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During the month of November, we’re taking a look at 21 essential activities of the Holy Spirit, who represents God’s presence in and through every follower of Jesus.
An older woman decided to do some Christmas shopping downtown.
She was anxious about venturing into the city by herself, but felt hopeful that she could get in and out of the stores quickly and be on her way home.
With relief she returned to her car, only to discover she had locked the keys inside. Along with her cell phone. She glanced around at the unfamiliar urban terrain. Her first impulse was to pray. “Lord, I’m in a fix here. Please send me a good man who can help.”
Moments later a man seemed to appear out of nowhere. “Having trouble with your car?” he asked. “I’ve locked my keys inside,” she said, “and I really don’t know what to do.”
“No problem,” he answered. He withdrew a long, thin device from inside his jacket. Within 30 seconds he had unlocked the car. “Here you go,” he said with a smile. “Thank you so much!” she gushed. Then, looking to heaven, she said, “Lord, thank you for sending me a good man!”
With that the man’s smile faded. “Lady,” he said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I’m not really a good man. In fact, I just got out of prison for grand theft auto.” The woman thought for a moment and then prayed, “Thank you, Lord, for sending me a professional!”
Unfortunately, prayers like that are offered way too often in local churches.
God’s people, by and large, aren’t particularly confident that “garden variety members” are sufficiently skilled to do authentic ministry. At least a number of congregations have a small group of professionals – a handful of specialists to whom they can confidently surrender the planning, teaching, and actual carrying out of the sharing of God’s Good News.
There’s the pastor or priest, of course. And the soprano soloist. And the mission worker. And the big giver who becomes the go-to guy during budget shortfalls. And don’t forget that amazing couple who are always willing to chaperone the middle school youth group retreat. They’re going to have the biggest mansion in heaven.
Those are the people who do great things for God. The rest of us watch and pray – pray, that is, that they all don’t end up getting transferred to Waukegan, Illinois, during the same month.
Is this reality found anywhere in the Bible? Don’t even bother looking.
What we find in Scripture is not a “star system” where only a few gifted people are called to make a difference. Instead, the apostle Paul insists that every member of the Body of Christ – everyone who has chosen to throw in his or her lot with Jesus – has received a gift from the Holy Spirit. And each of these gifts is meant to be shared.
Paul uses the metaphor of the body at least 30 times in his letters. His most significant observations are recorded in I Corinthians chapter 12.
He writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts. And though all its parts are many, they form one body… Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (12:12, 27).
That means that all of us get to run with the ball. Every gift matters. All of us are ministers. Clergy may be ministers with an upper-case M, but anyone who follows Jesus automatically becomes a minister with a lower-case M.
Of course, as someone observed years ago, ministers with an upper-case M are paid to be good, which can only mean that ministers with a lower-case M are good for nothing.
With rhetorical questions that are just as amusing today as they would have sounded twenty centuries ago, Paul wonders what it would be like if Christ’s body had a grand total of one part: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? …As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (12:17, 20).
This means the North American paradigm of the pastor who is expected to do everything is way off the mark. Has God ever, in any generation, called or equipped one absurdly overextended person to take on 100 different ministry roles, and plead with a few people to help? Instead, God regularly calls 100 people to assume one role each – who then invite the pastor to help them.
Concerning the gifts of the Spirit, Paul writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:7).
You might be gifted as an administrator. Or a listening ear. Or someone who loves teaching children. Or one who offers encouragement. You might be gifted with a hammer and saw on a Habitat for Humanity work site. Or with a laptop, offering writings that inspire other people. Or with a guitar. Or with a financial ledger, making sure your congregation pays its bills on time.
The variety is endless. The only things that are out of bounds are fear and envy.
Some of us are afraid that our gifts aren’t sufficiently important or spectacular. “I can’t pray out loud, so don’t ask me to do that. I could never teach a Bible lesson. And I’m terrified of walking into a hospital room and spending time with someone who’s just gotten bad news. I can’t do anything.”
But God refuses to let us define ourselves by what we cannot do. Paul is adamant that while the Spirit’s gifts are different, every one of them matters.
Nor are we to spin our wheels in the emotional swamp of gift envy. “If only I could sing like him. Then I’d feel useful. If only I could lead the way she leads. Then I’d be happy.”
To put it bluntly, “No, you wouldn’t!” Each of us has been specially gifted and specifically wired to serve in particular ways – ways that have been prepared in advance by the Holy Spirit.
The drama of discovering our own call is too marvelous to squander by wondering what life would be like if only we had someone else’s gifts.
For God so loved the world that he didn’t send a team of professionals to do his work in the world.
Amazingly and wonderfully, he’s sending you.
To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here