Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Cantankerousness a Spiritual Gift?

If you are or have been in a small group or Bible study with me, first and foremost, I do sincerely apologize, you poor, poor soul. Secondly, you know that it doesn’t take long to learn about those things that get my cantankerous nature all revved up. For instance…Rob Bell. Brian McLaren. The Emergent Church. The Emerging Church. The fact that they claim there is a difference between Emergent and Emerging. Prosperity Gospel. Soft, fuzzy, pick and choose, no responsibility taking, no risk taking, fear of offending; everybody absolutely, positively must be happy and comfortable, cherry picking scripture, hell doesn’t exist, the devil is a scary bedtime story, hypocritical Christianity. Oh, and spiritual gift inventories.

So, why do I have such cantankerous feelings towards spiritual gift inventories? Well, there are a couple of reasons. I see Christianity and my faith as something that should most of the time be wild, free, and passionate. It should be something without constraints or restraints put on it by myself or man. It should be something that is free to take chances, fearless to take risks in the name of Jesus Christ. It should be something of limitless possibilities in Christ.

I don’t want my faith and my relationship with Christ to be hindered in any way, but especially by some silly idea and adherence to what my spiritual gifts may or may not be. Or even more dangerous, what I WANT my spiritual gifts to be. I see and have seen so much of that amongst my fellow Christians. I have heard “spiritual gifts” used as an excuse or crutch too many times. “I can’t possibly do that, I’m not gifted in it.” Why? Because some survey said so? What does God have to say on the matter? “Sorry God, but this here survey says I can’t help you in this way. Now, if you want me to discern something…” And you know what? I’ve used that excuse as well, it usually goes a little something like this, “Sing? Me? Sorry, not my gift.”

And you know what else? If I’m being totally honest, I’m lying through my teeth. I can sing, fairly well when I want to, which is rare. I don’t like it. Now trust me, Bocelli or Pavarotti are in no danger and to say I’m gifted would be a huge stretch, but I can do it with proficiency and an occasional flourish. So what does that say? Does the fact that I don’t like to sing mean that I wasn’t gifted in it, even though I can do it? Or does the fact that I can and it could be used to glorify God mean that that gift should override my distaste for doing it in front of people? I think all too often we’re only NOT gifted in those things that we don’t want to do.

I've also seen people take these things so literally that they throw themselves so completely into their "gifts" that they seemingly close themselves off to the possibility that God may be calling them in other ways. Talk about limiting. And the sad thing is, these are usually extremely dedicated people with a deep desire to serve the Lord, but they can and often do miss out on other opportunities that God may be providing. Why? "Because I took this survey offered by my church, so it must be true and accurate."

Which leads me to the other side of the coin. We’re human. There are labels that we want. There are different labels that we want other people to see, and different ones appeal to different people. And that’s precisely what spiritual gift inventories are, LABELS. But here’s the real kicker, these things are so obvious and so easily manipulated, it’s virtually impossible to take them without thinking about what you want your results to be and what you want others to see your results as. It’s human nature. We want to impress our friends, our families, and our pastors. I’m not an especially intelligent person, but as I read through these inventories, I know with each question what category they’re addressing. With that, I know, whether subconsciously or consciously, what categories I want to score highly in and what ones I’d rather not. How is this an accurate representation of what our spiritual gifts are? Doesn’t it kind of defeat the purpose, not only of the inventory, but also of our true gifts?

In closing, I have two thoughts. First and foremost, why do we need an inventory to tell us what God has given us? Think about that for a second. If God has given us a gift, to use in service to Him, His church, and His people, are we so lacking in faith that we truly believe that He will not cultivate and reveal these gifts to each of us? They are GIFTS after all, given to us by God. To lay dormant? To be ignored? To be revealed because some survey said so? I’ve got to believe God is far more persistent, purposeful, intelligent, understanding, and capable than that. Can you imagine God giving you something, a blessing in many ways unique to you and then saying, “Go forth and allow the survey to reveal to you.”

I truly, honestly love giving gifts. And I cannot imagine giving someone something so personal , so special, so perfect that it is truly a gift completely and totally of my heart, a gift that truly could alter the life of the recipient, with the potential to affect numerous others, for them to receive it and to stare blankly at it. And to make matters worse, that they would feel the need to go to someone else, much less a stack of papers, to decipher what that gift was. Come to me, I’ll teach you, I’ll show you, I’ll show you how to truly take advantage of it (I guess in my case it would be the gift of making my super, special Monster Cookies which only get whipped out at Christmas). Can we not imagine God being much the same, albeit with far greater and more perfect gifts? Are we willing to place such limits on God?

Finally, look at the Bible and wonder how much different it and our very lives would be had spiritual gift inventories been all the rage back then. How many times were people called to do that which they were ill-equipped to do? How many times were they called to do something that they might not have wanted to do? How many times were they called to do something that they didn't think they could do? Do you think God would have taken this excuse, “Wow, you know God, I really, I mean honestly, I really appreciate the fact that you’ve called on me, but I’m just not gifted in boat building, animal care, or seafaring. I get blisters, I’m allergic to pretty much anything with fur, and I get seasick. But hey, this survey that my wife had me take, it says I’m gifted in discernment and hospitality. So, you know, if you want me to figure out the best place for an inn or party, give me a holler.”

