|***photo credit Jennifer Upton|
We often think, the gifts have gone away or they manifest themselves in different ways in our times. Mostly we just don't believe that everyone has them anymore and people who do discover them are "special" or "anointed" or live in developing regions where the word has not yet been translated into their tongue. But surely that could never happen to me here and now in this world I live in.
I grew up in a church environment of skepticism. People who shared "a word from the Lord" were viewed as the weaker brothers and sisters who did not have a clear understanding of the word of God and its power to inform our behavior. Didn't they know that God was limited to talking to them through some [often terribly mistranslated] words on a page? We dwelt in the land of the TULIP; (a desert for my thirsty soul.) Here were the champions of reason, and reason was thought to be at the heart of God's plan as it was contained in the word.
The worst part about that background for me was the emphasis on depravity. Verses co-opted from the books of the prophets were applied universally to a theology of being. We, in essence, were worms or vessels of wrath or unclean, always unworthy. We were unlovable objects that God purposed to make nice ladies and gentlemen out of for his good glory. We were nothing. Broken, depraved, useless.
That is a lot for a child to swallow. A lot to internalize. And I believe it is extremely damaging.
I can still barely believe that I am important; that I am not less than. I know it in my heart. I am God's beloved and of equal importance to all people. I am not meant to dwell in dark places underneath the surface. I am not to submit to an authority around me on the pretext that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and my emotions cannot be trusted (yet somehow theirs can?) I do not believe these things anymore. It horrifies me that I once did, and for so long that I still have to be intentional about shaking off the chains of low self-esteem and self-abasement.
Now that I finally know I'm not a worm, I'm free to think about my gifts. They are gifts I have always had. Gifts that God intended me to delight in from the beginning. But I couldn't see them, blinded by man's teachings of my desperate wickedness; not allowing me to trust the goodness within because I was told there was no goodness within. That only God can make good within as we surrender our sinful unworthy selves to his constant refinement, namely, through teaching trials. Since a lot of life is full of horrible things that can happen to humans, and we are taught to interpret them as sent by God for testing, we pretty much spend all our time on our knees begging for the lessons to stick so we can move on into a fulfilled state of being.
Who can recognize gifts while under such a burden? Sure, there are glimmers that we follow like fireflies, but always we are called back into the house of penitence before we can ever catch them.
How can a child who is constantly informed she is unworthy ever come to Jesus for a blessing? How can a child learn to recognize her gifts under the constant load of a cycle of guilt, shame, repentance, restoration in addition to all the rules that must be followed to be obedient to God? And all the horrible “acts of God” we have to swallow without understanding and yet still believe he is good?
Somehow I forgot that God made me good. That God shared God’s own name with women: ezer.
So I put it to the question: Why are so many in the church unaware of their true spiritual gifts? Why does the "what is your gift?" question cause people to shudder and quake and feel shame at not knowing?
What if it is because we lack the foundation of self-worth necessary to own those gifts, through no fault of our own but solely on the shoulders of tradition? What if we taught children that they are God's creation and therefore very good? What if they heard from infancy that they were important and worthy instead of "little sinners?" Why do we tell children they are nothing without Jesus instead of informing them they are everything and he loves them unconditionally? What if we stopped stepping in between them and Jesus with our crippling filthy-rag righteousness and chief of sinners lingo.
What if we stop staying "the bible clearly says" and start saying "the Spirit whispers clarity?" What if we let people discover, own, cultivate the gifts they are drawn to, even the "scary" and hard-to-believe ones like prophecy, healing, and tongues? What if we tell people that they are very good because God herself has said so?
What if I own my calling to use my good voice, my inspired words, and the capabilities of my body to proclaim the gospel because I am fully worthy and the Spirit has gifted me and invited me to participate? What if I uproot my feet from the solid ground of reason and allow myself to be carried on the breath of God? What if I open myself to any possibility and let God truly surprise me?
I don't have to prove myself anymore. Not to God or anyone else. God has declared me very good. He has declared me woman and ezer. I have been given the gifts of prophecy, discernment, and I believe some others that I will discover as I am unbound from the suppression of the goodness of God on the pretense of a stony heart or unclean lips. And that makes me want to lift my hands and shout “Glory!”