Myths About Spiritual Gifts: #3 We Have to Identify Our Gifts

gift question markRead the series so far.

He had no military training, and no skill with the elite weapons of war, but when he saw a battle that needed to be won he didn’t hesitate to engage. Against all odds, and armed only with the knowledge of how God had strengthened him before, a sling and a few small stones, David faced a vicious enemy. 1 Samuel 17 gives the account of how David heard the Philistines taunting God and the armies of Israel, how no soldiers were willing to fight the Philistine champion, and how David—depending on the Lord—won the day. Being only a boy, David was met with resistance when he volunteered to fight. King Saul told him he was not able (1 Sam. 17:33).

David’s response was brilliant (and helpful): “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37). And of course, we know the rest of the story.

David’s attitude toward serving God provides an excellent example for us today, especially as we consider spiritual gifts. David lived in a different age, and the Holy Spirit was not operating in exactly the same way—He would temporarily strengthen people for specific tasks, and there is no evidence that He indwelt people then as He does in the church age. Because David wasn’t dealing with “spiritual gifts,” I use his episode with Goliath as an example, but we have to be careful not to take the analogy too far.

In any case, David was certain he would be able to function successfully in a future endeavor only because of how God provided for him in similar past endeavors. He exhibited no fear in looking forward to the task at hand because of his history with God. But as far as we know, David had no special revelation from God to that point. As far as the Bible reveals, God did not promise David He would deliver him from the lion or the bear—or Goliath. But yet David was confident, and he proclaimed to Goliath, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted” (17:45).

Let’s fast-forward now three thousand years. We know that church-age believers are given spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:4ff, 1 Pet. 4:10). But there is something very odd about these gifts. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication of specifically how we can know what gift(s) we have been given. All we are told is how the gifts are to be employed—for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), and in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). There is simply no data about how we are to identify our spiritual gifts. So where does that leave us? We know He give gifts, and we know we receive them, but we have no way of being certain what gift He has given.

First we must consider that the equipping for good works never comes from spiritual gifts, it comes from the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If we neglect His word, we simply will not be equipped for His service, for we will not understand how He has designed His gifts to be used and why. Second, we need to recognize that “There are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all” (1 Cor. 12:5-6). God has created different gifts and ministries and is capable of using them all however He wishes in order to achieve the result He desires. If we are allowing His word to dwell richly in us (Col. 3:16), then we know we are being equipped for whatever task He has for us, because,

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Paul adds, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17). Just as David opposed Goliath in the name of the Lord, in that same way we should pursue all our own activities.

Further, David was able to have confidence in God’s future dealings because of His past performance. I suggest that spiritual gifts work the same way. While we have absolutely no way of quantifying what our spiritual gift(s) may be, we can look at how God has used us in the past, giving us particular opportunities and helping us make the most of them. Consequently, we can have confidence in the future that whenever He has a task for us, He has already provided for our equipping through His word (which we must allow to abide in us), that we are as spiritually gifted as He needs us to be in order to engage the task, and that, ultimately, success from His perspective is not brought about by skill and superiority from our perspective.

So we can focus less on trying to identify how He has gifted us, and avoid the paralysis that comes from the predictable uncertainty about our gifts. He simply hasn’t told us and offers no mechanism for us to discern such gifts. Instead we are exhorted to do all that we do in the name of Christ—meaning, as if we were representing Him in that activity. If we are thinking, speaking, and working as Christ would, then we know we are on the right track. And rather than looking forward to predict specifically how God might use us, we can prepare diligently and make the most of every opportunity He provides.

When people ask me what spiritual gift(s) God has given me, I tell them I have absolutely no idea—I just try to be faithful with every moment, and seek to accomplish whatever He puts in front of me to accomplish. I am certain of His provision, but beyond what He has revealed I have no need of certainty about how He intends to use me. Some things we can’t know, and other things we can. We can know, like David, that whatever we may encounter in the future, God has provided the means for our equipping. Perhaps we can look back one day on a lifetime of service to Him, and discover that He used us repeatedly in particular ways. Perhaps looking back we will be able to see more clearly how He gifted us. But in the meantime, let’s look forward with our eyes focused on Him (Heb. 12:2). We can’t go wrong if we are following Him.


Thought provoking. I had always thought of spiritual gifts as obvious talents and abilities that we each figure out in the normal course of time. For instance, I know I am not good at teaching or relating to pre-teens. Just doesn’t work for me. There are a lot of other people who can do a better job of it.

When people ask me what spiritual gift(s) God has given me, I tell them I have absolutely no idea—I just try to be faithful with every moment, and seek to accomplish whatever He puts in front of me to accomplish.

This is a good point. Perhaps we pigeon-hole ourselves to certain ministries or specialties so much so that we end up with a self-fulfilling prophesy - we aren’t “good” at certain things because we don’t try them, and we don’t try them because we “know” God hasn’t gifted us in that fashion.

