“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in the cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light also.” ~ Luke 11:33
We all have a little lamp inside of us, and its light is meant to be shared with others, to shine for others encouraging them on their own paths also. We are all endowed with natural gifts and talents by the grace of God, which are then to be of service of other people. Today we’ll discuss the spiritual gifts – what they are, the meaning and purpose of each; but before that, let us understand what natural talents and gifts are in general.
Talents are gifts we’ve been given by birth by the grace of God; and as gifts, we gently hold the responsibility to use them for the benefit of others. They are not meant for the individual, they are meant for the people around them, as their blessing only deepens in meaning when it is shared. We are meant to express our natural gifts and talents; and when we express them, it is as if we dance them for others, inspiring them to dance in their own unique, beautiful and inspiring ways also. When we publish a book, we dance. When we cook, we dance. When we give to another, we dance. When we encourage someone or comfort them, we dance. The making of our life of love, our works of love, in any shape or form, is a way of dancing and giving back to others.
I once talked to a nun from a Christian Orthodox monastery, who had set up a men’s rehab shelter. She had the idea for it, she felt it in her heart truly, she talked to the other monks, nuns and priests, and they raised money to one day finally open the center. This center today shelters over two hundred men, giving them a place to sleep, eat, be clothed, and if they wish, have an opportunity to work on the farmland which is part of the monastery where they reside. These are men who have been accustomed to feeling alone, abandoned, isolated, living as outcasts; they had forgotten what it means to be a part of something. They were ex prisoners, addicts and alcoholics, disadvantaged, veterans, jobless, or cut off from their families and societies. Each nun and priest working with them was recognizing in them some talent or skill, that they could also encourage within them, and help them feel that sense of belonging and purposefullness in their being and existing; helping them feel less invisible, and reminding them that they matter. Why am I telling you all this?
The nun who set up that center comes from a very loving family. And while her family wasn’t particularly amazed at her decision to become a nun, they still supported her along the way in any way they could. You see, her gift, among many others, was knowing what love feels like – knowing what it feels like to be loved, supported, warmed by your family. And now it was her own turn to help someone else feel that way also – to have that same blessing of feeling that warmth and caring of a family.
She didn’t even know she had that gift to give, nor did she ever see anything of hers as special that she may offer to others, and yet her gift unfolded for her to see and recognize only as she began her work. Often times, we’ll be placed in a work or job, which while it may not even seem it’d matter or is important, it is precisely through it that we’ll discover our own natural gifts and talents.
There is also an art studio in that monastery, where children and women are given the space to be creative and build their creative skills and passions whatever they are; they sing, play, paint, write, sew and weave. The nuns believe that God didn’t leave us to laws and prohibitions, but with the immense gift of creativity. The love to be able to help others discover their gifts and creative talents, and then help them build and express them in the way that gives them joy.
What are Spiritual Gifts?
A spiritual gift is described as an extraordinary power and a supernatural grace given to us by the Holy Spirit and by God to fulfill a spiritual mission in our world, returning us to the love and purity of the Christ heart. As all other natural gifts and talents, our spiritual gifts are too meant to be given back to the people and used for the betterment of humanity.
The purpose of spiritual gifts is edification; or in other words, it is for the purpose of spiritual growth, to grow in the grace of God, to improve our human values, and essentially, to deepen our connection to humanity, to our hearts, and to Christ. The purpose of spiritual gifts is thereby to use them in loving service to others, returning us all to love and humanity.
Some of the spiritual gifts I’ll discuss below may not necessarily seem like a big deal, and yet they are powerful; for example, the gift of giving, the generous heart. In our every day, someone who is blessed with this gift, may open doors for others, help an elderly with their bags, not push people in the elevator, be the listening ear and comforting hand for their friends and family. It is easy for them to have deep compassion and empathy for other people, and know how to truly give, with openness and selflessness; to know how to give to another not in the way they want or is convenient for them, but in the way the other needs to be given. And while it may not seem like a big deal, it is; because look around in our world: How many people actually know how to truly give? How many people are truly of generous spirit, and not just speak words but they do acts of love? You see, it’s no small spiritual gift at all.
But as all other spiritual gifts, they are sometimes very quiet. You will not see it on world stages, it is not loud, it does not have followers, it does not seek grandiose – it is a quiet light on the lamp stand; and it is rarely appreciated by those who cannot see.
