Stop Taking Those Spiritual Gift Tests (The Path)

September 3, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

Confession time.  I do not like spiritual gift tests.  This is not to say that I don’t believe in spiritual gifts or their value.  Spiritual gifts are real and incredibly valuable to us and to what God is doing in and through us all over the world.  It’s the tests that are no good.  A typical question goes something like this:

32. I enjoy teaching God’s word to groups of people None      A little       Sometimes      Often      Always

Hmmm. I wonder what spiritual gift that is trying to evaluate.  It’s such a mystery.  It’s obvious that it is trying to “help” you determine if you have the gift of teaching. So, if you want to have the gift of teaching, circle always and blammo! You have the gift of teaching.  Spiritual gift tests are more passion evaluators than gift inventories.  I want to be a teacher and I can have the gift according to this test if I answer the obvious questions the right way.

However, there is a big difference between you having a passion for something and you having a skill in that area.  I would even say that there is a difference between having a skill in an area and being spiritually gifted in that area.  Passion means you love something.  A skill means that you are good at it.   A spiritual gift means you have God’s power behind it.

You see, spiritual gifts have spiritual effects.  You can call yourself a teacher, but if no one is learning than you are not a teacher, you are a talker to people.  People can learn information from you and even a new skill and then you are a teacher.  However, when are you a spiritually gifted teacher? You are a spiritually gifted teacher, when you teach and God’s spirit shows up in a big way and people’s lives are changed.  When do you have the gift of hospitality? Not just that you want people to come over to your house.  They also need to feel welcomed and then that hospitality is having a spiritual effect in the lives of the people.

You don’t have the gift of teaching if no one is listening. You don’t have the gift of hospitality if no one enjoys coming to your home.  You don’t have the gift of encouragement if everyone feels worse after talking to you.  You don’t have the gift of discernment if you are always wrong.

So rather than doing a self-evaluation survey. You should give one to your friends for you. You should ask them what they see in you.  Ask them how they have seen God use you in the lives of other people.  See then if that agrees with what you think.  The best evaluation tool is to ask the question, “Where have I seen God move when I minister to others?” Again, knowing what your passionate about is a great thing to know.  That’s a great blog post for another day, but spiritual gifts have spiritual effects.

I believe that I am good at communicating the gospel to lost people.  I understand the theology of the gospel.  I have great illustrations.  I also am a pretty good communicator.  Does that mean I have the gift of evangelism? No it doesn’t.  In fact, I know that I don’t.  Why do I know this? Because people do not very often come to Christ when I share.  I remember in the summer of 1995, my wife and I were on a mission trip to Ukraine.  This was fairly soon after the old Soviet Union opened up to travelers and to missionaries in particular.  Our group was doing a lot of evangelism and people were coming to Christ in large numbers.  Except there was one guy on the team who was not leading anyone to Christ.  Would you like to guess who?

It was very frustrating and discouraging. In the team meetings there would be these great stories and I wouldn’t have one.  I feel like I was sharing very well and explaining the gospel well but nothing.  One afternoon I went out with another team member and they were sharing with someone we had met.  The presentation was a mess.  The gospel was poorly communicated.  I began to doubt my own salvation because I wasn’t sure I understood the gospel anymore.  I looked over at the Ukrainian student and they are crying.  They say they want to receive Christ.  I ask them to explain to me what that means and they proceed to explain the gospel better than it was explained to them .  At the time I was dumfounded.  Now I recognize spiritual gifts.  They have spiritual effects.  My friend had the gift of evangelism.

I on the other hand got to speak at a large group gathering one night and it was amazing.  You could feel the presence of God.  I spoke on the need for Christian fellowship.  I was talking about the early church in Acts 2.  It was an evangelistic message, using fellowship as a motivating tool for people to come to Christ.  After the service, students were talking to Christians all over the room and outside.  Dozens came to Christ that night, being led by people with the gift of evangelism after God had used someone with the spiritual gift of teaching to stir them.  Spiritual gifts have spiritual effects.

