Editor’s note: Sometimes a well-covered topic like spiritual gifts needs to be explored in a new way to feel fresh again. We love how this story of a fictional day at church reminds us of an essential truth about life in the body of Christ.
I hadn’t attended church in person for many months and began to wonder in prayer if my presence mattered. The first week I returned, I asked God to help me see from His perspective what it meant to gather with other believers—and He delivered.
In the lobby, which was buzzing with activity, I grabbed a cup and poured hot coffee into it just as I’d done in times past. As I reached for a lid, I noticed a small gift-wrapped box with my name on it, tucked just behind the trio of sugar containers.
“Anyone know who left this here for me?”
The man who faithfully made coffee for the congregation each week smiled and shrugged as he exchanged an empty urn for a fresh one. “I have no idea. I guess you’ll have to open it to solve the mystery.”
I tore open the wrapping paper and discovered the box was empty except for a paper bearing a single word on it: “Service.”
I grabbed a bulletin from a teen handing them out as I entered the sanctuary, then headed to my usual seat. As I sat down, a tiny envelope slipped from the fold of the bulletin’s pages and fell to the floor. I was startled to see my name on the envelope. I slipped my finger under the flap to release it and pulled out the card inside. It read, “Helps.”
As the first notes of sung worship opened the service, I pushed the puzzling mystery to the back of my mind. Then I closed my eyes and joined the congregation in praise to God. When I opened them again, a small stack of gifts boxes were sitting on the empty chair next to me. One was wrapped in shiny paper, another was covered in a piece of yesterday’s newspaper, and the third was tucked into a gift bag. I opened each one as quietly as I could. I found the words “Exhortation,” “Exhortation,” “Discernment,” and “Mercy”—one tucked inside each box.
As I reached for a lid, I noticed a small gift-wrapped box with my name on it, tucked just behind the trio of sugar containers.
When I went to collect offerings from the congregation, I noticed in the plate a bright orange envelope with my name on it. I removed it and opened the envelope. A small card bearing a single word fluttered to the floor: “Giving.”
As the preacher asked us to bow our heads in prayer before he began his message, I spotted something under my chair—a 9 x 12-inch envelope with my name scrawled across it. When had that appeared? I bent back the metal prongs on the closure, and a small scrap of paper slid into my palm: “Teaching.”
With the service drawing to an close, I rose to my feet, and an elderly friend stopped to tell me the story of how God had brought both restored health and spiritual renewal to her critically ill daughter. Then she pressed a small gift-wrapped box into my hands. “This is for you,” she said before disappearing into the crowd. I opened the box and found the words “Faith” and “Healing” scribbled on the inside of the lid.
I sat down again and began gathering the boxes, envelopes, and bits of paper that had accumulated throughout the morning. A teen slid into the empty seat to my right and asked, “How you doin’ this morning?”
“I’ve never had a morning like this before,” I said.
“Really? I thought it was a pretty typical Sunday.”
I pointed at the collection of gifts sitting on the empty chair to my left. “It was the craziest thing. People were giving me gifts all morning long.”
The Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to each member of the body of Christ. His purpose in doing so is to strengthen all of us, together.
I began telling him the entire story, but he stopped me with a smile. “You know we share our spiritual gifts with one another every time we gather, right?” Suddenly, I recognized the word “Wisdom” was scrawled in graffiti-style letters on his T-shirt.
I’d grown so accustomed to the rhythm of our weekly gatherings that I’d missed it—Romans 12:4-8 tells us that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to each member of the body of Christ. His purpose in doing so is to strengthen all of us, together: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7 NIV).
When we speak about spiritual gifts, some of us use the language of ownership: “My gift is ___.” The possessive pronoun my subtly suggests the gift belongs to me. But God bestows on each of us a gift (or gifts) meant to reflect His character and strengthen our service to one another. The people I encountered at church that morning were all giving away the gifts God had given to them.
“Remember this,” the teen said he said as he rose. “The gifts God gives to you don’t really belong to you, either. God gave them to you so you could give them away to others.”
I bowed my head in prayer, asking God to fill one of the empty boxes I now held in my hands, then stood to join the body of Christ gathered in the lobby of the church after the service.