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Spiritual Half-Gifts

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 230

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of  Christ."                                                                   Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV)
A recent subscriber to Ministry Health indicated she had a very strong background as a writer for several newspapers in some very large cities. Sensing a possible opportunity I inquired whether the subscriber would consider proofing some Ministry Health articles. Her response intrigued me.
"There are writers and then there are editors and I was always grateful that the latter caught my errors and made me look good."
Spiritual Gifts
 
In past years spiritual gifts have enjoyed widespread appeal and attention. Spiritual gifts were identified in Scriptures, various Spiritual Gift inventories have been developed, and many congregations have implemented a variety of applications of Spiritual Gift discovery and implementation for ministry.
 
But in all the writing on Spiritual Gifts, one teaching I never found the teaching on "Spiritual Half-Gifts."
 
God's Gracious Gift Giving
 
God's Spirit distributes His gifts in a mysterious way. We don't choose them, earn them, or qualify for them. They are given exclusively by His grace.
 
Neither do we decide how much of a gift or what combinations of gifts and in what degrees we will have. That also is determined by grace.
 
The writer quoted above is obviously a gifted writer. But isn't it interesting that she doesn't have the gift of proofing? It would seem "natural" that these two abilities would always be matched up. After all, one might reason, doesn't one require the other?
 
Not necessarily. In fact, there are many talents and interests that people have which seem, from our perspective, to be "incomplete":
  • Interesting writers may be boring speakers;
  • Fascinating teachers may be poor preachers;
  • Mesmerizing preachers may be inept administrators;
  • Consultants with charisma may lack people skills.
And the list goes on.

Half-Gifts???

Studying the short listing above doesn't it seem unusual that even the most gifted individuals seem to have part of the gift but not what is needed in themselves to really enable the gift to shine. They may be experts and unprecedented in their zealous use of the gift they have.
 
But something's missing. It's as if they are missing the other half. Some examples might include...

* a winsome evangelist who can effectively share the Christian faith like no one else one-on-one but is tongue-tied in large groups.

* one gifted in public speaking who is overcome by fear in a hospital visit.

* one who can preach more eloquently than St. Paul but has great difficulty writing.

* a consultant who can guide a church through conflict resolution but has difficulty with interpersonal conflict in his or her own life.

* one who is able to study and learn deep truths of Scripture but can't communicate them.

* one who can teach adults with obvious expertise but flounders in a high school Bible Class.

* one who inspires a congregation with charisma and enthusiasm but can't keep things organized.

* a music director who, though training others to sing beautifully to the glory of God, cannot himself/herself sing.

In each case it seems as if God's Spirit gave "Half-Gifts." Sometimes one might be tempted to wonder, "Did God 'mess up'? Did He make a mistake?"
 
The Whole Truth About Half-Gifts
 
No, God didn't make a mistake. Never has, never will. Yet it appears that everywhere we look in the church we see individuals--gifted individuals--who are so close to "having it all." If only they could have the gift of "x" they'd be perfect leaders, supporters, etc. If only God would give them a little bit more giftedness they would really make an outstanding difference in ministry. It's that half-gift that they don't have that frustrates us.
 
Looking at ourselves we might see the same half-gift phenomena as well. Some of the best preachers are in small churches. One might wonder, "If my preaching is so good, why doesn't the church grow?" Others with gifts of administration might wonder, "I've got the proven gift of administration. What's missing?"  What's missing is the half-gift.
 
Such questioning is the dilemma of the half-gift. It's such a joy to have the gift and to see it used to build and extend the Kingdom. Yet it can be such a frustration that you just don't have the whole thing.
 
Moses' Half-Gift
 
You are not the only one to have ever experienced the joy and frustration of Spiritual Half-Gifts. Several Biblical examples come to mind. Most illustrative, perhaps, is Moses.
 
Exodus three describes Moses calling by God in the flaming bush (no, it wasn't "burning!"). In this account Moses demonstrates some amazing characteristics of leadership. He was observant. He saw the bush from a distance. He was courageous and approached the bush. He was trusting and obedient to God as he took off his sandals. These combined with his royal Egyptian training seemed to indicate he had all the marks of a great leader.
 
But note that he hesitated when the call came. Why? Because of a low view of himself. "Who am I that I should do this?" he replied. "What if they don't believe me?" he continued, demonstrating that he knew that there was something missing which, if he had it, would make him a great leader, an outstanding leader. In Exodus 4:10, Moses gives God a clear indication that he was missing the most important part of leadership.
"O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." (NIV)
What was missing was the other half of his gift.
 
Why God Half-Gifts His Servants
 
1) God half-gifts us to maintain a profound sense of our weakness and His strength. If we "had it all" our proud, sinful nature would overtake God's ministry. We would be extremely susceptible to losing perspective as to whose work we were really doing...and Who's really doing it!
 