It is a gift that is meant to leave sparkles along the way of others, which will lead them in their own timing. It is a gift that is as light as the touch of butterfly wings on your shoulders or strand of hair. You may not see it as the receiver, you may not be thanked as the giver, but it is still done, still there, still given, for this is the way of grace and the purpose of it after all.
It is important to understand that just because we may be blessed with a spiritual gift, or any gift at all, that doesn’t mean that we can practice it without effort and spiritual maturity. We need to be spiritually mature; we need to put in the effort and time to grow in the skills needed to express those gifts; we need to stay in truth and discernment; we need to be aligned to spiritual values and ethics; we need to be responsible with our gifts. Without a proper structure, discipline and discernment, and without the purity of our heart and clarity of our mind, we may not be able to express those gifts in the way they were meant to.
The beautiful purple wisteria have long been a symbol of kindness in Japan. Have you seen them? If not, seek them; look them up online. Unusually fast growing, these climbing plants thrive only when they can twist their vines around a strudy support structure, allowing cascades of purple petals to then flourish and blossom. And for us too, to blossom, no matter where we are in our paths, we need to have that support of structure; only then those seeds can blossom.
Love itself is a seed of God; and we need to nurture it within the church of our skin, the home of our heart. Only then it can express itself through our every day lips, hands and gestures along the circling staircases of our life, to fragrance the hands of others, the hearts of others, and in this way, all can flourish within and without.
Now let’s go through the spiritual gifts, the meaning and purpose of each. The New Testament has several lists of spiritual gifts, each one unique, though there is an overlap, and today, I’ll discuss twelve of them.
The Gift of Discernment
Discernment is the wisdom to recognize truth from untruth in a correct way. The spiritual gift of discernment is also known as the gift of “discernment of spirits” or “distinguishing between spirits.” The Greek word for the gift of discernment is diakrisis, and what the word describes is one’s ability to discern and distinguish with clarity of mind and perception various people, situations, statements, and environments, which are not easily discerned by the average person. Having the gift of discernment essentially allows you to see beyond the veils of things and people, beyond the sparkles, surface and the flesh of things, and this truly is one of the most powerful gifts of all.
The Gift of Faith
This may seem like an ordinary gift, but it is a powerful one – it is what gives you strength to navigate through challenging situations and not be led astray. Some people need to nurture that gift, while others are just naturally born with an unshakeable trust and faith in God. Perhaps they didn’t even need anyone to tell them about God, nor go to church or temples, nor read sacred scriptures, and yet even since they were children they just had within them the organ of faith.
Faith is like an organ in our body – it is there, it is a part of us, in a way that we may not even be aware of. It isn’t loud, it isn’t sparkly, it isn’t visible, and it isn’t necessarily tangible – though sometimes it comes through our fingers and hands and lips, and it’s as if we can touch it. It’s like an arrow from the sky that then enters us deeply, or a voice so clear and human, we look around the room to see if we were truly alone.
Faith requires the courage of soul and heart, because it isn’t seen, and yet it is powerful, giving us spiritual maturity, a strong spiritual core and an unshakeable spirit. People with this spiritual gift have such great confidence in the power and promises of God, such deep core of trust, that they can stand strong through anything.
The Gift of Mercy
The spiritual gift of mercy is closely tied to empathy, compassion, loving kindness, and the gift of healing also. Mercy is a defining trait of a person with great sensitivity for other people who are going through a hard time, no matter who these other people, or even tiny animal creatures, are. And it isn’t just having empathy or compassion for those facing hardships, it is also and mainly about actually doing something about it – and offering our helping hand, listening ear or comforting touch. This spiritual gift manifests itself in offering compassion and encouragement, and in a love for giving practical help to someone in need.
The Greek word for the spiritual gift of mercy is eleeo. It means to be patient and compassionate towards those who are suffering or afflicted. The concern for the physical as well as the emotional and spiritual needs of those who are hurting is covered by the gift of mercy. Those with this gift have great empathy for others, and are able to come alongside people over extended periods of time and see them through their healing process. They are truly and literally the hands and feet of God to the afflicted.
As a mercy shower, they can show up for people for whom others may not. They have soft spoken voices, stay a bit more quiet, and yet they are always there for others, rarely getting much recognition. They are easy to talk, people share anything and everything to them; they are peaceful, loving and cheerful. It is important not to get lost in the others’ pains and emotions though, because their empathy can become detrimental if they are not properly trained and educated on how to handle this. They should also remain humble, grounded, clear minded, and beware of not getting into too much pride because of their ability to relate to others.
