What does the “normal” Christian life look like? Let’s face it, not everyone can be a martyr, not everyone can preach like Billy Graham, and not everyone can teach theology for a living. So how do you know that you’re living the life God wants you to live?
Over the past few decades, there’s been a lot of talk about spiritual gifts. You can find spiritual gift self-assessments all over the internet – here and here for example – that promise to help you sort out these tough questions of calling and identity. Maybe you’ve taken one before, and maybe you even learned something new about your skills and passions.
But let’s be honest – spiritual gifts assessments can only tell you as much about yourself as a kissing quiz in Seventeen Magazine. The real work of introspection, prayer and meaning-making are a lot harder than a multiple-choice test, and it should take you more than 10 minutes to discern how God is calling you to live.
When I was a teenager, I tried on a lot of stock identities. I tried to be a cool rock band guitarist, I tried to be a preppy guy who wore khakis and sweaters to school every day, and I even tried to be the aloof Bevis and Butthead guy who twisted every statement into something totally inappropriate.
With each identity I tried on, I discovered something new about myself – things that worked for me, things that made me feel disassociated and alienated from myself, and things that felt as natural to me as breathing.
As time passed and I tried on more and more stock identities, I eventually learned to pull out the helpful elements and reassemble them into a unique, multidimensional identity that I could call my own. What was once an adolescent identity crisis resolved itself and became distilled into a compound personality and composite character. In other words, I grew up.
Spiritual gifts are much the same way. There are a lot of specific gifts that people point to – teaching, administration, mercy, prophecy – but don’t forget these are flat, stereotypical, stock spiritual gifts that don’t describe real human beings. Just as a person cannot entirely be summed up by a stock rock-n-roll identity, a follower of Jesus Christ cannot be summed by the stock spiritual gift of leadership.
Figuring out who you are in the Body of Christ takes some experimentation, trial and error, and even the occasional failure or two. You have to spend time in a process of spiritual discernment and learn how to construct your own unique identity in response to God’s call on your life. Yes, identifying your God-given spiritual gifts will be helpful, but these gifts are more than mere closed, static categories that define who you are. They are invitations to grow and develop into the beautifully complex and complete person that God wants you to become.