I mentioned in my article about the Holy Spirit how he gives Christians something called "spiritual gifts". However, I did not have time to go into the specifics of many of these gifts. This is an interesting thing to look at, as it helps Christians identify which gifts they may have. Then we will look at how these gifts can be used and the importance of each gift in the church. Hopefully it will inspire you to seek out how you can use your spiritual gifts to serve God and others.
What are Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts are attributes or abilities that are given to Christians to help serve others, and to serve the church. "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve the same Lord, and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do."(1 Corinthians 12:4). These gifts are only available to Christians who have Holy Spirit living in us: "The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others."(1 Corinthians 12:7). Some people may be naturally gifted in certain areas, but the Holy Spirit can give abilities that are not natural, or amplify existing abilities.
Types of Spiritual Gifts
Here is a list of gifts taken from 1 Corinthians and Romans, with a small amount of information about each:
Speaking with wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8) This gift means that the speaker can give supernatural wisdom - wisdom that they may not have gained by experience, but that the Holy Spirit reveals to them. These people can be good with advice on what to do in difficult situations, how to deal with relationships, and all sorts of other issues that need God's direction.
Speaking with knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8) This gift means the speaker can give supernatural knowledge. I believe that knowledge is more of a factual nature, where wisdom is more about advice on what to do. For example, knowing what facts and points to use when speaking to a non-believer about Christ, or knowledge of the Bible that they may not have been taught or would not normally have occurred to them, etc.
Strong faith (1 Cor. 12:9) Some people always have doubts nagging at them whether Christianity is true or not. People with the gift of strong faith can encourage people whose faith is weak, and serve as an example of how to trust God with many aspects of their lives. They may not always have logic or arguments to back up their faith, but they know it is there and it is solid, and nothing will shake it, not even personal trouble or disasters.
Ability to heal the sick (1 Cor. 12:9) This is a rare gift. Many TV "healers" will try to put on a big show about how they can supposedly cure people from all sorts of things, but this is most likely not the legitimate gift of healing (it's more likely the gift of hyping a crowd). People with the gift of healing will be able to touch people and pray for them, and they may be miraculously cured or healed. I have heard that often the person who receives healing feels a warm sensation where the healer is touching them, or in whatever area needs healing. Sometimes healers may also know exactly what affliction someone has without being told - they might just start praying about it, or approach the person and say "Can I pray for your ___ ".
Ability to do miracles (1 Cor. 12:10) This gift is very rare. Instead of just healing the sick, the person with this gift can do many other types of miracles. Many prophets in the Old Testament were given this ability and did amazing things like parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14), calling down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38), and Jesus did many miracles such as creating fish and bread to eat (Luke 9:10-17), walking on water (John 6:10-21), and raising people from the dead (John 11). Miracles today are usually more subtle, but they probably do occur. It can be hard to distinguish between what is a legitimate miracle and what is just coincidence. I have heard of cases of missionaries who prayed when the gas tank of their car is empty in the middle of the jungle, and the car keeps going right until the next gas stop. Catholics believe that in order to be a "saint", one has to do a miracle. I think this is wrong teaching - all Christians are saints as long as we have accepted Jesus, and not all Christians can do miracles.
Prophetic knowledge (1 Cor. 12:10) People with this gift can give foresight into people's lives, or see what is coming in the future in world events. They may be gifted at interpreting the more prophetic parts of the Bible, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Revelation. This gift is useful to show people that God is real by revealing future events to us before they happen. In the Old Testament, prophets had to be 100% correct or they would be killed!(Deuteronomy 18:20) A true prophecy will happen - someone can't just say "Well I guess God changed his mind". People who prophesy that they know exactly when the Rapture will happen are false prophets, because no one can know the date or the hour (Matthew 24:36). Many people can make great claims, but often these are just to get attention or to look good to others. Then when their claims fail they are mocked for a time, and then get right back at it. It's embarrassing to God and to Christians to give words of prophecy that are not from God, because when they fail we all look stupid. It is better to say "I think" or "maybe" unless you're 100% sure the message is from God. Some people like to speculate about End Times events (I do this also) but it is not prophecy unless it happens just like they say.
Spiritual discernment (1 Cor. 12:10) Part of this gift is used in prophecy, speaking with wisdom or knowledge. All Christians should have some level of discernment to know when a message is from God and when it is just our own minds. However, this gift can be more than that. People with the gift of discernment can tell if what a pastor or leader is saying is from God, or if it is not. Sometimes these people can sense demonic activity in other people or in specific places. They can sometimes tell where people are spiritually - if they are a Christian or if there is some negative or demonic influence in their lives. People with the gift of discernment act as a "check-and-balance" to many of these other spiritual gifts, and will be able to tell if a pastor, teacher, healer, miracle, etc. is not from God, or if there is any other shady things going on that are not right. It is these people's duty to speak up and to expose anything which is not from God in the church.
