The illusionary problem of spiritual gifts

I am reflecting…

As an introvert, reflecting comes quite naturally, because us intros tend to experience something and then let that experience float around in our brains for a good length of hours and moments, days and vivid dreamed filled nights before we settle what we believe about it.  We can take that thing and dunk it over and over, trying to scrub out every spot before we finally wring it out for good and hang it up to dry.  And somehow that’s where it finally makes sense to us, where from the clothesline stretching from the left to right in our brain we can see it all sorted out.

So I have been reflecting for just over a week now on a little trip I took with some dear friends down to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to the Convergence of Word and Spirit Conference hosted by Sam Storms and Bridgeway Church.  We joined a few hundred Word-empowered believers and allowed our hearts to be cracked wide with the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit.  There we were, strangers in the flesh, yet a tangled kin of Spirit, doused in a fountain of truth,  refreshed and renewed with a pervasive sense of awe and the blinding beauty of God revealing this one truth:  spiritual gifts are not bad, nor are they a problem, they are indeed, very, very good and the body of Christ needs them.  Without them, we are fractured, sick, limping along, as we rejoice in half of the whole, two-thirds of the threefold manifest presence of God and somehow we are weakly satisfied. We are a giant Jenga game with foundational pieces yanked out of us, waiting to collapse.

Now, be sure that before I went to this conference, it is not that I thought spiritual gifts were bad, nor did I think they were a problem, and until a year and a half ago, I just sort of thought I could get along fine without a few of them, but my heart ached a different story.  It’s not that many of us who run in reformed circles don’t believe that these spiritual phenomena happened in the book of Acts and the New Testament letters inspired by this same Holy Spirit, and still occasionally do…things like prophecy, tongues, healing, miracles, words of knowledge, etc., It’s just that they haven’t seemed to “fit” into the way we do church and relationships within the church.  Sure we pray for healing, but how often do we persist in praying for healing while we lay hands on a sick brother or sister over and over for as long as it takes, or even pray for the gift of healing that we may be used within the body of Christ to edify the whole body so that some who are sick may become well and they in turn are used to build up this fractured and fragmented body of believers?  Sure we all get “hunches” about others, or rhema words, but how often do we pray about the hunch and specifically ask God to grant revelation to our hearts about a brother or sister that once delivered, will penetrate their hearts with the boundless affection and reckless love of God for them?  Possibly even changing the trajectory of his or her life?  How often do we press into pursuing this gift called prophecy as Scripture commands?

This conference was,

 manna….for our starving souls.  This was honey for the bitterness that had spread to unknown depths of our hearts. This was a rich healing oil that softened skepticism. This was a wellspring of water for the fallow ground inside of us that only yielded certain fruit that was used to the drought.  But just as God is a multi-faceted God of variety, diversity, color and beauty, figs and bananas, pineapples and kiwi, strawberries and blueberries, melons and pomegranates,  so we are to be a people who are living so in step with the Spirit that as the body collectively comes together we are an eye-catching banquet of fresh, sweet, nurturing, soul-sustaining fruit, to one another through the use of spiritual gifts.  

I remember once when I had pneumonia, I was probably the sickest I have ever been in my life and I decided to eat a pear that had been ripening on my counter top. I don’t eat pears often, even though I think they are really good.  I just live my life without them much of the time, until I got sickAnd I was sick! So sick with a temperature of 104, that the only thing that sounded good to me was a pear. As I bit into that pear, tears instantly rolled down my cheeks.  It was as if I had never tasted anything so refreshing and sweet at the same time, and in-between bites, through sticky-sweet lips, I gave uninhibited praise to God!  It was like I had never tasted anything so revitalizing in my entire life!   True story.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if this is how it is with the church much of the time.  We think we are getting along just fine without some of God’s most precious and refreshing gifts to us….until we fall sick.  Sick with backbiting, pride, busyness, complaining and grumbling, numbers dwindling, apathy for the lost, divorce, adultery, pornography, isolation, addictions, complacency, abortions, legalism and worst of all Pharisaical hearts….and all the while we are among those in need of the manifest presence of God like oil and wine upon our shriveled and imprisoned souls.  Yet we are strangely satisfied with bananas day after day, offering each other another banana when we could be offering one another wine made from the finest variety of grapes, raisin cakes, apples, blueberries, and pomegranates in order to restore the body back to health.

Well, I was one of many who was privileged to attend such a banquet.  I attended a feast of the finest fruit with exquisitely wrapped gifts set amongst this bountiful harvest. This was love wrapped in human flesh, and I have never been a part of something so filled with the splendor of the King.

Those of us who came, simply came with open hearts and received.  We brought nothing in exchange.   

I left Oklahoma City with a more deep…expansive view of God in the fullness of His intimacy between Father, Son and Spirit.  The sky was bluer, the trees more ablaze in their autumn brilliance, the worship music angelic with melodious sounds crossing over from an unseen realm.  I left with an insatiable hunger to continue earnestly pursuing and desiring the spiritual gifts, and especially those I had once sadly thought were no longer needed like prophecy and healing.