Okay so I lied, I do have one more thought. I think there is one spiritual gift that we all share and it is the only one that matters, the gift of Christ. Put your faith and your heart squarely in Him, point your ears and your heart towards Him, and above all else, be prepared and ready to answer His call as it comes, whether you feel it is something you can do or whether it is something you think you are gifted in. He knows your limitations, but more importantly, He knows your potential. Take a chance, take a risk, step out of your own expectations and the expectations of others. Rely on Him to show you your gifts, you might just find you are far more gifted than you ever dreamed.


The Queen said...

I only WISH I could be in a Bible Study with you -- how much fun would THAT be??

I have to say I am with you on the "spiritual gift inventory" deal. I think I know what my natural gifts are and I pretty much use them. .. but I certainly don't want to limit God by putting walls around what I believe He can do through me.

I don't shy away from telling my children what I see in them as gifts but I'm also careful to remind them of ways we've actually seen God work through people.

That opportunity is a gift from God in itself because it means I can help them move forward without having to make the same mistakes I made -- they can make NEW ones! Awesome post!

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Thank you so much for the kind words. That was one thing I had intended to include in the post, but forgot...we usually have a pretty good idea of what our gifts are. Then the question becomes whether or not we are willing to embrace them. Because let's face it, the odds are pretty good that we are gifted to do some things that we might not want to do.

Kain said...

Hey man first visit to ye site. Yes I'm that bad of a friend. Life's getting hectic around here with both of us in classes now, but I gotta say your a pretty decent writer. You ever get published let me know.

Being my first visit I had to go back and read everything at once.....honestly I think there are alot more of us out there that would agree with you than you think. Not only on your most recent topic, but on everything you've posted so far. Meh and if they don't you can't fault people for just being wrong.

Good luck with everything your way, and I pray for more McDonald's moments for everyone in the world.

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Kain, you've got me intrigued...I can't for the life of me figure out your identity :) Help me out...

gordon said...

The problem with "spiritual inventories" is twofold:

1. The people who create them generally know nothing about how to construct an inventory. There are well-known principles involved in constructing such things (i.e., the entire field of psychometrics) which are just ignored by the people who create these things. Consequently, there is no evidence that they measure what their creators think they do.

2. The whole point of spiritual gifts is that they are supernaturally given. To measure what gifst God would give you implies that you can measure the mind of God.

jennsings said...

I think you know what I think on this... I, too, have the "gift" of knowing what "gift" the questions are talking about. I've take that thing a bunch of times. I don't have to take it anymore. I know the answers...discernment, Corey. Discernment. ;-)

The Queen said...

And may I add "Amen!" to Gordon's comments??!

The Cantankerous Christian said...

Yeah, that was pretty doggone good on Gordon's part, huh?

gordon said...

And there's a third problem: gifts aren't always given for the long term. Think of Phillip, who had the spiritual gift of teleportation when he met the Ethiopian Eunuch. There is nothing in church history or the Lives of the Saints to suggest that Phillip was otherwise able to teleport anywhere at will, although there are some stories in some group's traditions that mention Apostles being teleported here and there when God saw the need. Sometimes gifts can be given, I think, for a particular occasion, when God sees the need. How in the world would a "spiritual gifts inventory" identify a thing like that?

Marty said...

Wow! You sure hit the nail on the head. I took the spiritual gifts inventory once at church and they couldn't tell me what my gifts were. Besides, laughter wasn't on the list!

Anonymous said...

I agree with much of your post. I agree that spiritual gift inventories can be manipulated and that people use spiritual gifts as a crutch or an excuse.
However, I want to challenge you because I think spiritual gifts inventorires can be a helpful tool.

Here is how I have seen the inventories be helpful to me. The times when they have been helpful to me was when they were part of a study where we were reading Scripture and learning about what God teaches about spiritual gifts. We would take the inventory and then come back together as a group and discuss our results and thoughts about the test. We would then also talk about the talents and resources God has given us. These things coupled with my personality style helped me to stop and really take time to prayerfully evaluate whether I am serving God in the ways He is currently calling me to serve or whether I am simply doing what I want or feel I should be doing.
A key word in that last statement was "prayerfully." Since the gifts are given by God, it only makes since that if we are in constant communication with Him, He will reveal to us the ways He wants us to serve. So, I would suggest that spiritual gift inventories are not necessary for discovering one's spiritual gifts. They can be helpful though. They have given the small groups I have been in a way to continue the conversation in a way that is personal and tangible.

So yes, spiritual gift inventories can be useless or even dangerous. They are not meant to be used as the end all be all for telling someone his/her spiritual gift. God equips people for the tasks He calls them to so people's spiritual gifts are going to change. The inventory does measure the gifts at a particular time, often relying heavily on the person's past experiences.
Also, knowing one's spiritual gift does not tell a person how to serve. Your example of not liking to sing is a great illustration. You may (and I emphasize may) have a gift of music but you are called to use it by sharing Christmas songs with people. Add that with the gift of evangelism and you share Christmas songs as a way of telling the story of Jesus' birth. Or you may not have the gift of music at all. Instead you may have some sort of talent for singing well or learning to match pitches quickly and accurately. However, you do not enjoy it and have other things that you can do better or will enjoy more. Therefore, you will use other talents you've been given and that one may remain one that you don't utilize much right now.
Okay, I am starting to ramble. I just wanted to share that while I am hesitant to assign much value to spiritual gift inventories, I have found that they can be a helpful tool in a process of discovering one's spiritual gifts.