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22. Spiritual Gifts / Charisms Login/Join 
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Following from our discussion of the importance of Christian community in living a Christian spiritual life, we come to the topic of spiritual gifts, or charisms. These are the means by which the Spirit graces each one of us to build up the life of the community in love.

The input I will use was previously published in the "Come Holy Spirit" online series (Easter 2004), with a few minor changes.

Charismatic Gifts

Let's first consider references to these gifts in the Scripture. There are several places where we learn of them, including lists of different kinds. As early as Acts 4: 33-35, we read of a deep and profound sharing of gifts and resources by the Christian community, with the Apostles having a special role “to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power.” It is in Paul's letters, however, that we find a developed treatment of spiritual charisms, especially in 1 Cor. 11. Here we learn that:

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of services to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. (4-6)

Undoubtedly, Paul's experience with many communities informed this statement, as he had observed many ways in which the Spirit moved individuals to serve. What he wishes to emphasize is that it is all God's work; we are to be content with the gift given us to share and grateful for those shared by others.

Paul then goes on (v. 7-11) to list some of the most common gifts, which I will enumerate below:

1. Preaching with wisdom
2. Preaching instruction
3. Faith
4. Healing
5. Miracles
6. Prophecy
7. Discerning spirits
8. Speaking in tongues
9. Interpreting tongues

In his more brief treatment of spiritual gifts in Eph. 4, Paul lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These seem to be more like roles in the community, but no doubt they were determined, to some degree, by the evidence of spiritual gifts. In 1 Cor. 12: 27-29, Paul provides a summary and ranking of the importance of the gifts/roles in the life of the community:

Now you, together, are Christ's body; but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers, after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages.

I think the main point here is that the Church needs all these gifts, but to overemphasize the importance of some (as was happening in the Church in Corinth) leads to a distorted understanding of the role of the gifts in the life of the community. Paul was especially trying to give a perspective on the relative importance of speaking in tongues, which had become a divisive issue in that community. In Chapter 14, he addresses the place of tongues (glossalalia) in the Christian life.

Recognizing Your Charisms

A charism can be given by the Spirit at any time to any person as the need requires. I recall, for example, a time years ago when I was meeting with a young woman who had come to me for spiritual direction. She was depressed because her doctor had just told her that the results of a biopsy for a spot on her lungs showed a malignant tumor to be the cause. As I listened to her, I felt a strong-almost overwhelming desire to pray for her healing. I asked if she wanted to join hands to pray for healing, and she was most willing. As I prayed, I felt a strong flow of energy moving through me; the woman felt it, too. We ended the session shortly after this prayer, and that was the last I heard from her for a few weeks. Then one day, she came bursting into my office with the news that, must to the puzzlement of her doctors, the tumor was gone. She was sure that a healing happened when we prayed, as she had felt better from that time on. But she thought it might have been just a spiritual healing, enabling her to accept her condition and stay close to God during the difficult journey ahead. During her next medical visit, she asked for an X-ray, which was reluctantly granted. Then came the good news!

I mention this incident because it's about the only time it has ever happened to me, and I've had thousands of spiritual directions session since--often with people who were struggling with an illness of some kind. I have never since felt moved to pray with someone for healing as on that day long ago, however, and I don't consider myself someone blessed with a gift of healing. But God wanted to heal that woman and I was the person in the Church chosen to do that work at that time. Other isolated manifestations of charisms have happened through the years as well.

Generally, what we discover is that there are a few charisms that are habitually called forth from us; we find ourselves drawn to exercise them again and again, so much so that they eventually suggest a calling or even a vocation of some kind. How can you tell what these charisms are? The Catherine of Siena Institute (CSI), which provides training and consultation on this topic, emphasizes three criteria:

1. When you express this gift, you feel energized and close to God.
2. Your exercise of the gift produces results (e.g., healers heal, teachers communicate, administrators bring order, etc.)
3. The Christian community validates your gift through positive feedback and by calling upon you for its exercise.

All three of these criteria are important. It's not enough, for example, to say that you really like to perform a certain work; the results that ensue must also be considered. You might like praying for healing, for example, but if people are not healed because of your ministry, it's doubtful that you have a gift of healing.

CSI provides and inventory and discernment process to help one recognize charisms. If you're interested in obtaining their work, check out their web site: http://www.siena.org/ There are other inventories on the web, some of which provide an interactive form to do a quick survey online. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has a good one. See http://www.elca.org/evangelism/assessments/spiritgifts.html to try it out. Know, however, that a quick test like this one is no substitute for observing what actually happens in your life. Discussions with a spiritual director can also help to discern charisms.

Reflection and Discussion

1. What questions or comments do you have from this session?
2. How do you experience God ministering to you through the Charisms of others? Share a specific example.
3. What spiritual charisms seem to be more or less "habitual" in your own spiritual life? How do these point out directions or ministry callings?

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Phil,
 
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