Speaking languages that the speaker does not know (1 Cor. 12:10) There is a lot of discussion in the Bible about this gift. The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 is dedicated to specifying how this gift should be used. The basic guidelines are: 1.If you're going to do it in a public place (i.e Church service) you must be orderly and take turns (1 Cor. 14:27). 2.Someone should be able to translate it or else don't speak it (1 Cor. 14:28). 3. You can pray in unknown languages in private, but shouldn't do it all the time (1 Cor. 14:15). 4. Don't scare off visitors or new Christians with an outrageous display of unknown languages (1 Cor 14:23). Speaking unknown languages is more popular in some churches than others. However, not every Christian can speak unknown languages, and it does not make one less "spiritual" if it has never happened to you (see my article here).
Understanding languages that the hearer does not know (1 Cor. 12:10) If someone is speaking unknown languages, it doesn't help anyone unless there is someone who can understand what it means (1 Corinthians 14:6). The disciples were able to speak in many other human languages in Acts 2:1-12 as a way of telling the visiting foreigners about Jesus in their own languages (Acts 2:4-12). This was useful because the listeners knew the languages that the disciples were speaking, even if the disciples did not understand what they were saying. Perhaps this gift could also be useful for missionaries who may lose their translators to be able to understand the native populations when they speak. Very, very rarely a person may speak an "angelic" language, which no one knows. In this case, sometimes a person in the same congregation will be given the ability to translate what the person has said so that everyone can understand.
Teaching ability (1 Cor. 12:28) These people may have a gift for explaining the Bible clearly, teaching Sunday school, or training people to work in the church. Pastors usually need this gift to help teach their congregations and to not confuse or bore them when giving sermons. But this gift is also important for the people who teach pastors when they go to college, or to mentor people to become pastors. Teaching children is very valuable to help them grow up as Christians and learn to follow God.
Church leadership (1 Cor. 12:28 and Romans 12:8) These people have the initiative to organize and plan, and serve as mentors and examples to other Christians. When decisions need to be made, these people can step up and God will give them the skills, charisma, and knowledge to serve as a leader. This is not just for pastors, but for small group leaders, prayer group leaders, fund-raising or mission leaders, any sort of position of authority. Some people are not good leaders, but may try to be a leader because they want the power or control. These people should not be leaders and they can ruin churches if they take control. A leader should follow Jesus' example and be a servant towards those who they lead and to lead by example, not by dictatorship or manipulation.
Serving others (Romans 12:7) The church needs all sorts of people to help - setup crews, cleaning crews, food preparers, sound equipment operators, bulletin printers, and many more. People who have the gift of serving like to help in many of these positions and go about their tasks with motivation, enthusiasm, and diligence. They don't slack off or say "I don't feel like it today" - they have a servant's heart and willingly do what they can to help. They may not get any recognition for the time and energy they spend on these tasks, which is why we need people with the gift of encouragement to help them keep going.
Encouraging others (Romans 12:8) Some people just have the knack of knowing how to perk people up, or compliment people who are doing a good job. All sorts of people need encouragement - pastors, teachers, writers, volunteers, and just regular people too. If there is no one to encourage them sometimes people may give up or feel their jobs are not important, when really the church needs them! Encouragers keep everyone motivated and happy while they are serving God. Encouragers can also be good at Christian counselling to help discouraged people find reasons to keep on going.
Financial generosity (Romans 12:8) A job that allows a person to donate generously to charity is a blessing from God. The abilities to keep and succeed at jobs are demanding, and God gives people strength not only to work, but to willingly and happily part with the money they have earned from that work. God wants people to be happy to donate financially - not people who give out of fear, obligation, or trying to feel superior to others. The Holy Spirit can help give you a generous heart to share what God has blessed you with and help out the Church and other good charities. It's expensive to keep a church running, and it is satisfying to know you are helping to keep it operating by donating to the church. The churches also help local people in need, support missionaries, donate food to food banks, etc. so you know your money is going to a good cause.
Being kind to others (Romans 12:8) The Holy Spirit can help us learn to be kind to others. While all Christians should aim to be kind, some people are extra good at it and will go out of their way to be kind to people, even people they may not know. These are the people who will go visit sick or elderly church members, do chores for people who need help, will spend time with people who are ignored, etc. These people will see opportunities to be kind that others may not see, and will take it upon themselves to do it.