The Gift of Giving
I call this the gift of the generous heart and spirit. Those with the gift of giving are particularly willing and able to share whatever resources or even time they have with pleasure, joy, and selflessness, without the need to see it all returned to them. Generosity of heart and spirit opens us in a way similar to love, and it truly becomes our bridge to love, wisdom and spiritual maturity. I once knew a very rich man, who kept saying how depressed he was because he didn’t know his purpose, and was asking, “what is my purpose, what are my spiritual gifts?” I only gently offered him to do something for another person, just one thing. He didn’t have to go and donate thousands to charity, he didn’t have to volunteer in a soup kitchen if he didn’t want to, but just: do something to make someone else’s day better. Well, he didn’t do anything.
People forget, but the thing is that our purpose forms when we begin to be less selfish, and reach out, and open up, to contribute to others. It’s not in the money necessarily, it’s in the little things we do for one another when no one is watching. It’s in the kind of person we choose to be when we have the ability to give to another – not only when it’s convenient to us, not only when we’ll get a return, not only give to them in the way we want to – but truly, really, give to them in the way they need to be given. The sad truth is that very few people know how to give in our world. We’ve become a society of taking, taking, taking – and expecting things for free, and demanding to take more and more and more, without giving anything to those who so selflessly give to us so much. This constant over taking only numbs people and their spirits, and hardens their hearts. As for those who know how to give, well, they are the lucky ones, for their hearts are filled with joy and love.
The Gift of Healing
Those with the healing gift have a very pure, peaceful, loving and cheerful energy about them – they are light, and their touch is light, and their presence is light, light as butterfly wings on your shoulder. There are many false healers in our modern world, all over the grandiose stage of social media, but it’s not real. One who possesses this spiritual gift is, similar to the other gifts, going to have a very light touch in your life just by their mere presence. You may not even notice, but after each interaction with them, you’ll feel energized, more loving and perhaps even more trusting and kind. This is the healing energy in its most basic every day, restoring you and renewing you.
The Gift of Miracles
Those with the spiritual gift of miracles often have a heightened sensitivity to the presence and power of God through the Holy Spirit. They have a special measure of faith and desire for God to reveal himself and draw many to faith in his son Jesus Christ. They take care not to draw attention to themselves or have a following of people, but are constantly pointing others to Jesus. The have a deep humility for the mystery of life, and leaving spaces for the unknown, and encourage people to do the same – because only on our blank pages, in the unknown spaces God can breathe, and miracles can happen and surprise us. What good is knowing it all? Those with this gift understand that, they focus on prayer, and keeping themselves open and willing, as a vessel, when they are called to have the power of God work through them.
The Gift of Wisdom
The spiritual gift of wisdom, which holds within itself the spiritual gift of knowledge, is just as precious as the gift of discernment because it shows spiritual maturity. Wisdom isn’t just about knowledge – wisdom is the ability to apply that spiritual knowledge in relevant ways and within appropriate situations. The Greek word for wisdom is sophia and it refers to the intimate understanding of God’s word, the essence of the teachings beyond the words, and in general, it shows a deep understanding.
Wisdom allows us spiritual maturity, and the ability to truly guide another in the way that’s best for them and their unique path. Those with this gift know that as human beings we’ll never know it all, and the humility of this deserves to be treasured. Wisdom holds purity, truth, integrity, and a deep intimate understanding of all God is. They can easily recognize where paths may lead, and thereby make amazing guides and counsellors to other people.
The Gift of Interpretation
In our modern day world, this might manifest through the ability to understand complex or higher spiritual knowledge, and then the ability to translate it or express it in a more simple way that is now more easily absorbed, digested, accessed and understood by the average person. To do that requires a powerful gift that encompasses wisdom, knowledge, talent to write or speak, and the gift of untangling complexity to provide more clarity and understanding.
The gift of interpretation is considered a revelatory gift, meaning that God “reveals” the meaning of the words or message being spoken or written through parables, reveals the wisdom and truth within them, and allows the interpreter to communicate its meaning to those who need to hear it. This leads to spiritual growth and edification. Like the gift of prophecy, which I’ll discuss further down, this gift too has the effect of encouraging people and serving with deeper faith and love.
