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Spiritual Gifts: Start With God, Not Spiritual Gifts Inventories

October 10th, 2011 · No Comments · Bible, Christianity, New Testament, Religion

Don’t you wish determinig your spiritual gifts was as easy as opening the box in that picture? We untie the twine and peer inside and there it is, all nice and neat! The truth is it is not that easy. IT is also not as easy as trying to come up with a list of what we think we are gifted at and then follow that up with a list of what opportunities potentially match those gifts and then get to work. I think that approach is flawed because it has the wrong starting point. In fact, I am going to take it a step further. Spiritual gifts inventories, when used as the sole determiner for spiritual gifts, are flawed. I think they have some strengths but I think the weakness of these inventories is that we use them as a single reference point to determine our gifts rather than just one data point among many other reliable, determining factors. I will deal with that in a separate post.

The one who defines our spiritual gifts is the one who created them, God. Paper and pencil measures can be helpful but any conversation about spiritual gifts has to start with God. If you start with self you are messed up before you even start. If you start with self you just end up with a list of gifts of things you enjoy and that make you happy but they may not be your real gifts. Our enjoyment level of any given spiritual activity has been the key determining factor of what we believe our spiritual gifts are and I think that is mistaken. If my gifts are my own creation then I don’t need to consult God about it…I can just do what makes me happy. Since our gifts come from God, God has a say in what those gifts are and in how we use them. God is concerned less about our gifts making us happy and more about making an eternal difference.

When Paul told Timothy that he needed to “fan into flame the gift of God” in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul starts out by mentioning God or Jesus at least 5 times in 2 Tim 1:1-7. He also tells him to remember or that he is reminding him another 4 times in those 7 verses. Before Paul teaches and encourages Timothy in regards to the gifts God has given him he starts off with the importance of remembering all this comes from God. These are God’s gift to us, they are not our own. God is a better definer of gifts that paper and pencil spiritual gifts inventories. I will have another post on some factors that help us determine our gifts in the coming days.

Have you ever wondered how Timothy got anything done without having a 20 item spiritual gift inventory to tell him what he was good at? Have you ever asked yourself how Paul spread the Gospel across the known world in a decade with basically zero help from technology? The answer is God. They didn’t have to process and psychoanalyze everything. They prayed about it, God opened the doors and they got to work! Simple isn’t it?

How many times have you done spiritual things or made plans to minister without ever bothering to ask God what He would like to see happen? We come close to asking this question sometimes but still find ways to make it about us…like when we ask, “God, what do you want me to get out of this?” it is still about me and not about God. What if instead we just asked, “God, what is it that you want here?” in regard to the decisions we make on a regular basis? That question keeps God in the center of it all…it may not be about me at all, good! Not everything that is good is about me anyway.

So let’s stop making ourselves the single reference point in determining these things and give God his rightful place back as Lord. Let us not so over analyze and psychoanalyze everything so much that we miss opportunities to make an eternal difference that just that don’t fit our mold or expectations. Let us in all things get more concerned about the kingdom than about self. Let us understand that there may be some ways God has gifted me that don’t make me happy in the least and yet they are still important to be a part of.


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  • Keith Brenton

    I’ll get in trouble with folks at my church if someone from there reads this, but ….

    One of the best things about moving our Web site over to a new hosting system is that the custom-written Spiritual Gifts Survey couldn’t be ported over to it.

    Honestly, all it measured is how enthusiastic one is about certain ways to serve. That’s all. If rewritten so that someone else(s) took it for you, all it would have measured is how well they thought you did/would do in certain areas of service (which would have been an improvement).

    I don’t think spiritual gifts are that easily parsed by computer scoring. (How does one measure discernment, for instance?)

    • mattdabbs


      I am in complete agreement with your assessment. I have a B.A. in psychology and spent two years working toward a PhD in clinical and health psychology. I have taken a ton of stats courses, administered all kinds of testing, and had several advanced courses in psychometrics. I firmly believe that these inventories don’t measure what they were designed to measure. That is a broad statement and may not be true of all of them. I am speaking generally here. Also, it is amazing to me how much people want to know what their gifts are when the most important thing is that we are doing something…whether an inventory says we should be doing it or not. The apostles would be dumbfounded by how we try to assess all of this. They changed the world without having taken a single inventory.

  • Royce

    Over the last 50 plus years I have been to perhaps at least a dozen conferences designed to help people know and use their spiritual gifts. And, I have seen several surveys designed to discover spiritual gifts. What ends up happening each time is that a person’s “natural” bent is what is discovered. He could be unsaved and still get the same gifting discovery. There isn’t a way to measure spiritual things with questions and surveys.

    I have long contended that a person does not need to know his or her spiritual gift(s) to effectually be using them. Think about it. Does anyone believe those believers in the early days after Pentecost had even a hint about spiritual gifts. Of course they didn’t since not one of the texts we follow about spiritual giftedness had been written.

    I can think of dozens of men and women who have won thousands to Christ and never tried to discover their spiritual gift(s). The best route in my view is to report for duty every day with the attitude “Use me how you will today Lord” and the best you can be obedient as you depend on the Lord’s strength. I am personally more concerned about the fruit of the Spirit being evident in my life.

    • mattdabbs


      What you wrote is part of where I am taking this series of posts…the only thing I would tweak in what you just wrote, which was very well said, is that there were certain gifts that were very clear (speaking in tongues, prophesy, etc) that didn’t take surveys to figure out. So I do think they knew about some specific, revealed gifts from God because they were obvious. I think maybe our gifts today are more obvious than we think. I am going to do a post on the revealed/general gifts of God vs the more hidden/individual gifts of God.

  • Keith Brenton

    Sounds like a great series of posts, Matt!

  • Royce

    The only “gift” those earliest believers talked about was the gift of the Holy Spirit. But, I agree with you and look forward to your posts.


    • mattdabbs

      There were several others in the NT:
      * The gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)
      * Salvation (Rom 5:15 & Eph 2:8)
      * Righteousness (Rom 5:17)
      * God’s grace (Eph 3:7)

  • Ken Sublett

    The personal Holy Spirit is named Jesus Christ the Righteous.
    1John 2:1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
    1John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
    1John 2:3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.

    1Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

    However, the gift in Acts 2:38 is “the gift of A holy spirit. The same Peter called it A good conscience our consciousness meaning a co-perception. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 defined that as being able to read the Word or hear it when it was read in the synagogue. He even said that The Lord IS the Holy Spirit.

    If we have the give of A holy spirit that means that God’s Word will dwell in us and we can read the text and not have it come out in dislexia.

    Since all of this is a free gift Jesus said that the kingdom does not come with observation: that means that Jesus cannot be hustled into religious ceremonies. Once we grasp that such acts are our need to work really hard, we can enjoy the REST and go outside the camp to learn of Him.

    I believe that Jesus said to all of we anxious people: Just cool it!

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