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Serving in Weakness, Serving in Strength

by Karen Kogler, director of volunteer equipping at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, volunteer expert with 35 years in ministry, and founder of, an online volunteer leader resource

When St. Paul talks about spiritual gifts, he's not talking so much about abilities we have, but about acts of service that he's encouraging us to do, as he notes that those acts will be different from one person to another because of the differing grace we've received. Our English Bibles translate 'spiritual gifts' from two different Greek words, both of which are mostly unique to Paul. Charismata (1 Peter 4:10 and Romans 12:6) means 'grace-things' and pneumatika (1 Cor. 12:1 and 14:1) means 'things of the Spirit.' Both emphasize God's active involvement not only in the giving but also in the using of the gifts. Paul and Peter emphasize that when we're using gifts God has given, he is the one working through us. It's not about us at all!

Gifts get in the way when we let ourselves get in the way. When the focus is on us, our abilities, our desires, our wants -- then we're definitely not using spiritual gifts as God intends.

The 'gift lists' include as many actions and positions as abilities.

It's good to discover our gifts only if we're doing so NOT as a way to answer the question, "What do I have?" but instead to answer the question, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" When we're choosing between option A and option B, or when we're looking at various possible ways to spend our time, seeing where our gifts could best be put into God's service is always wise.

But God also calls us to serve through the places he puts us and the people and needs he puts along our path. In those times, when we care for a family member, neighbor or friend who needs us, whether or not our gifts match the need, we often serve in weakness.

I've heard serving described in terms ofthe players on a baseball team. When the team takes the field, everyone 'serves' in a position -- pitcher, shortstop,fielder -- that matches their gifts. But when it's the team's turn to bat,everyone gets the same opportunities to hit the ball, whether or not hitting is their strength.

Serving in our areas of giftedness may bring better results in the eyes of onlookers, but also might tempt us away from reliance on God's grace. Serving in areas of weakness, on the other hand, has the God-pleasing result of increasing our total reliance on him.

We think of spiritual gifts as something that we have, abilities God has given to us, but perhaps it is more accurate to think of them as actions, things that we do. Paul's discussions of spiritual gifts occur in the "how you should live" sections of his letters rather than the "what we believe" sections.

But the basics remain: Every believer has gifts of grace given by the Spirit. These gifts are to be used to serve others.

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