“The Kingdom of God is God in action, and that happens to turn out to be the exact same thing as grace.” – Dallas Willard
I sat agape watching this interview with Dallas Willard almost a decade ago, surrounded by my colleagues at pastor’s conference, but suddenly unaware of anything but what had just been said. This one sentence struck a chord deep in my spirit that continues to resonate today.
I suddenly realized that my view of gifts (greek: charisma), and grace (greek: charis), had been far too small. To be clear, for as long as I have been a disciple, I have believed in spiritual gifts.
Growing up, I saw the Spirit empowering people to speak in tongues and interpret tongues during worship services. I saw people healed – including myself. On very rare occasions, a word of knowledge would accompany the gift of healing, where the speaker would identify spiritual or physical needs in the room and ask for people with these needs to come forward. At crucial junctures in my life, sometimes a person praying for me would pray with supernatural clarity, and God would use that prayer to encourage or direct me. At age 18 at YC2000, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit (the Spirit that dwelt in me at conversion now overflowed and empowered me), and I spoke in tongues.
These supernatural manifestations of the Spirit amazed me, strengthened my faith, and sometimes (especially when out of order as articulated in 1 Corinthians 14) unsettled me.
I still believe in all of these spiritual gifts. I believe that when they are employed in an orderly fashion, they are essential for the building up of the body of Christ. Since entering full time ministry, I have welcomed the manifestations of the Spirit on Sundays. I have always enjoyed listening to the Spirit while leading, and creatively carving out time and space to be quiet and wait. When I do strategic planning with churches, the very first exercise is always to listen to the Spirit through the scriptures and expect gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy. God has even used my mind and voice for some of these supernatural gifts over the years, and I could tell you some amazing stories that glorify the Spirit’s work. Maybe in another article.
I still believe in all of these spiritual gifts. I also believe that they are a drop in the bucket of God’s desired action in our lives. They are but single waves in the ocean that is grace.
If we enjoy over 100 waking hours per week, why would we invite God’s action into just 2-3? Certainly, we should learn about, makes space for, expect, and be obedient to practice manifestation gifts in our gatherings, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12-14. But we should also expect grace (God’s action in our lives) 24/7 in day-to-day life, for acts like serving, teaching, administrating, encouraging, leading, giving, showing mercy, practicing hospitality (Romans 12), and also for manifestations like knowledge, wisdom, faith, healing, prophecy, and miraculous powers (1 Corinthians 12). These lists are far from exhaustive when considering the potential scope of God’s action in our lives. He can empower us for the arts, for our work, for relationship building, and all the myriad facets of what it means to be humans who are filled with the Spirit of God.
We should expect to grow in grace, relying less on ourselves and our resources, and inviting more of God’s action in our lives, the longer we live as disciples. Jesus has announced the availability of the kingdom of God, of His presence, of the Holy Spirit, to all, everywhere. Ministry Health means becoming disciples, leaders, and churches that are truly Pentecostal, growing in reliance on the Holy Spirit, on grace, receiving, entering, and announcing the Kingdom of God with all of our lives, and all the more as our hope approaches. Where in your life, relationships, church, vocation, can you invite more of God’s working? That is the right place to start thinking about spiritual gifts.