In front of you is the most beautifully wrapped box you’ve ever seen. It’s shiny and sparkly, and finished with an enormous taffeta bow. You take hold of the box and begin to slowly unwrap it. Cautiously, tentatively. First you untie the bow, leaving the ribbon to cascade to the floor, and then you carefully begin to peel back the glossy paper as you try so very, very hard not to tear it. You hold your breath as the paper falls away and you lift the lid of the box. Inside, you find a gift which is even more amazing and beautiful than the box itself.
This was a dream I had earlier this year. I’ve always been a dreamer. ‘You’re such a Joseph,’ they would say, and I know they weren’t referring to my enthusiastic tendency to burst into song about the colours of my coat. Nay nay. I seemed to dream dreams that bored people to tears as I regaled them with the minutiae of every single vision. First thing in the morning. Before they’d even had coffee. And because people were bored by them, I pretty much squashed my sense that these dreams had significance. Yet this dream, the one about the gift, this dream was significant, so much so that I knew it even as I was sleeping.
First I saw the box on a shelf, and then a voice in my dream asked me to imagine the scene much as I’ve painted it for you. The voice went on to say:
‘Would you take the gift out of the box, use it in the way it was intended, share it, put it on display? Or would you think it too precious and simply put it back in the box to keep it safe? No sharing, no looking, no using.’
Think of the ornaments around say, your granny’s house, or that crazy great aunt who always wears her slippers to the shops. Lovely, sparkly ornaments, dusted religiously, but they’re just for show. They look nice, at least they’re out of the box, but what use are they? Or maybe you’re from a family that has posh cutlery and plates that are only used for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas. A waste of beauty and function.
Now think back to that lovely box and the even lovelier gift inside.
The voice went on to say:
‘How would the giver feel if they knew that the amazing gift they’d given you was just to be kept in the box on a shelf, or perhaps given a once-a-year airing. That’s how I feel with the gifts I’ve given you. You think you don’t deserve them. You think they’re too beautiful to be entrusted to you. But I gave them to you to be used, properly, not just for show or pulling out on special occasions. My gifts are to be used all the time. Using the gifts will improve them, and people need to gain the benefit of them. It’s not showing off. I choose who I give my gifts to and which gifts I give out. And when.’
Ouch. This stung. God knew it would. Just in case you missed it, he was the one speaking in the dream. And he knew that the dream would floor me and I’d be left feeling startled, embarrassed, thrilled and chastised, all at the same time. I know without doubt that he was speaking to me, but as I reflected on it in the days that followed, I realised that it was a message for you too.
Are you as guilty as me of hiding away your gifts? I sometimes wonder why we do that. I can’t speak for you (although I do talk a lot) but I know that I tend to shove myself to the back of the cupboard… not literally, of course—there’s no room—but I generally tend to put away the gifts I know, without question, God’s given me because I’m very unsure about how well I’ll be able to use them, and I’m worried about what people will say. I’ve grown up chronically afraid of making mistakes and anxious about making situations worse. The idea that I could look stupid and make people feel bad is, frankly, debilitating. And yet here is God telling me that I need to open the box and use that gift. Turning it over and over in my hands, marvelling that something so lovely has been entrusted to me, really is a waste. It’s like someone buying you a shiny new Porsche, handing you the keys, and then you promptly parking it in the garage and leaving it there, never to be driven, because you’re afraid you’ll get it dirty. Or worse... people might think you're bragging.
I used to be so ashamed that one of my love languages is gifts. In fact, I used to pretend it wasn’t and claimed to either not know which love languages were mine—‘Love Languages? Say what now?!’—or opted for another, more ‘virtuous’ (and less needy, I thought) language. I believed it had to be better to demonstrate love in quality time than in something so greedy as gifts! I mean, I love to love people by treating them to surprises, small or big, spontaneous or for a special occasion. I’m not someone who waits for Christmas or birthdays to haul out the wrapping papers and ribbons. Nope. Gifts are my way of saying, ‘I love you. You matter to me.’ How ridiculous, then, that I think loving to be loved in the same way marks me out as being obsessed by ‘things’.
Since we’re talking about gifts, ask me, ‘What’s one of the best gifts you’ve ever received, Rachael?’ Go on, ask me. Go on. I don’t mind. Really. Well, since you’re being so pushy, I’ll tell you. It was a guitar. I received it for Christmas, just before my eleventh or twelth birthday. (I forget which it was, I’m getting old now.) This was my second guitar. My first had originally belonged to my mum—it was a sweet, three-quarter guitar made seemingly from balsa wood. I still have that little guitar and it’s such a treasure but, by this time, it was just too small for me. I rarely asked for gifts, although that particular year I had asked for a very fine pair of fingerless gloves—so '80s! Imagine my surprise and delight as I opened the parcel to reveal the most beautiful, polished, full size classical guitar. Stunning. I wept like Niagra. Generally at Christmas, I’m always about ten minutes away from sobbing anyway, but this Christmas, the Christmas of the Guitar, resulted in me weeping pretty much constantly until New Year’s Eve. And I also got the fingerless gloves. Jackpot.
