Because we don’t really know how God’s supernaturally empowered us till we’ve filled out a few bubbles on a Scantron.
Some weeks ago I was obligated to take a spiritual gifts test. If you’re not familiar with what this is, it’s basically a written test which deduces what our spiritual gifts are. Allegedly.
Most Christians never bother to ask, “What are spiritual gifts?” Instead they nod their heads knowingly, as if they’re totally familiar with the concept. Then we ask ’em to list a few and they stammer out, “Um… uh… kindness? Friendliness? Encouragement?” No. Spiritual gifts aren’t talents which make us more “spiritual” (which, to many Christians, means “churchy”). They’re special abilities the Holy Spirit give us. Supernatural special abilities. Like these.
1 Corinthians 12.7-11 KWL
- 7 Each individual is given an individual revelation of the Spirit—to bring together.
- 8 For by the Spirit, while a word of wisdom is given to one,
- by the same Spirit, a word of knowledge is given to another.
- 9 To someone else, by the same Spirit, faith.
- To another, by the one Spirit, healing gifts.
- 10 To another, powerful activity.
- To another, prophecy.
- To another, the ability to judge spiritual things.
- To someone else, families of tongues.
- To another, interpretation of tongues.
- 11 One and the same Spirit acts in all these things,
- dividing them to each of his own people however he wants.
I’ll define these gifts in more detail at another time. But today I wanna talk about the ludicrous idea that we can find out, through a written test, what miracles the Holy Spirit can empower us to do. Plus the fact too many Christians don’t find this ludicrous.
The spiritual gifts aptitude test.
To be more accurate, these tests don’t really determine my existing supernatural gifts. They’re more about what gifts I’d like to have. Some of the questions ask about what I currently do, but there’s nothing on the test which really determines what the Spirit already has me doing.
Nor whether it just so happens the Spirit gave me an ability I don’t like. You know, like Moses not really wanting to lead Israel, or Jeremiah not really wanting to be a prophet. Nope; the test wants to know which gifts a person desires most.
And from that, it deduces which gifts might fit one’s likes. You starting to see the problem?
Just because I like a certain gift, or want it more, or can envision myself doing it, doesn’t mean the Spirit’s gonna give it to me. In fact, if I covet that gift for all the wrong reasons—“Heed me! I’m a prophet!”—there’s a better-than-average chance he won’t give it.
Well. I have the test in front of me, and even though the people who composed it have made sure to include a little warning on every page that copying it without permission is prohibited (’cause certain Christians really don’t care about copyrights) I can give you a firm idea of how this test works. The test gives us about 200 statements. The following statements are like the ones on the test, but aren’t actually; I made ’em up. Even so, they’re the very same sort of statements we’ll find in psych tests.
- □ I like to achieve difficult things.
- □ I speak in tongues on a regular basis.
- □ I like to hear about what missionaries are doing.
- □ I don’t like to hear inaccurate or wrong teachings.
- □ I am regularly asked my advice.
- □ I like to work with my hands.
- □ I lead prayer whenever I get the chance.
- □ I like to perform on stage.
We’re to mark each of these statements with a number from 1 to 5. Mark 1 if not true, 3 if sometimes true, 5 if very true.
Once done, score yourself. Each question fits a certain category. Add up the totals in the different categories. And there’s your gifts.
I looked at another person’s paper. My scores across the board were higher than his, but then again, I’ve been a Christian 30 years longer. Scores tend to go up over time, ’cause if we’re actually growing in Christ, more and more of these statements become true. Here are my scores:
|Interpretation of tongues||44%|
When you look my scores, and notice I scored more than 75 percent on 15 out of 23 of them (and more than 50 percent on 20) you might leap to the conclusion I’m the most gifted Christian since St. Peter. Don’t. I’m not.
First of all, longtime believers are just gonna put more 5s on their papers. The longer we’ve been following him, the higher our scores will go. Fruit comes with maturity. We have more love, patience, kindness, faith, blah blah blah, and less selfishness. We’ve grown to like Christian service, and a lot of things related to it. We’re more open to doing whatever the Lord wills.
And again, since this is an aptitude test, all it really says is I’d like to practice most of these gifts. Clearly craftsmanship isn’t one of ’em. Which wasn’t listed in 1 Corinthians, but yeah, that counts as a supernatural gift. Note
Secondly, I have a bone to pick with some of these scores. I’d like to think I’m more merciful than only two-thirds of the time. And most of the statements dealing with creative worship had to do with the performing arts, which are not the only forms of creative worship there are.
Regardless, there’s a pretty big disconnect between the test results, and actually being gifted.
One of our pastors correctly stated, before we even took this test, “Spiritual gifts are not natural aptitudes, strengths, or abilities.” (He even put it on the PowerPoint.) A supernatural gift isn’t something I can innately do. It’s not a talent I have. That means it’s not actually something I can test for.
God’s ability. Not mine.
Supernatural gifts have nothing to do with my ability, but God’s.
As I said, I scored awfully low on craftsmanship. ’Cause (other than cooking) I don’t have a lot of interest in making things with my hands. But let’s say I was on a missions trip, and the leaders asked my help with a construction project. I’d warn the leaders I really don’t know much about construction, and I’m all thumbs, and slow, and maybe even a hazard. Even so, I’d help out the best I could. And y’know, most of the time God gifts such people because of our willingness and obedience, and we wind up building something amazing, despite our inability.