So look at the list of spiritual gifts and ask yourself and others, where and when have I seen God move in my life? What was I doing? How was God using me?  There is where you will find your spiritual gifts.

Does God Really Have a Plan for My Life? (The Path)

August 27, 2015 by cloften  
Filed under Bible, Church and Leadership

pathI was at Student Mobilization’s first Christmas Conference in 1992 and we were meeting in the banquet room of Bonanza right on the strip in Branson, Missouri.  One of the highlights of that is being able to pay $1 at the beginning of each day and get soda with free refills all day long!  I was a college student, back then it was the little things, not that I would say no now to all I could drink soda for a dollar. It was an incredibly fun week.  My team made it to the finals of the 3 on 3 basketball tourney. I was there with some great friends from school and was able to reconnect with new friends that I had made earlier that summer at a summer project called Kaleo.  But more than all the fun that I had and more than the joy of being able to connect with friends, this conference in Branson was a powerful week in my life.  God was confirming in my life that he wanted more from me than what I considered to be the normal Christian life.  I heard speaker after speaker talk about what it truly meant to follow God. I began to more fully understand that God did not simply want church attenders and generally religious people. God wanted my whole life.  I was being remade.  I could tell that my life was never going to be the same again.

Then one of the speakers introduces to us the idea of unreached people.  Unreached people in missions terminology are groups and cultures that are far removed from the gospel.  There is no church among the people capable of reaching the culture for Jesus Christ.  These people are relatively hopeless, not just in that they don’t know Christ but that for the most part they don’t know anyone who knows anyone who could explain the gospel to them.  I was totally overwhelmed.  I had never been confronted with that level of need before.  Between that and how God was changing my heart about discipleship, I knew that God wanted to use me to change the world.  God wanted me to make a difference in the lives of people who were unreached.

The last night included a lot of powerful worship. They were preparing us for a night where we were to reflect on the week and commit to apply what God was laying on our hearts.  They didn’t want us to get all fired up and go back to school and get into the same routines.  The last speaker spoke and encouraged us to consider what God wanted us to do. He knew that God was speaking to us and he wanted us to think about what specific ideas and applications we were taking away from the conference.  After some time of reflection they wanted us to share.  People were supposed to stand and speak out what their life application for the conference was.  After a few people stood and shared, I boldly stood up and declared that I was going to be a missionary to an unreached people. In that moment I knew that’s what God wanted me to do, so I stood up and told everyone.

Over 20 years have passed since that moment and what I declared has never happened. While I suppose that there is still time left for me to do that, I now believe that honest heartfelt declaration from a 21 year old is not the direction that God has for my life or necessarily that he ever had.  God was definitely speaking and leading.  God was telling me to make some changes and was reshaping my life, and I truly believed that was what God wanted.  Now, 20+ years later, God has reshaped my life in many ways because of that season in my life, just not by going to an unreached people.  So I wonder what really happened? I look back and ask, “What was God really saying?”

I also think about the people all over the room that didn’t stand up.  Not only did they not stand up, but they hear messages like that and think “There’s no way that applies to me. God doesn’t think of me like that.”  They do not believe that God truly has a big plan for their lives.

Two types of people both struggling to determine what God really wants from them.  One, not truly believing that God wants to use them.  The other is incredibly fired up but life took him somewhere different than what he thought.  Are you either of these? Did you once have big plans and dreams of how God was going to use you, how you were going to make a difference? Then life got in the way, life zigged when you wanted to zag, and you are left confused wondering what went wrong. Or are you someone who doesn’t believe that you are someone that God truly wants to use? Calling is for those people and you are just an ordinary person living an ordinary life.

Regardless of where you are now and how you got there.  Know this: God has big plans for your life and wants to use you to change the world.  I’m going to spend a lot of time on here for the next few months talking about how we can discover what that plan and path is and how to navigate the ups and downs and twists and turns that we will face trying to get there and stay there. I encourage you to subscribe so that we can walk together discovering God’s path for our lives.