This point has particular relevance for me, as I’m in the beginning stages of putting my house up for sale in preparation to move my family across the country to pursue a church planting opportunity with dear friends of ours. Church planting is not something I would say I am “gifted” at! It is, however, an opportunity that allows me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and do something different for the Lord. I am looking forward to it. I am also sure that I’ll make a lot of mistakes and learn a lot. Perhaps I’m not the most dynamic and “best” person for this work, but if I’m passionate about doing the Lord’s work, can we really say He won’t equip me for the effort? What would it say about me if I wasn’t willing to even try, because I “know” I’m not gifted in this area?

I appreciated the article.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

I’m in agreement w/most of this one and certainly the spirit of it.

But I think the local church has an important role in identifying gifts, especially in certain cases. In Eph. 4, the “gifts” are offices—including pastor-teacher. 1 Tim. 3:2 and 2 Tim. 2:24 specify that a bishop/elder/pastor must be “apt to teach.” Whether that’s a “spiritual gift,” exactly is hard to determine. But congregations have a very important role in helping one another discover what they are good at doing and ought to be doing. …and in some cases, forms of service they ought to leave to others.

(But no, I’m not talking about spiritual gift inventories/assessments where you fill out a form and answer questions and get a score. Did that a couple of times growing up—I think one of them was linked in some way to Tim Lahaye’s version of “The Four Temperaments,” too. The results were always pretty unhelpful.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

The world has figured out that people who work in their gifting are happier and more effective people. I read this article as saying the opposite. To paraphrase, the author seems to say “just trust God to give you what you need when the time comes”. It makes you wonder why the Bible even mentions gifts in the first place if that is how we are supposed to operate.

How about this alternate theory? God gives us each a spiritual gifting that accompanies those talents we were given when we were born. He expects us to operate in our gifting for the good of the Body. Some are to be eyes, some hands, some feet. Some will lead. Some will encourage. Some teach. And with everyone operating in their sweet spot, the body thrives.

Now on occasion (maybe even more than occasionally) a teacher may need to evangelize. Or a server may need to teach. Or perhaps an evangelist will find the opportunity to comfort. Holy Spirit’s empowering is available for that “out of my comfort zone” service.

I wonder how Paul knew he was an apostle. I believe the Lord revealed it to him. Ask the Lord what your gifting is. Ask your spouse. Ask your parishioners. Ask your mother/daddy. Ask Holy Spirit. Ask yourself “what fills my heart with joy and my eyes with light? What flips my switch? What is easy for me and hard for others? What do I dream of doing?”

I have lead men for a living and still do on a smaller scale. Determining their gifting and placing them where the best use of their talents could be realized was leadership 101. It’s not worldly thinking. It is right out of Acts.


You can’t equate an office with a gift, just as other posters must be careful not to equate natural talents with spiritual gifts. Furthermore, a number of spiritual gifts listed in the NT are also given as commands for every believer to fulfill, regardless of whether they posses any special spiritual ability in that area - such as the evangelism that you mention among others.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Ephesians 4:11-12 seems to clearly indicate certain offices as gifts, unless I’m missing something obvious here. That is a gift recognized by the church or churches in the situation of the pastor. Though that doesn’t mean a pastor should go around crowing he is “God’s gift to the church”!

But aren’t there different kinds of gifts? We could perhaps describe them as “speaking gifts” and “serving gifts”.

It is not always obvious to us what sort of gift we have. In fact, I had another pastor state to me recently that I had a certain sort of gift which I had not considered. I did agree with his assessment, but I also saw the need to balance that gift with other virtues as well.

Gifts are far different than human abilities. Spiritual gifts are things given by God that may or may not match with our “natural” abilities.

We know that every gift is from God, planned and prepared by Him (James 1:17). This is true whether the gift is a natural one or a spiritual one.

A few observations about natural/learned gifts vs. spiritual gifts:

  • The NT gives spiritual gifts a very specific purpose and origin (1Cor. 12.1, 12.7)
  • Spiritual gifts appear to be given to believers only (though I’ve heard a few claim otherwise, it’s not clear that the examples cited were genuine spiritual gifts vs. somthing else. Eg. Matt. 7:22-23)
  • The NT emphasizes spiritual gifts in church life rather than natural ones
  • The NT does not discourage the use of natural gifts or learned skills in ministry

Since gifts and abilities of all sorts are from God and Paul, for example, clearly made use of natural/learned skills in ministry as well as spiritual ones, it may not be all that important to identify whether a particular ability is a spiritual gift or a providential one.

To Jeffery Dean’s comment: Christopher’s point isn’t that it doesn’t matter what your abilities are, but that there is no need to be really precise and certain about it. If you pursue humble, yielded service, the ability part tends to follow. For my part, I have indeed found that different situations in life and ministry have brought different gifts to the surface to meet the need—though there have been common denominators, to be sure.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.