks of us?” Well some people do and the price is not always that costly! For me, bringing God and notions such as an afterlife into our ethical decisions brings also the idea of reward and punishment and I don’t believe that Jesus was about that. I do not claim to follow Jesus’ example consistently but in certain, extreme (for want of a better word) situations I have fallen back on Jesus’ example to guide me. I have found forgiveness to be a particularly powerful remedy for numerous situations.

        My suggestion for a reading group was sincerely intended as a possible way for Micah’s community to develop its teaching and evangelizing skills and as a teacher I would be happy to help out with advice on planning etc..

        • broschultz

          thanks for your reply to my reply. It’s good to be able to express our differences without taking the disagreement personally. Have a great year.

  • robynjosephs

    super timely post. I was holding back applying for a core teacher position in School of the Spirit, thinking, os, they won’t chose me, others are more qualified on paper, and I’ll feel rejected if i don’t get packed, and I won’t tell anyone if i apply so no one will know if I get rejected etc etc etc. then I hear Bill Tabor saying, Robyn are thee being faithful? I feel called to this position, I’ve already applied to the spirit, and if the selection committee makes a poor decision and doesn’t listen to what I hear, i can grieve with grace that i was faithful to the call.
    Thanks Micah, and please hold me in and School of the Spirit in the Light during the process.
    I feel a strong call to , with discernment make the SoS spiritual nurture program more welcoming and accessible to young adult( sorry for the labeling) Friends. Knowing how instrumental SoS was to my life in advanced age, I can only imagine how constructive and nurturing it could be to seekers just embarking on their life missions and visions.
    I’m going to tell my inadequacy to go take a walk, thank them for sharing and get on with walking in Faith.

  • Steven Davison

    I once did a workshop on gifts of the spirit that had two parts. The first was a review of Paul’s “lists” of the gifts in 1 Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians, with some discussion about expanding them to cover things, like the gift of hospitality, that he doesn’t, and to match Paul’s with modern Quaker experience. In the second half, we paired off and asked each other questions from a rather exhaustive list of queries designed to help the answerer discover their gifts.

    We didn’t have enough time to really get into it, but, as far as it went, the exercise was pretty successful. At the very least, members get to know each other at a deeper level.

    My point is that if a meeting were to proactively and rather systematically (or however works for them) work together to name each other’s gifts, many previously unrecognized gifts might emerge.