2) God half-gifts us to force us to move ministry beyond ourselves. God's intent for spiritual gifts is to use them for the good of the whole Body of Christ so that all are built up. Thus, we are forced out of our comfort zone and drawn to delegate and share and combine half-gifts for a common cause.
 
3) Spiritual half-gifts are a visible and uplifting reminder that we are all joined together in the Body of Christ to Christ and each other. One of the ways we become more tightly connected is by matching our missing half-gifts with others who have the other half. As this pattern proliferates throughout the Body of Christ, the "unity in the faith" and the "whole measure of the fullness of Christ" is realized.
 
4) Spiritual half-gifts keep us in a servant leadership role. When one's gift is used to serve others, others begin responding in like manner. When they see the joy of your use of your half-gift for them, they may be more inclined to respond similarly by complementing your missing half-gift with theirs. This builds unity, energy and strength.
 
5) Spiritual half-gifts make us dependent on God's power daily. Every time we get to the "end of our rope" in the use of our half-gift our realization of personal powerlessness directs us to the power of God.
 
6) Half-gifts remind us that God builds the church, not us. He gives us just enough to let us "go along for the ride" and experience the thrill of participating in His great work.
7) Half-gifts curb our pride. Every use of our spiritual half-gifts entails the possibility of abuse, arrogance and pride. Striving to complete the other half with our own power and prowess moves us toward a subtle perversion of the real purpose of the gift, namely to build the Church.
 
8) Half-gifts seek resolution and connection with other half-gifts. Churches which encourage the discovery, use and sharing of "half-gifts" often find a fellowship that is strong, vibrant and connected. Where half-gifts are joined together, there is great joy, great effectiveness and a great sense of unity in the Body of Christ.
 
9) Half-gifts cause us to celebrate God's mysterious and marvelous synergy among us. When half-gifts are joined, the use of the two half-gifts surpasses the power and effectiveness of either one. It also has more power than if both half-gifts were in the same individual. As the half-gifts combine in effective and energetic ministry God gives the joy of service to two, half-gifted people, not just one fully-gifted individual.
 
This synergy sets in motion an avalanche of joy. God always desires to increase the joy. His working through half-gifts is just one of the many ways by which He works among us to give His joy.
Are There Really "Half-Gifts"?
 
Admittedly there are no Bible verses that specifically discuss "Spiritual Half-Gifts." It is not an explicitly stated Biblical doctrine.
 
However, there is plenty of evidence demonstrating that God sometimes restricts the fullest use of our gifts by physical limitations, circumstances, etc. St. Paul's extreme giftedness, for example, was restricted by the "thorn in the flesh."
 
It still happens today. Often we encounter extremely gifted individuals with handicaps of various kinds--blindness, memory, auditory disorders, lameness, fatigue syndromes, debilitating scars from accidents, injuries or illness, etc. Many of these, like Rick Warren who lives with a chronic tendency to dangerously elevated adrenaline levels, are living proof that God is really the one who builds His Church.
 
When individuals with handicaps experience greater "success" than ourselves, it ought not make us jealous. It ought make us rejoice. What they demonstrate to the Body of Christ is that in Christ there is no half-gift. He graciously and generously makes up whatever is missing so that the use of our gifts can glorify Him.
 
What a powerful witness of God's working this is! What a blessing and display of grace that God often does more powerful things with those who have handicaps than through those who are healthy and whole. What an amazing demonstration of the power that is in all our God-given spiritual gifts!
One Thing For Sure
 
However God gives His gifts, one thing is for sure. However God gifts us--in full, in part, or in halves--God always gives us His full promised presence. Moses may have felt he only had half-gifts. The recognition that he did not have all the giftedness he needed led him to seek God's power and promise. God did not disappoint him.
 
God graciously and faithfully fulfilled what was missing in his half-gift indirectly through the half-gifts of his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, and directly through His Word and power. God was always with Moses so as to enable him to confidently and completely fulfill God's calling.
 
God  graciously and faithfully fulfills whatever is missing in our half-gifts just as He did with Moses. He does this for all His called servants. His Spirit fills to overflowing whatever and wherever we lack.
 
The truth is that God never really gives half-gifts. He gives the fullness of all His gifts to His Body, the Church. The calling to ministry is not to dwell on half-gifts. Instead, it is to focus on God's completing these gifts in and through us and others. When this occurs, we see the remarkable powerful working of the Spirit's gifts among us.
 
So you "only" have a Spiritual half-gift? Don't despair! God has given you the joyous privilege to discover, develop and minister to bind together the many half-gifts in His Body. Minister boldly with your half-gift and watch God's Spirit build the blessed "tie that binds!"

Thomas F. Fischer

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:29 PM