God is a gift giver. The Gift Giver. It’s one of his love languages, and he creates gifts and talents, not only for our benefit, but also for the betterment of other people. Look how we continue to benefit from the genius of Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Marie Curie. Just imagine a world where no one shared their gifts and talents but kept them to themselves, out of sight.
Talents or Gifts?
Now, there is clearly a difference between gifts and talents, and you can go and research that for yourself, but suffice to say: talents are natural, gifts are supernatural. Talents are inherent from birth, gifts are born with spiritual rebirth. Talents are inherited from our parents, gifts are given by God. Talents are possessed by everyone, saved and unsaved, gifts are given by God to his children.
But take note: both talents and gifts are blessings from God.
Because spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, we know that they’re for common good and for the work of the Church.
1 Corinthians 10:31 notes:
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Whether you’re cooking, singing, caring for children, farming, nursing, engineering, sweeping the streets, teaching, cleaning… all talents are God-given abilities that you can use to honour and worship him. And whilst those who aren’t followers of Jesus can use these skills for good, believers in Christ are called to use them, in conjunction with the spiritual gifts they’ve been given, to glorify God and serve other people.
Good Enough for the Gift?
I'm no theologian and I haven’t got it all sewn up. I wish I was talking to you from a position of having it all worked out, but I’m not. I’m on a journey, just like you, and we all have to work through those pesky kinks. I mean, I’ve known about Jesus all my life, but I was probably 15 or 16 when I truly realised that I had to be all in or all out. Yet I also remember thinking that I had absolutely nothing to bring to God. Any talent I thought belonged to me had been ridiculed or spoiled in some way, and all the energy and passion I’d had was somehow diluted and lost. I just felt like I had nothing to give him. I’ve not always been very good at hearing him, but he has constantly reassured me that whilst it’s true that there is nothing special about me and that, in and of myself, it's also true that I have nothing to give him, God will always give to me so generously so that I can pour out from that blessing.
We don’t need to come thinking that we have to wow God in some way. He knows what he’s getting, he knows what he put within us right from the very start. It’s not like he sits there saying, ‘Blimey! You mean you’re REALLY like that?!’ Nope. He made us. He knows us. And he knows how he put us together. Trying to somehow impress him is just craziness. We get to bring ourselves, all that flawed brokenness, all the emptiness, we get to come to him with that and he makes the divine exchange: our emptiness for his completeness. I’ve heard it said that he puts his super on our natural. Don’t you just love that!
I think sometimes we get it all mixed up thinking we’ve somehow got to get all cleaned up and ready, and then bring ourselves to God, when God’s really saying, ‘You can stop all of that nonsense! I’m going to give you gifts that you didn’t earn, you don’t deserve, and I’m going to do this because I’m your Father.’ The Bible tells us that he’s the Father of lights and that he gives good gifts to his children. So you don’t need to beg and plead. If you’re his child, you have every right to go to him, with confidence, and ask him for the gifts that he already has waiting for you.
But the gifts he gives us aren’t to be used in isolation. We need to stir up those gifts by relying on other people, people who have other unique gifts such as wisdom or faith, and we actually unite by inviting one another in to bring our giftings together.
‘What births unity is the dependency on others to create the story of God on the earth.’ - Havilah Cunnington
Gifts tend to come as seeds. They don’t come fully formed. We need to activate them by practising them, getting them down off the shelf and using them. You know, when I’m generous in some way, when I exercise patience or kindness, when I teach or move in wisdom, I have to deny the part of me that says, ‘You’re unqualified. You can’t do this. Nobody believes you. You’re going to mess this up.’ That’s the enemy’s voice in my life that wants me to shut up and not activate the gifting. Instead, I have to remind myself (and the enemy) that I’ve got God’s DNA running through my veins and I’m anointed for the assignment. I think perhaps there are too many of us waiting for the superhero, waiting for that person to step out into the spotlight and applause, wearing their underwear on the outside, to somehow save the day with their incredible powers. God’s reminding us that HE’S the hero, and he activates his hero-spirit in US, rather than waiting for someone else to come along. Since he’s already saved us, he wants us to activate the thing, the gift, that he’s given us. This takes faith!
It’s so important that you do what you’re called to do, to use your gifts. It may take baby steps. It may take some mistakes and a little embarrassment when we begin walking out our spiritual gifts, but we need to start somewhere!
Remember: God gave you gifts to benefit others, not yourself. And God gave other people gifts that benefit you. If we don't exercise them, we all lose out.
So, the choice is yours. Are you going to continue going to the shops in your slippers like your crazy Aunt Gertie and leave all your precious gifts in the box on the shelf? Or are you going to risk it all by using those gifts, giving them an airing in the world, and play your part in God’s story on earth?
Which will it be?