Gifts for the gospel, not plans for the future

Written by Robbie Down

One late night in my bedroom, I recorded an impromptu arrangement to Philippians 4:8. I was inspired by how well we remember song lyrics, simply because they’re set to a melody. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the songs you identify with and love or those dreaded geography or chemistry songs you learned in school.

The melodies and lyrics stick like super glue until you find yourself humming them in showers and shopping lines. Naturally, I and many others before me have concluded we ought to be singing the Scriptures for ourselves and within our communities.

I sent the demo to a good friend of mine. Months later, he sent a message thanking me for the simple arrangement. Even long after, it would still bounce around in his head, encouraging him to ponder Christ. His words affirmed that my music could be a gift for the benefit of the Church.

Since then, I have poured much time and energy into my craft. My eyes were opened to the roles Christ has given us to serve His people. Now as obsessed as we sometimes get with trying to find and use our gifts, there is a simplicity at the root of one’s spiritual growth and journey.

In his book Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland says the foundation of our spiritual growth can be described as “a process of being formed in the image of Christ, for the sake of others.” This process encompasses all our experiences and the direction of our Christian faith.

Often when approaching spiritual gifts, it’s as if we were digging for buried treasure within ourselves, trying to find the hidden gold that God cunningly covered beneath hours of deep prayer and mountains of life experience. This view of chasing our gifts is deceivingly endless, and believers are not called to this striving.

While introspection has its benefits, focusing intently on the gifts themselves might cause us to miss the people right in front of us who need Jesus.

Often, though not always, the Holy Spirit leads us to meet those people where they’re at through the ways in which we are gifted. As 1 Corinthians 13:2 says,“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

So then, being formed in the image of Christ and discovering your gifts looks like lovingly serving the needs of those around you. Take, for example, a sports team. A coach situates players in certain positions, not because they think it has the coolest title or gets the most attention. Instead, they are placed there because that’s where they best use their skills to serve the whole team and be successful. In the same way, by practicing loving others, over time it becomes clear where in the Body of Christ we fit—and yes, we all fit.

Often, I get asked where I see myself ending up down the road with my music. As if I practise reading my tea leaves next to the New Testament in the morning. These kinds of questions are often the signs of our anxiety-driven, self-achieving culture seeping in.

On the flip side, James instructs us in such a way: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:15-16).

This counteracts the idea of “making a path for yourself” and finding “what works best for you.” In seeking to build what’s best for us based on what feels right, we will inevitably experience fragility. In the end, each of us will become “weary of her sovereignty” as Alain Ehrenberg puts it in The Weariness of the Self.

Instead of chasing what felt best to me, that demo I recorded in my room was focused on filling a gap I saw in my circle of believers. I was disheartened by shallow and often crude speech that littered my friend circles and sought to catalyze a change. After being affirmed by some of those in my community, I was grateful to see that my efforts made a difference, no matter how small it was. Our gifts are the visible outworking of love to those around us, seeded by the gospel at work within us.

How do we begin serving those around us? Prayer is a great start. In his book The Wisdom Pyramid, Brett McCracken says, “Every prayer is a rebuttal to the ‘look within’ logic of our age. To pray is to acknowledge we don’t have all the answers within ourselves.”

Finding connection in a gospel-centred church that seeks to see its congregants actively imitating the Way of Jesus is also crucial. It is in the Church where we learn from the wisdom of Scripture and participate in a collective spiritual journey we cannot encounter in isolation. It is most often serving within trusted faith circles that you discover your gifts.

Naturally, this outworking of love can look distinctly different depending on who you are. Simply look at the disciples. In the book of Acts we often see Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit to speak to the crowds or the Sanhedrin, even though he and John weren’t educated in public speaking. This was a calling that the Holy Spirit empowered them to perform.

On the other hand, you have characters like Philip, who was used in one-on-one evangelizing, and Paul who was more appreciated for his well-scripted letters than his actual speech. The Holy Spirit uses us all differently based on our characters and placement. 

It’s not our job to hunker down and try to riddle out where we fit in. Rather, we first seek to lovingly serve the needs of those around us. Often, how the Holy Spirit leads us to do so distinguishes our different gifts for the Body.