The Gift of Teaching
Teaching is also not only of words, it is in the gestures and actions. Spiritual teachers, long before even sharing spiritual knowledge, will only make you doing ordinary tasks. Chop wood, carry water. Chop wood, carry water. Yet all along, the student is gaining and developing the patience, perseverance, humility and discipline, to then be ready to handle and comprehend the spiritual knowledge.
Teaching is about so deeply understanding something, that you are then able to explain it in the way appropriate for each individual. And being versed and educated on many areas and subjects is a responsibility you’ll carry, because this will give you the needed integrative and holistic understanding of subjects; and more channels through which you can reach your students depending on their interests, openness and awareness.
You have to speak in the language a person understands; because this is what will make them more open to receive the teaching. And the language is what they are passionate about; sports can be their language, math can be their language, the stars can be their language, scripture can be their language, music can be their language. Those with the spiritual gift of teaching love the truth and speak the truth in love, wisdom and patience. They rejoice in their students learning, while having the patience that it may take its sweet due time. But there is no hurry, no frustration, it is the chop wood, carry water.
The Gift of Encouragement
The Gift of Service
There are two Greek words for the spiritual gift of service. The first one, found in Romans 12:7, is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “to wait tables,” and it refers to any act of service done in genuine love for the edification of the community. The second word is antilepsis which translates to “helping” and is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28. It has a similar meaning: to help or aid in love within the community.
The purpose of this beautiful gift is to energize people and free them up to use their gifts to the fullest. This allows for continuous edification of the church, spiritual growth of people, helping them with their talents and gifts, and helping them see beyond their own personal needs and reach out into the community. This is what the nuns and monks from the monastery I shared with you in the beginning were doing: being of service to others. This helps us be less selfish, learn interdependence which is what life is all about, and be better as human beings. It also helps us recognize and express our own talents and gifts, give them meaning and purpose by sharing them for the betterment of others, and live in togetherness, support, love and harmony.
The Gift of Prophecy, The Seer
The gift of prophecy, also known as the seer, demands one to live in purity, integrity and truth, possess the spiritual gift of discernment, have spiritual maturity, and know that prophecy is not an ultimate i.e. always be in the humility that God’s grace and will trumps all. In the New Testament acts 21:9, Philip’s daughters are described as prophetesses, “great light and luminaries” to other people who seek them from distant lands, because they had the ability of the seer to raise them up in energy and rightful living.
There are many false prophets in our day, many false mystics, astrologers, psychics, healers, mediums whatevers. Many, many, many. The spiritually impure cannot perceive the spiritually pure; they think they can but they can’t. I once met a woman who kept saying how amazing she is, because she is a psychic medium helping people connect with their loved ones, and she was oh so amazing and on and on and on. You could easily see her grandiose, delusion and ego from miles away; and I have no idea what came over me, but for some reason my mouth opened and gently uttered a most simple question, “How do you know who you’re speaking to?” Her eyes widened, she froze, and just kept looking at me – blinking, thinking – and trying to process what I had asked her, and what her reply would be. Because the truth was that she didn’t know; and what she realized in that moment was that she hadn’t even considered, nor been at all aware of, the mere possibility that it may not be who she thinks it is. It is important to be properly trained and educated, and it is important to ask questions, especially when our actions involve other people. Discernment is key, always.
The Bible says that there is the gift of prophecy, yes, and yes, there are in fact real seers, though there’s very few of them. The Magi themselves were astrologers, and seers. This spiritual gift though must be very carefully nurtured and trained, and as I already mentioned, it must be alongside the gift of discernment, and living in purity of heart, clarity of mind, and aligned to higher spiritual ethics and truth. The gift of prophecy is also meant to be used as an offering of encouragement to other people and guide them on their path, and helping them to grow spiritually, and be true to themselves. In some occasions, it may be used to offer warnings. A Christian Orthodox priest once told me that the job of a priest or a monk is not to recruit you, but to offer you guidance on what is best for you uniquely, regardless of their own opinions.
The path of the prophet and seer is a hard one, because of all that it requires of them. They should continue to learn and educate themselves with scripture and books, gain knowledge and gain wisdom, so that they themselves discern and develop their clarity of mind also. They should simultaneously remain very humble – grounded yet humble – because they are merely the vessel through which God may give his message. There is no place for spiritual ego here, and viewing themselves as special or Gods. And as I said already, it is about purity, integrity and humility, knowing that you’ll never know it all, so prophecy is never an ultimate.
