Great questions to ask believers of any age include: What is my gift? Where do I fit in? What is my role in the local assembly? Make no mistake – these questions are put in your heart and soul by the Spirit of God. Paul said to Timothy, a younger man with potential, “neglect not the gift that is in thee” (1Tim 4:14) and “stir up the gift of God that is in thee” (2Tim 1:6), showing clearly that God has put gift(s) in us and now expects us to use them. Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to “covet” or go in for “the best” i.e., the most impactful gifts (1Cor 12:31). Five times over in the NT, we are told of crowns that a believer can and should strive to win with a view to a coming day when we will lay every crown at the feet of the Man who died for us at Calvary. Yes, it is worth purposing in your heart to find out what gift God has given you, to discover the place of service He intends for you in the local assembly, and to use it for His glory. Paul outlines in Romans 12:1 that this is our “reasonable” service. Anything less is an unreasonably weak response to the perfect love the Lord Jesus showed us in saving us and then giving us gift(s) to be used in his service.
From the outset, it is crucial to recognize that Satan does not want us to find or exercise our gift, because he hates anything that pleases God. As you press forward for God, expect and prepare for the reality that Satan our “Adversary” (1Peter 5:8) will do everything he can to derail your search for your gift with worldly distractions (2Tim 4:10), to discourage you from the path God has for you even using other believers to do so (Matt 16:23), or as the “Accuser of the brethren“(Rev 12:10) try to saddle you with guilt about your past failures etc. to hinder your fellowship with, and usefulness for, God. The great news is that men and women who have gone before us have proven the truth of “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1John 4:4).
The question now is, what should each of us do next? Below is a list of principles from specific Bible passages, not a book of rules from the author, that show us what we should do as we move through life in order to find fulfillment and joy, to answer these questions according to the will of God.
Be part of a local assembly. The New Testament is devoid of examples of believers exercising their spiritual gift appropriately outside the fellowship of a local church. The chapters teaching about gift (e.g. 1Cor 12, 14) show that the exercise of those gifts is within the context of a local church as an expression of the body of Christ. Clearly, we are not intended to be free agents, acting alone in the world. Apollos tried, and after joining a local church, had to be taken aside and instructed in the “way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). Acts 2 shows the pattern for every genuine believer in that “they that gladly received his Word … were added” (Acts 2:41). This pattern continues throughout the Acts and the rest of the New Testament, where believers were expected to be part of a local church, and only because of moral sin (1 Cor 5) or doctrinal error (1Tim 1:20) were found outside that regular fellowship. Being part of a local church that follows the Biblical church pattern means that you are walking in obedience to the Lord, having obeyed him in baptism (Matt 28:19, Act 2:41) and in breaking bread (Luke 22:19). As Samuel noted to Saul, “to obey is better than sacrifice (1Sam 15:22).” If you are not yet part of a local assembly of believers that is following the New Testament pattern, obeying the Lord by finding that spiritual home has to be step one before any attempt at service (i.e., “sacrifice” for him) or the discovery and exercise of a spiritual gift.
Be an active participant in the assembly. You want God to help you identify and then use your gift for His glory. If so, then you must prioritize the assembly where your gift is to be primarily exercised. The book of Acts makes it clear that believers who were added to the church were actively involved in that they “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). There are no examples in the New Testament of spiritual believers who only attended the breaking of bread meeting on Sunday, or who regularly chose not to attend certain meetings of the assembly. Unfortunately, Satan has engineered modern life so that it wreaks havoc on commitment to the local assembly and regular meeting attendance. Whether it be homework, work schedules, work travel, city traffic, kids’ sports teams, none of which are bad in and of themselves, many issues will sidetrack you and your family in usefulness for God unless you prioritize the assembly. To be active in the assembly, you will have to sacrifice and also not expect other believers to thank you for doing so. We look for the Lord’s commendation, “well done thou good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21).
Keep Short Accounts with God. David shared his own intensely personal prayer with us when he wrote “Search me O God and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa 139:23). If you wish to be useful for God, sin in your life has to be dealt with first before you can be “led” related to your gift and place in the assembly.