It is important to stress that these gifts are intended to be used in the service of others and the Church. They aren't to show off or to be used as "superpowers" (although I doubt God would allow that anyways).
What Spiritual Gifts do I have?
Some people may naturally know what gift they have. Other times it may take some trial-and-error to see what you are good at. You can try to find various areas around the church and try serving there to see how it goes. If you think you might have the gift of teaching, try teaching a Sunday school class. Try volunteering to prepare food, or serve in a soup kitchen, or help setting up for a church service. If you have a passion for leadership, talk to a pastor who might be able to give you advice or mentor you to lead a small bible study.
Some of the gifts above may be given only for a specific time, or a specific event. For example, a miracle or a healing may be done spontaneously, and may never occur again even though you may pray very hard for it. Prophecy depends on when, where, and if God wants to reveal information to you. Speaking languages needs to be done very carefully to make sure it's not disruptive and doesn't scare people away from the church. You shouldn't try to label yourself as a "healer" or a "prophet" and then try to always live up to it - just be open to what the Holy Spirit wants you to do at any specific time. God may reveal that he wants you to do something that you may never have thought of. For example, he chose Moses (who was terrified of public speaking - Exodus 4:10-17) to confront Pharaoh and then to lead the Israelites through the desert for the next 40 years. The greatest King of Israel - David - started off as a shepherd boy. Jesus chose fishermen and tax collectors to be his first disciples and to write portions of the Bible. If you feel God is calling you to do something, don't think "That's not for me - God got it wrong." - God doesn't make mistakes and may want to use you in an amazing way.
At the same time, it is important to understand that not everyone can have every gift. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to a physical body. Our bodies need many different parts to function, and a body made up of only ears would not be useful at all. A church is the same - a church full of only teachers would be useless since no one would lead or serve. Similarly, some gifts are more visible than others. A pastor or worship leader gets a lot of fame and is seen by everyone. But people with the gifts of prophecy, spiritual discernment, and speaking languages need to be very careful about when/where/how their gifts are used, and they don't get a lot of visibility. A person with spiritual discernment needs to be very careful about who they tell their information to. If there is something that you feel is not right in the church, first take it up with an elder or pastor of the church privately. Don't stand up and cause a scene in the middle of the service. It is important not to fake certain gifts just because you want to have them. I have seen churches fall apart because a person takes control as pastor who should not be a leader. It's not right to fake being a prophet or healer just for the attention it may cause - you will be discovered as a fraud and may discredit others who legitimately do have these gifts.
Is it possible to lose Spiritual Gifts?
I believe that yes, it is possible to lose your spiritual gifts. I have found in my own life that the times when I get distracted and don't have time to pray, or read the Bible, or think about God that any spiritual gifts may weaken or disappear entirely. If you are sinning and don't want to give it up, your gifts may also disappear. If you had the gift of serving, you may start to lose your heart for it and start complaining. If you usually donate money to the church or charities it may be harder to be generous. You may not hear God speaking to you as often, and you will not receive wisdom or knowledge from God. This shows us that these abilities really are gifts from God, and we should not be proud or brag about them. Yet when you return to God he may give you back your gifts to serve Him. If you want to make your gifts stronger, pray to God to help you stay close to Him, and to help you use your gifts to help others.
Love is more Important than Spiritual Gifts
But in the end, spiritual gifts only matter if you are following the most important commandments - loving God and loving people (Mark 12:29-31). Paul said "What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing unless I loved others."(1 Corinthians 13:1-3). In fact, Jesus says that on the Day of Judgement he will face some people who will say "We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles", but Jesus will say "I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight you evil people!" (Matthew 7:21-23). People may be able to do amazing things, but if they don't love Jesus and didn't try to follow him then they will not be allowed into heaven.
I hope that this has helped reveal to you what Spiritual Gifts God may have blessed you with, and encourage you to use them. We have examined many of the types of gifts listed in the Bible, and tried to explain how they are used and what you can do with them. It is important to be open to doing whatever God and the Holy Spirit call you to do, whether you think it's your gift or not. God can use people in ways they may never have expected if you just follow where He leads. To use your gifts effectively you must stay close to God by praying, thinking about God, reading your Bible, and confessing any sins that the Holy Spirit reveals to you. But more important than all of this is to follow the first two commandments - to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and to love others like you love yourself. Otherwise all these gifts are useless and you may be in danger of going to hell. Please be encouraged to keep following God, and may God show you how He wants you to serve Him.