Even though I know God ordained my life from conception, looking back, I recognize my first conscious, personal experience with Him was while attending Falls Creek, a Southern Baptist Youth Camp in Oklahoma. I can see now that from that time, the summer before I entered the University of Oklahoma, God had me in HIs cross hairs.
The next such experience was at OU, three years later, at a meeting to which a good friend took me. There were about ten other students. We met in the living room of the leader of a new campus Christian organization, just beginning on campus. This young man, who had a wife and young family, talked about Jesus like he really knew Him, and a young woman with a torch-singer’s voice sang, “In the Rock I’ll Hide,” in a way that almost brought me to tears. When this young man spoke in my fraternity house to all 100 members a week later, along with two students who gave testimonies, the “conversion” of this life-long Southern Baptist was complete, and the direction of my life was changed forever.
Here are the testimonies of two famous Christian leaders as they had similar experiences that they recognized as new experiences with God, even though they were already “Christians” and in the “ministry.” They had a fresh, new encounter with the living God as their lives too were irrevocable changed:
Martin Luther -“Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.”
John Wesley – “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The structure of the New Testament church, as we discussed last week, is designed for nothing more than to provide an incubator for real spiritual ministry like this to occur, just as a youth camp, a living room, and a fraternity house did for me. That structure, obviously, does not guarantee that ministry will occur; it simply provides a location for it to happen. God will sovereignly decide if and when it does. He uses the spiritual gifts He has given to His church, exercised through human, sinful vessels to do so. As these sinners share openly and eagerly their forgiven sin, and the spiritual life that sharing produces, natural, spontaneous and unconscious ministry begins to flow!
When we have an experience with God, one of the phenomena that occurs is that God imparts to us these “spiritual gifts,” as 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1, 12 call them. Spiritual gifts are the ways God provides what His children need, not only to live joyfully and peacefully themselves but, also, to touch lovingly those all around them with that same joy and peace. How those gifts operate today is a topic of much disagreement among Bible-believing Christians, and in my book on the Holy Spirit, “…And the Glory of the Lord Filled the Temple” (available free on my website), I carefully examine them and the controversy surrounding them.
The classic scripture that describes these gifts is 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: (4) “But there are differences of gifts, but the same Spirit. (5) And there are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. (6) And there are differences of workings, but it is the same God working all things in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
These three verses outline three different categories of spiritual empowerment. Each is bestowed upon believers by a different member of the Godhead and designated here as “gifts,” “ministries,” and “workings.” These three different and distinct types of spiritual impartations, each given by a different member of the Trinity, are all collectively loosely referred to as “spiritual gifts.”
In verse 4, Paul says that the Holy Spirit, specifically, gives a range of different gifts. In order to distinguish these Holy Spirit-given impartations of grace from the two categories given by the other members of the Godhead, we will call each type gift by a different name. First, the gifts given by the Holy Spirit are called, 1.) “manifestation gifts,” the term Paul uses in verses 7-11 to describe these gifts. He lists nine of them, and they are the Holy Spirit’s “tools in the Spirit’s tool box,” not permanent possessions of the Christian, but temporary gifts that they all can use.
In verse 5, Paul calls the second category of spiritual gifts, given by the Lord (Jesus), “ministries.” He describes them for us in Ephesians 4:11, 12. There are five of them, and we will call this category of spiritual gifts 2.) “ministry gifts.” They are the gifted men themselves, “equippers,” who are given to the church to equip it for “the work of the ministry.”
Finally, in 1 Corinthians 12:6 Paul says that there are various “workings” that God the Father has given. The Greek word comes from the root word that means “energy,” communicating the sense that God has given His people different energies or motivations. We will call this category of spiritual gift, given by God the Father, 3.) “motivational gifts”—the predisposition, worked into the fabric of our beings when we are born, to view the world in a particular way and hence to react to it in that way.
Therefore, we have three different categories of spiritual gifts, each given to believers by a different member of the God-head. There are other ways to classify them, and other places in the Bible that refer to other possible gifts, so these three Scriptures do not necessarily comprise a comprehensive list, but I have found this biblical, three-category approach, that I learned from Bible teachers Don and Katie Fortune in Seattle back in the 1980s, to be a very helpful grid through which to view the whole topic.
In conclusion, I want to share the dramatic encounter I had with one of the motivational gifts God the Father has given to a close friend of ours. My wife, Jill, recently took a long-anticipated trip home to Georgia and needed a “baby-sitter” to ride herd on her practically immobile, energy-starved, octogenarian husband. A great family friend of 30 years, now in her 60s, answered Jill’s call.
She took care of me for a little over a week—cooking, washing, cleaning and anticipating my every wish. Watching her function, naturally, spontaneously and unconsciously, was a joy—particularly since I was the beneficiary! She knew what I needed or wanted, even before I did. No effort seemed to be expended; it was all done effortlessly, thinking constantly of me as she gave her gift of serving.
It was a classic example of genuine ministry happening through God’s gifts at work, just as we are discussing. I had been with God as He loved me and ministered to me through His gifted servant. This is the way we do the “work of the ministry”—by doing what is natural, spontaneous and unconscious. It’s like running downhill! Hallelujah!