Of course, we gotta give all credit to God. And that’s the point of supernatural gifts. You think I can curing the sick on my own ability? I never went to medical school! I learned
Same with other gifts. I can’t prophesy because I went to some prophecy school; I prophesy because God empowers it. A school of prophecy can train me how to better prophesy in love, and they’re mighty valuable when it comes to teaching prophets how to be loving, instead of jerks. Still, the ability entirely comes from God. It’s not our ability. Nor our desire.
So I have no aptitude for craftsmanship. But isn’t that exactly where God would want me? Doesn’t his involvement become totally obvious if I were to suddenly construct something amazing, despite no ability on my own? “We are weak but he is strong,” and all that?
And on the flip side: I scored awfully high in teaching. Of course, that’s because I love teaching. I do have natural ability in it. Not that I rested upon that: I went to school and worked on a teaching credential. I studied educational psychology. I’m comfortable enough with my subject areas to be able to interact with the students instead of being chained to someone else’s lesson plan. Many of my former students still refer to me as one of their favorite teachers. (Though really, a lot of that has to do with my personality, ’cause not all of ’em remember everything I taught ’em. I blame puberty. But anyway.) My natural gift of teaching is far from the same as a supernatural gift of teaching. The supernatural gift is when we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, get through to unteachable people. They can’t be taught—but somehow we taught ’em. Thank you, God.
Because I can teach, many Christians have told me I do so have the supernatural gift of teaching. And they try to encourage me: “Cheer up; you’re not giftless; you obviously have this one.” But they’re talking out of their asses. They don’t know the difference between talents and supernatural gifts. They’re confusing my ability for the Spirit’s power. Big mistake.
One we Christians make all the time… with awful results. Christians regularly confuse someone’s innate likability, for some kind of divinely-inspired talent. (One not listed, of course, in 1 Corinthians.) So they pick likable leaders instead of moral leaders, the sort of mature Christians described in
My teaching ability? Not miraculous. Innate talent, and I got better at it with work. You don’t work for gifts!
Now, I have experienced the supernatural gift of teaching once or twice. God gave me the power to get through to the unteachable. My natural ability goes only so far, so the Spirit boosts me where necessary. Those who know their limitations can tell when God’s taken us beyond them. That’s how I know I’ve experienced that gift. But it’s not a gift I have all the time. Only when God dispenses it for a specific task.
My score of 100 percent isn’t warranted. And my other scores probably aren’t either.
Real supernatural gifts inspire.
Every supernatural gift is predicated by faith, not aptitude.
When God tells us to do something, and we have no aptitude for it—“What, me? God, you realize there are others far more qualified”—but we do it anyway ’cause we figure God knows what he’s doing, usually the product is a supernatural gift. A miracle. And our faith gets that much stronger.
Others’ faith too. If I wrote a theology book, your response might be, “Well of course Leslie wrote a theology book; he teaches on that subject.” But if I performed an emergency appendectomy, your response would be, “You did what?” Giving God credit for it makes a whole lot more sense than the idea I had some out-of-the-clear-blue-sky hidden ability. Thus your faith grows.
Gifts of the Spirit produce the fruit of faith. Working out of my pre-existing strengths may impress people, but don’t produce faith. People aren’t wowed when an expert does what she’s an expert in. They’re stunned when an incapable person miraculously becomes capable. You see the difference?
These tests have their uses though.
Okay. I’m not gonna assume I’ve proven to everyone how stupid these tests are. There are always holdouts. Certain people love these tests. After all, these tests tell them everything they ever wanted to hear. If I were the vain sort who believed my teaching ability was supernatural, I’d frame this test and hang it over the fireplace. “Yeah, you’d better listen to me. I have talent on loan from God.”
And certain pastors love these tests, and inflict them on everybody they can find. After all, they need helpers, and they wanna find out what your “gifts” are so they can tap them. To them, it functionally doesn’t matter the test doesn’t tell us anyone’s real supernatural gifts: Natural gifts are just as useful. The guy who scores 100 on craftsmanship is always the guy to call after the youth group kicks a hole in the drywall.
But speaking of kicking: When people take these tests, they often look at their results and say, “Wish I scored higher in that.” We were hoping we’d score better on prophecy, or healing, or tongues, or helps. As you recall, I was hoping to do better on mercy. And that’s a good thing.
The Corinthians were instructed to eagerly strive for greater gifts.
I look at my test results and conclude, “Hm. Must not be as merciful as I’d like to be. Gotta work on that. Last time I took this test I scored higher on prophecy. Am I slacking in that area?—am I regularly sharing what God’s told me? This time I scored higher in administration; funny, I don’t feel more administrative.” And so on. Taken properly, this is a wake-up call as to how I’m doing. Or how I think I’m doing.
If we use it right, a spiritual gifts test makes us look closer at how we’re currently serving God, and makes us put more of an effort into serving him more, and better, and with more help from the Holy Spirit. It may not tell us what our supernatural gifts really are. But it’s not a total waste of time either.