The purpose of a prophet is to bring forth the messages of God. And to understand this more deeply, let us look at the original words, specifically in the Old Testament, to see how this spiritual gift was described and what its nature was, or how it was practiced. The reason why we’ll go into the Old Testament is because the New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word for prophet in it is “prophetes” which literally means prophet, so it doesn’t add anything more. The first word “nabiy” used to later translate as prophet, originally meant to express the notion that God may speak through the prophet in order to give a message to another i.e. a nabiy is one who speaks God’s word when asked to. The other word for prophet, which actually then translated to seer, was “raah”. In 1 Samuel 9:9, it says, “Come, let’s go to the seer (raah), because the prophet (nabiy) of today used to be called a seer (raah).” And then there is the word “chozeh”, which refers to a person’s personal seer, such as David’s seer (chozeh), who was kind of like his right hand, guiding him on his path. And what is a seer?
Seers are everything. If prophets are the eyes that see beyond the veils, seers are the head that understands and holds within itself all eyes and all else. Isaiah 29:10 says, “Behold, I have closed the eyes of the prophet, and have covered the head of the seer.” In other words, the seer is not just the eyes, he is the ears, the nose, the mouth, and the feelings. A seer is someone who is able to see what others cannot see, feel what others cannot feel, smell what others cannot smell, and even taste what others cannot taste. A seer hears the inaudible and sees the invisible – yet is grounded, with strong spiritual core, and is fully aware, and is fully present, and is fully of clarity of mind.
Luke 11:34-36, says,
“The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body is of darkness also. Then watch out that the light within you isn’t actually a darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illuminated, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”
We can only see, speak and express what we have inside of us. To receive divine messages, one needs to have that pure clear vessel through which the message will be clearly heard, the vision clearly seen, and then the words, purely spoken, with a kindness of rhythm. If there is impurity within us, we’ll express it outwardly also, and we’ll also not be able to receive nor even slightly perceive the purity from others.
The gift of prophecy is about discernment and spiritual maturity. Jesus Christ once said to the most religious of people, the scholars, those who studied and read the scriptures and knew it all word for word, that “you have the eyes to see, but still cannot see; you have ears to hear but cannot hear; you have hardened hearts, closed, so they cannot understand”. In this he meant that one needs to exercise their senses to discern between good and evil, between truth and untruth; to sharpen all senses beyond the surface to truly grasp the essence and soul of matter. To perceive the word of God, one needs to see beyond the human eyes, hear the inaudible, grasp the invisible, feel that which others cannot feel, and even touch and smell that which others cannot. Only then, in this perfect simplicity of purity, discernment and spiritual maturity, truth gives itself to us.
Is love a spiritual gift?
Love is not considered a spiritual gift because it transcends all gifts, and it is naturally our greatest blessing and gift. Love encompasses within itself all and everything, every talent and gift, it is all and everything. It is who we are, and why we are here: to love. Learning to love is a difficult thing, because it requires us to remain in open hearts and put in the effort.
Love is not a book, not a stone, it is like bread; it is made and remade every morning, every day. Love has many speeds and different movements; it is found in joy, grace, compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness, humility, trust, faith, hope, generosity and creativity. It is expressed through our lips, hands and every day ordinary gestures along the circling staircases of our life. Only then we give it life, and deepening of meaning and purpose.
If you think or feel that you don’t have any talents and gifts, I assure you that it’s possibly not true. We all have a light inside of us, because we have a heart that longs to love people; and remember how I wrote in the beginning that we usually discover our gifts and talents naturally through our works of love.
Love is a seed of God, it is a blessing when we nurture it into the beautiful garden that it becomes, and then give it to others by inviting them in to settle their own hearts into love’s beauty. When we touch someone’s hands with grace and gentleness and compassion, their hands scent of this fragrance for long after we’ve unheld; and then they too have the opportunity to touch with it the hands of others.
Don’t make it your aim to discover your spiritual gift; rather make it your aim to love people. And then do it in as many ways as you can that feel natural to your personality. I think in doing that, you will discover your purpose, and you will fulfill the desires of your soul.
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Cover art by John Henry Hill, 1898, via Wikimedia Commons.