If your conscience is bothering you as you read this section, I challenge you to go to God in confession right now asking for forgiveness of the specific sin you have done (1John 1:9) and the strength to forsake whatever it is so you can be useful to Him. Pretending that you can be useful for God while continuing with that sin against Him is hypocrisy, and we are warned not to deliberately grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). You will have a form of godliness, but not the substance (2Tim 3:5). You will go through the motions of what look like spiritual activities and things Christians should do, but you will miss the genuine joy of exercising your gift in fellowship with God. We know this from David who after his sin with Bathsheba, confessed his sin and asked that the “joy of thy salvation” be restored to him (Psalm 51:12). On the positive side, there is no joy like having a clear conscience before the Lord and then exercising gifts that you know He has given to you (read Psalms 1 and 32).
Pray at a Specific Time Daily and Also Throughout the Day. Because our lives are busy and Satan does not want us to pray, prayer requires a regular time slot in your life. Trying to “fit it in” will not work. I challenge every reader of this section, whether young or old, to give God the first 15 minutes of your day for the next 30 consecutive days and experience how God will change you as a result. Part of your prayer can and should be about the Lord revealing to you your gift and where you can contribute in the assembly.
Study Your Bible. Paul gave advice to a young man who was looking for guidance when he wrote, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15). Knowing your Bible is essential to the exercise of gift whether your gift is public or private. If your gift is preaching the gospel, how can you preach it properly if you do not know the doctrine of the gospel? The same goes for personal witness. How can you witness effectively to a friend or lead a soul to Christ one-on-one if you cannot show them the gospel from the Bible? The same goes for Sunday school. How can you teach young people and intelligently answer their questions in today’s post-modern age if you don’t know your Bible? Going further, if your gift is in teaching the Word of God, without putting the time in to study your Bible carefully before standing up to speak, how can you be sure you are speaking as “the oracles [i.e. spokesperson] of God” (1Peter 4:11) or “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15) i.e., not teaching something wrong? We all need to recognize that studying is different than reading your Bible. It requires sacrifice and time alone with an open Bible in the presence of God. My advice on where to start is to give God two hours a week devoted to the study of the Word of God. This is a test of how serious you are at finding your gift and being useful for God. No one would reasonably expect to get physically fit with less than two hours a week investment in an exercise program. Why would learning your Bible require a lesser investment? Taking our example from godly men and women who have gone before us, Saturday night is an excellent time to set aside for this, because it also helps prepare one’s heart for worship on Sunday morning.
Look for Need and Ask Where Help is Needed. The Lord Jesus gave the great example when he said “lift up your eyes and look upon the fields for they are white and ready to harvest” (John 4:35). He told the disciples to take their eyes off themselves and look at the need around them. Every assembly has needs today. Each of us should follow the Lord’s advice and, rather than looking inward at ourselves for what our gift is, look outward, to where there is clear need in the assembly and seek to meet it.
The New Testament makes it clear that the exercise of spiritual gifts publically or privately is about giving, not receiving. For example, 1 Corinthians 3 makes it clear that every believer is a builder and the key factor the Lord is looking for is the quality of what we are putting in. Is it something of value like gold and silver, or things with no value like wood, hay, and stubble that would undermine the foundation of the church? Just as a builder would inspect a construction site, take a careful look at your assembly. Where do you see need? Is the gospel going out with clarity or are there opportunities being missed? Does the Sunday school have enough teachers or could they use a hand? Do not worry so much about whether the specific area of need is specifically listed in Scripture as a spiritual gift. Pitch in to help where it is needed and God will open the way before you. If you are in doubt about where there is need in your assembly, ask an elder or a believer you see actively engaged in the assembly for ideas about where you could help.
Partner with an Older Believer and Ask for Feedback. The Scripture is full of examples of younger believers pared with older believers. Acts shows us Ananias with Paul, Timothy and Titus with Paul, and John Mark with Barnabas. Look for an older believer doing work in the assembly whether it be visitation of the sick, teaching a Sunday School class, outreach work etc. It’s not about a prominent place, it’s about finding a way to help.
Asking for feedback is nearly a lost art in today’s assembly. The Scripture expects the older to teach the younger as exemplified in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. How can an older believer help if you do not ask? Many older believers would love to help you, but do not want to seem critical of you or provide input where it is not wanted. Start by asking an older believer who has experience in the particular area for feedback after sharing a Sunday school class, or preaching the gospel together, or after giving ministry.
The principles above are just a start. My prayer is that this article will encourage you and strengthen your resolve to find your gift and the place that God has for you in the local assembly. As we wait for the Lord’s return, it is now our turn to “serve [our own] generation by the will of God” (Acts 13:36).