I have a couple of friends who often are the first to step in to serve someone in need. When we’ve had a long stretch of Daniel traveling, one friend has offered to babysit for us so we can reconnect after time apart. When I mention needing something organized in my house, one friend will come up with an idea that meets our needs and then come help finish the project. When one of the pastor’s wives needs help tearing down from an event, one friend is always the first to start cleaning up.
I’ll be honest. These things do not come naturally to me.
It actually feels a little vulnerable putting it out there like that, but it’s true. I don’t naturally serve others. Sometimes it just doesn’t occur to me and other times I honestly don’t want to do it. I’m not the first to volunteer to help. I’m not the one who steps in immediately after a big spill. I will almost always offer to hold someone’s baby (because I just love a snuggly, squishy baby), but other than that I have to work really hard to see needs and then immediately rush to meet them.
When I first became a believer I remember taking a spiritual inventory test. Service did not come back high on my test (obviously). I wanted it to, primarily because I had heard a number of girls in college talking about how much they wanted to be a servant, not an overly opinionated girl (can you guess which one I was?). When we all talked about what biblical characters we most wanted to emulate (because that’s what Christian college students do), Ruth (the servant) was high on most everyone’s list. I don’t really like being different, so I wanted to be a servant. But it just never came naturally to me.
Fast forward a few years after college and I started coming into my own regarding the gifts the Lord had given me. I wasn’t as self-conscious about what other people were doing around me anymore. In fact, I sometimes would think to myself “that’s not my gift, therefore I’m not going to do it.” I had taken a few more spiritual inventory tests since then and service continued to come up pretty low, so naturally I wanted to do what I was good at. Why give the church something that doesn’t come easy to me? Or so the thought process goes.
Now here I am, a wife and a mother to three children ages three and under. Guess what I do most days? I serve. By virtue of the life that God has called me to I am daily living out, whether I want to or not, the very gift I failed to cultivate all those years, simply because I thought—that’s not my gift.
The problem with identifying and claiming certain spiritual gifts as our own is that we can often do it in isolation, while missing the very universal commands in Scripture for us to all desire to serve one another (Gal. 5:13), love one another (John 13:34-35), show mercy to one another (Matt. 5:7), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13), pray for one another (James 5:16), build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11), and the list could go on. Of course, there are some gifts that come more naturally to us, and even some gifts that occupy more of our time and energy, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we are often commanded to do things that don’t always feel natural or right to us, not only because we aren’t gifted in them, but because we are sinners with distorted desires and wants (Rom. 7).
Perhaps I don’t have the gift of service, but I am still commanded to serve in the spirit of Christ, who also came as a servant (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:35). We all are. It might not be my spiritual gift, or even the thing that gives me the most joy, but even in my obedience to something I don’t love God is honored by my desire to do what I don’t want to do.
What I failed to realize about the spiritual gifts is that they aren’t as much about us as they are about the people they are intended to bless. We have all been given gifts for the good of others, not our own self-fulfillment (1 Pet. 4:10). Of course, God also gives us joy in the things he calls us to, but that is not the only thing that matters when we exercise our gifts. We must decrease, Christ must increase (John 3:30).
I often appreciate the manifestations of service I observe in my friends who are clearly gifted to serve others. I’m not threatened by it any longer. I actually ask God to make me more like them. I see the beauty in their gift. I see the value their God-given gift brings to the body of Christ. We all have a role to play in the body of Christ. And even though it’s not the most natural thing for me, I want to model their service. We all should ask God to shape evidences of grace in us that we see in others. There is as much glory in a person joyfully serving because it is her gift as there is in one who does so even in spite of her desire being for something else. The same Spirit that equips the gifted one, equips the one who serves in faith and the strength that only God can supply.
The next time I see you, if you are in need, I pray I will take initiative to joyfully meet that need. But if I don’t, you won’t hear me say any longer—“that’s not my gift.”