I do want to be clear, even though I confess to a time where I did not think we had much use for the gifts, the funny thing was that I still believed and still operated in them from time to time, just not on a consistent basis.  I am grateful God has rekindled them and set a fire in my heart to cry out for more of who He is and seek His manifest presence through these gifts.

The morning after I returned from the conference I awoke with tears.  Tears of wonder as my heart refused to leave this attitude of awe and worship. How could it?  I had just witnessed deaf people healed, pervasive migraines healed, words of knowledge for people, people receiving the gift of tongues and the gift of healing.  A very intimate word was spoken over me that the woman delivering it could not have known about me, because it had only been between God and myself before.  I witnessed pastors hardened to the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit through spiritual gifts repent.  I watched men rise to their feet repenting of not being leaders in their homes. I heard the most beautiful sound as people around us sang in tongues and it served only to enhance my worship experience as tears rolled over my cheeks and dampened by sleeves.

and so much more!

So here I am, reflecting.  This morning I awoke to a thought piercing my right brain like a dagger, the problem with spiritual gifts is not the gifts themselves, but the people they are given to. Not very profound, I know, as many who have written about the gifts before me have stated. Yet, here I am attempting to make sense of a very controversial, often avoided, sometimes misguided, and all together divisive subject within the Christian community.  You see, I have been on a sort of quest the last year and a half.  As I look back, I am not even quite sure how I happened upon this alluring journey except for a small flutter of a deep inner stir that pricked my conscience and gave way to an almost deafening echo in the deep caverns of my groaning heart. That echo made everything within me, at the top decimal of the voice inside my head say, ‘There has to be more…”  It was the same voice that months earlier echoed in prayer over and over, “If you are the God of Job, then just as sure as you take away, you restore, show me that you restore, Oh God.”  He was faithful to answer that prayer then and has been ever more faithful to answer the bottomless echoed prayer in the pit of my soul that yearns for what it was made for: to truly know as much of God and His glory that this human frame traced by the finger of Holy can bear. 

You see, the problem is not the gifts themselves. Because they bear the mark of God, they are derived from God who is perfect.  He is wholly good.  He is the essence of  beauty yet to be discovered by human eye.  He is not surrounded by love or the efficacy of love, but is love.  He is not the kind of earthly love between humans, but an altogether pure and holy love.  He is wisdom and He is power.  He spoke and created all intricacies of life and cells and chromosomes and molecules and atoms and vapor and energy and light and sound and arteries pumping blood and oxygen.  He speaks and mountains quake and seas roar.  He tells the lightning where to strike and stores up frost and winter in storehouses laden with snow. He watches the deer give birth and commands the morning.  Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals the knowledge of who He is.  He is perfect.

We are fallen and born into sin.

And so we, in our fallen state, receive perfect gifts from the Father of lights with who there is no variation or shifting shadow, and it is we who shift and hide in the shadows. It is we who have not revered who God is and emulated what He is like when it comes to these gifts. We unwrap them and like spoiled children discard them, set them on a shelf in the back of our closets because we have so many other churchy things to choose from that the gifts can completely fade away and never even be missed. We have a myriad of ministries, organizations, charities, bible studies, small groups, events on the church calendar to fill our time. We have Christian friends who support our views and our high esteem of the Word while we ignore, neglect, despise and even mock some of the most beautiful work of the Spirit among us through spiritual gifts instead of cherishing Who they represent and why they are given.

They are given so that we might love well.  They are given that we may be sustained through power until Christ returns as we build up the church.

You see, sandwiched between the two most explicit chapters on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and 14) is what is commonly referred to as the “love chapter.”  Often used at weddings as the scripture reading, it has lost its original and inescapably purposeful intent. It is used to describe the way the gifts are to be expressed.  If the gifts are an expression of God’s love towards us, then they should be sought and expressed within the same vein of love to which they extend from.  As I stated earlier, the problem is not the gifts but the fallen race, us….people when we don’t understand what Paul is saying to us in 1 Corinthians 13,

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

What Paul is stating here is that without love the spiritual gifts are useless, but with love, they will do exactly what they are designed to do and that is to build up and edify the church in love (1 Corinthians 14:12).  That is why we are told over and over and over again throughout scripture to love one another.  Because when we do and when we earnestly pursue the gifts in love for one another, something explosively beautiful happens!  We become an unstoppable army in the eruptive power of the Holy Spirit.  The sick are healed, the oppressed are set free, the blind see, (spiritually and physically), we fall more in love with Jesus as we see His presence, power,and agency flowing through His body and we are more energized to serve and love one another and our neighbors.

I don’t think the church will stand in the tumultuous days ahead without the all empowering presence of the Holy spirit and a people equipped with the spiritual gifts we have been lacking.  I, for one, alongside my reformed charismatic friends, will, “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that I/you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1).