What Are Spiritual Gifts?

Sparked by my recent post on anointing, I received the following question.
“What is your view on Spiritual gifts?”
Recently, my wife and I asked our son, “What do you want for your birthday?” We had nearly two more months to prepare and figured we were in the sweet-spot between ensuing that his desires were current and the liklihood that he would ultimately forget that we asked and experience genuine amazement in how we knew “exactly what [he] wanted!”
But, as it turned out, we were the one’s who would be left to wonder when he replied, “I don’t know, surprise me.”
Huh. Didn’t see that coming. What do we do now?
The notion of spiritual gifts is similarly a head-scratcher for many in and around the church. I don’t know whether it is our baseline humility and unwillingness to talk about anything other than our spiritual failings (topic of another post) or the fact that when we look deep into the Bible, the lists of spiritual gifts mentioned there never quite to seem to be the ones we would have wanted if asked. In any case, discussions of specific spiritual gifts or giftedness in general are generally more likely to complicate than to clarify our experience.
Kind of like a five-year-old balking at a request for a birthday wish list.
Specific gifts and quasi-mystical powers aside (we’ll talk more about speaking in tongues, healing and discernment of spirits on a different day), both the Gospels and the Letters in the New Testament are in agreement that God bestows “spiritual gifts” on people “for the building up of the Church.” Now, for me, as a church-person, I like this idea. But I can also see the benefit if we were to back away from specifically religious language. I think make just as much sense to thing of God bestowing “talents” (to borrow one of Jesus’ metaphors) or “charisms” (a Greek cognate that I think updates the concept nicely)for the building up of “community.”
By de-spiritualizing things just a bit, I think we bring the focus back toward God’s purpose in gift giving. Its not so much about the specific qualities of the gifts. Speaking in tongues and prophesy are neither superior to nor even of a different sort than wood-working, compassion or accounting. Rather all skills, abilities and talents, in as much as they are used for the building up of community, are divine gifts.
Surprised? I know I was the first time I realized that my talents didn’t have to be manifold or a specific type to be acceptable. The truth of the matter is that God has provided each of us with something (gifts, charisms, talents) to share with the world. Our goal, therefore is two-fold, first to discover our gifts, and then to figure how to use them to build community.
Ready? GO!

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