One Gift or Another

Twin Lakes from near the Winchester Fire Lookout, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington
Twin Lakes from near the Winchester Fire Lookout, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington

The Bible tells us that there are many gifts but one Spirit; many different workings, but the same God at work in each of us (1 Corinthians 12:6).  Because the Spirit distributes the gifts (Romans 12:4), it’s not surprising that He is alive and active in every one of them.  It’s also not surprising that there is some overlap between the gifts of the Spirit.  (Click here for an overview of the various gifts of the Spirit.)

Those rocks in Big Bend National Park remind me of the Alabama Hills in California!  Big Balancing Rock Trail, Texas
Those rocks in Big Bend National Park remind me of the Alabama Hills in California! Grapevine Hills Trail, Texas

When we’re out hiking, we might see a mountain with soaring cliffs.  We might think, “Those alpine cliffs look a lot like a canyon I saw a few years ago.”  Or we may see a rock formation and think, “That looks like a duck!”  In some cases, we may even mistake one type of scenery feature for another – I’ve seen snowfields from a distance and thought they were lakes.

I took this photo to show that there was (not!) a lake above that waterfall!  Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, Mount Baker Wilderness, Washington
I took this photo to show that there was (not!) a lake above that waterfall! Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, Mount Baker Wilderness, Washington

Just as we may see a feature in the wilderness and think it’s something else, so sometimes we see the manifestation of gifts of the Spirit and believe we’re seeing a different gift.  For example, prophets (at least in the past) have been seen as rather harsh or at least lacking in mercy – they tell it like it is whether you like it or not.  So if you meet a prophet who also works in the gift of mercy or exhortation, they’re often called a teacher or someone with the gift of wisdom.

Lovenia Lake, Uinta Mountains, Utah
Lovenia Lake, Uinta Mountains, Utah

Similarly, a merciful person who prays over situations may be told they have the gift of faith.  (I’ve talked about that here.)  An apostle may believe they have the gift of evangelism, when actually their gifting is much more encompassing to include baptizing, discipling, and being sent.  People with a shepherding gift may also be mistaken for having the gift of mercy or exhortation.

Walls at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Site, New Mexico
Walls at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Site, New Mexico

The gift of leadership is especially easy to mistakenly paste after someone’s name.  I frequently get called a leader, but I’m really more gifted in administration – I organize so the leaders can lead effectively.  A person with the gift of serving and also the gift of words of knowledge may be mistaken for a leader, because they have incredible insight into how to serve well – sometimes even supernaturally and certainly with knowledge far beyond what they could have received from humans.  Apostleship, exhortation, teaching, shepherding, and wisdom can also look like leadership – but without the actual gifting of leadership, it’s difficult for people with these giftings to thrive in leadership positions.

Spider's web on the ceiling of a cave in Lava Beds National Monument, California
Spider’s web on the ceiling of a cave in Lava Beds National Monument, California

It’s all right to have a gift and refuse to be stereotyped into another gifting that you don’t have.  I know a very gifted teacher, but he rightly refuses most leadership opportunities that come his way.  I’ve also watched as people with the gift of healing and/or the gift of prophecy tried to preach – some of them were reasonable teachers, but most were just filling time until they could do what God had called them to do.

Third Falls in Barnes Gully, New York
Third Falls in Barnes Gully, New York

It’s good to stretch ourselves by working within other giftings of the Spirit.  But it’s also all right to recognize that the giftings God has given us are what He has called us to use – and to not allow others to force us into the roles we were never assigned to play by God.  Similarly, it’s not wrong to explore giftings that are related to the ones you know/think you have – you may find that the gifts you thought you possessed were actually masquerading as other gifts of the Spirit!