Stir Up the Gift
We’ve been promised something powerful beyond our own resources.
By Jonathan A. Thompson
“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:6, 7).
What is it about receiving gifts that ignites such interest, stirs such excitement, and fills us with such overflowing joy? Is it the prospect of having some need met? Is it the idea of being thought of or cared for? Or is it perhaps the feeling of being special? Receiving Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gifts is thrilling enough. What an awesome reality, however, that the Creator God has reconciled and befriended humanity through the incarnation of His Son!
Additionally exciting is the news that He anoints and gifts believers with the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. God has engaged us in a quasi-partnership to extend and expand the ministry of Christ through the endowment of spiritual gifts.
What are these gifts? How do they work in the believer’s life? How do they impact one’s spiritual formation?
Defining Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts are special endowments from the Holy Spirit to equip believers for service, ministry, and evangelizing a world hostile to Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:12). While they can be aligned with natural talents or cultivated skills, more often than not, spiritual gifts enable a disciple, surrendered to the Holy Spirit, to meet needs and challenges in our spiritual warfare that are greater than what is natural or developed. Barriers without, and timidity or deficiencies within, are surmounted and overcome when the Spirit of God anoints the believer’s life and sends that willing servant on an assignment for Christ.
The apostle Paul instructed the congregation in Corinth on the source and means of spiritual gifts: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). In Romans 12:6 Paul links the gifts to God’s grace and our faith. In 1 Peter 4:10, the onetime boastful Peter lets us know the gifts are not given to glorify the individual, but to administer grace and to serve others. If anyone is to be glorified, it is God, the donor—not we, the instruments. “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).
My Experience With Spiritual Gifts
In more than three decades of ministry, I have repeatedly experienced and seen the work of the Holy Spirit through these special gifts, most convincingly evidenced in evangelism. My first evangelistic campaign was conducted in a little suburban town on Long Island, New York (USA), where two congregations came together in the spirit of unity and missionary zeal. Living in New Jersey, my new bride and I crossed two bridges daily just to get to our district. Returning from church duties one night, we crawled through four hours of metro traffic, an experience that led church officers to see that kind of commute as a threat to their long-awaited public evangelistic effort. They pleaded with us to move temporarily into one of the Sabbath school rooms of a building adjoining the church, and bizarre as the idea was, we accepted. The Holy Spirit gifted our consecrated members during the meetings. We stirred up the gift, and 59 believers were baptized.
In another New England soul-winning venture, we experienced the Holy Spirit’s anointing in the transformation of lives. A member learned that his neighbor was contemplating suicide because alcohol had wrecked his thriving business, broken up his marriage, and destroyed his family. The member, stirring up the gift, convinced his neighbor to come to the meetings and give God a chance. As the Holy Spirit would have it, the message presented that night reminded the desperate visitor of truth he’d heard as a child. Hope was kindled in his heart. He came night after night. The Holy Spirit strengthened him to give up the bottle. Then God reclaimed his wife, family, and business. This man became a faithful deacon and later a productive elder in the church.
Whenever pastors and laypersons have stirred up the gift and worked together, we have seen remarkable results: outreach has energized the community, evangelism has flourished, churches have been planted, Christian schools have been started, buildings have been renovated, and mortgages have been paid off.
How Spiritual Gifts Shaped My Faith
My first encounter with spiritual gifts—early in life—made an indelible and transforming impression on me. It was a combination of three dynamics:
First, my father had a unique way of conducting family worship after work. We sat around the dining room table discussing the Sabbath school lesson and reading from the writings of Ellen G. White. And in order to demonstrate that we were paying attention, each of us had to read a paragraph, and then explain its meaning.
While this time-consuming exercise failed to create an appreciation for those books, it did sow good seed and lay an excellent foundation.
Second, my pastor (J. J. North, Sr.) delivered sermons from Daniel and Revelation, using fascinating pictures of beasts that looked like comic book creatures, focusing on the “last days.” The coming of Jesus was “at the very door,” his messages said.
Third, at 9, I made a decision to give my heart to the Lord, be baptized, and follow God’s leading. Then first lady Sister Ruth North took over. Her baptism and new believer’s class indoctrinated me, groomed me for Thirteenth Sabbath presentations, and trained me for Sabbath afternoon and Sunday witnessing experiences. As a shy child, the last thing I wanted to do was knock on apartment building doors in Brooklyn, New York. It was too dangerous! And rejection or embarrassment was certain! Nevertheless, with a sense of the urgency of our message, the power of the Holy Ghost, and the presence of angels, I stirred up the gift and became a little witness for my Lord. To my surprise, there were more “Yes” responses than slammed doors. Soon our mission was organized into a church and moved from storefront buildings to a beautiful worship facility.
What God Is About to Do
The enterprise of sending the gospel to the world started with a dynamic explosion of power. The wind whipped through an upper chamber in old Jerusalem, while fire descended upon a motley crew like an overwhelmingly strange spring shower. They stirred up the gift and thousands were converted in a day.
It will happen again. Said Ellen White: “The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening.… Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven.… Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers …” (The Faith I Live By, p. 332).