July 19, 2009

Gifts of the Spirit

Since returning from the Daughters of the King Triennial, which had the theme of the Seven-fold Gifts of the Holy Spirit, I’ve been doing some thinking about the Gifts of the Spirit. There are many different lists of spiritual gifts both in the Bible and in various tests or assessments you can take. Rom. 12:6-8, Eph. 4:11, 1 Cor. 12:1-14 are three of the most commonly cited references for lists of the gifts. Each of these contains slightly different listings because of different emphasis of each passage.

Romans lists basic gifts: Prophecy, Ministry, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leading, Showing mercy (compassion)
The Ephesians citation has broad job descriptions: Apostolic, Prophectic, Evangelical, Pastoral, Teaching
1 Corinthians includes some of those gifts considered ‘charismatic’: Wisdom, Knowledge, Discerning of spirits (human, angelic, demonic), Speaking in tongues, Interpretation of tongues, Prophecy, Faith, Working of miracles, Healing

Mary MacGregor, speaker at the Triennial, suggested an assessment that you can take online or print out: http://archive.elca.org/evangelizingchurch/assessments/spiritgifts.html. This particular one lists gifts that I’ve not seen included before such as vocal and instrumental music and writing. (Probably they could be considered expressions of ways in which things like evangelism and teaching and exhortation and other ministries can be done.) Naturally, I was interested to see if my score would show that writing is one of my gifts and it was.

Equally high was the ‘teaching’ gift. I have taken several different gift assessments over the years in assorted retreats and courses. In looking back at some of them, I notice that I’ve ranked consistently high in the ‘teaching’ gift. Service and Administration are usually at the top as well. Something important to remember is that no gift has greater importance than any other. I might be tempted to think that having prophetic gifts or compassion might make me a better Christian, but that’s simply not true. God presents each of us with the gifts that we as individuals can use best in community.

MacGregor noted that our Spiritual Gifts are really like a present from God. In her closing address that our gifts are where we find our passion for ministry. They are the things we find the most joy in doing for the building up of the Church—the Body of Christ. Some find that joyful passion in cleaning up the kitchen after an event, others in giving, or in being a pastor/shepherd.
Once you identify your gifts, whether through taking some assessment or because you know what they are by the joy you get in doing something then you are called to act on that knowledge. As a child I loved the “Little Colonel” books by Annie Fellows Johnson. In her book “The Little Colonel’s House Party” (written 1900) Johnson includes this as an article entitled, “The Road of the Loving Heart,” read from the newspaper by one of the girls:

"Remembering the great love of his highness, Tusitala. and his loving care when we were in prison and sore distressed, we have prepared him an enduring present, this road which we have dug for ever."
In a far-off island, thousands of miles from the mainland and unconnected with the world by cable, stands this inscription. It was set up at the corner of a new road, cut through tropical jungle, and bears at its head the title of this article signed by the names of ten prominent chiefs. This is the story of the road, and why it was built:
Some years ago a Scotchman, broken in health and expecting an early death, sought out this lonely spot, because here the climate was favorable to the disease from which he suffered. He settled here for what remained to him of life.
He bought an estate of several hundred acres, and threw himself earnestly into the life of the natives of the island. There was great division among the many chiefs, and prolonged warfare. Very soon the chiefs found that this alien from a strange land was their best friend. They began coming to him for counsel, and invited him to their most important conferences.
Though he did not bear that name, he became a missionary to them. He was their hero, and they loved and trusted him because he tried to lead them aright. They had never had such a friend. And so it came about that when the wars ceased, the chiefs of both sides called him by a name of their own, and made him one of their own number, thus conferring upon him the highest honor within their power.
But many of the chiefs were still in prison, because of their political views or deeds, and in constant danger of being put to death. Their sole friend was the Scotchman, whom they called Tusitala. He visited them, comforted them, repeated passages from the history of Christ to them, and busied himself incessantly to effect their release.
At length he obtained their freedom, and then, glowing with gratitude, in despite of age, decrepitude, and loss of strength, they started directly for the estate of their benefactor, and there, in the terrible heat, they labored for weeks in building him a road which they knew he had long desired. Love conquered weakness, and they did not cease their toil until their handiwork, which they called "The Road of the Loving Heart", was finished.
Not long after this the white chief suddenly died. At the news the native chiefs flocked from all parts of the island to the house, and took charge of the body. They kissed his hand as they came in, and all night sat in silence about him.
One of them, a feeble old man, threw himself on his knees beside the body of his benefactor, and cried out between his sobs:
"I am only a poor black man, and ignorant. Yet I am not afraid to come and take the last look of my dead friend's face. Behold, Tusitala is dead. We were in prison and he cared for us. The day was no longer than his kindness. Who is there so great as Tusitala? Who is there more loving-compassionate? What is your love to his love?"
So the chiefs took their friend to the top of a steep mountain which he had loved, and there buried him. It was a mighty task.
The civilized world mourns the great author. The name of Robert Louis Stevenson is lastingly inwrought into English literature. But the Samoans mourn in his loss a brother, who outdid all others in loving-kindness, and so long as the island in the Pacific exists, Tusitala will be gratefully remembered, not because he was so greatly gifted, but because he was a good man.
The phrase, "The Road of the Loving Heart", is a gospel in itself. "The day is not longer than his kindness " is a new beatitude. Fame dies, and honors perish, but "loving-kindness" is immortal.
Robert Louis Stevenson did die in Western Samoa at 44 (1894) and was buried at the top of a mountain there. I don’t know if the story about the road is true, although he did work for native rights. Stevenson used the gifts he was given and furthered the Kingdom among the population of Samoa. Certainly the idea of the Road of the Loving Heart is one we can each take to heart and daily ask the question:

What can I do with my gift to move the Kingdom of God another step down the road?

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