Learning to Embrace Your Gift

sheep herd in Slea Head Road. Dingle Peninsula. County Kerry, Ireland.

Three years ago I barely had a clue about my spiritual gift.

Like any normal twenty-one year old, I was trying stay afloat while balancing school, work, friends, my girlfriend, and my ‘Christian’ commitments. 

Sure, I had taken a few spiritual gift tests and discovered a shepherding gift.  But, what in the world was shepherding? 

I knew Jesus was the Shepherd of His people (Isaiah 40:11, John 10:1-21). 

I knew that shepherding meant caring for, feeding, and leading the sheep under you well (1 Peter 5:1-4). 

What I did not know was how to use this gift as a college student in his early twenties.  Shepherding sounded like a gift for older, mature people of faith; I thought it would be best to wait until I was the ripe age of forty because then I would have the wisdom to lead others. 

After deciding to tuck my gift away for later use, I got a call from the leaders in CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) asking me to lead a mission trip to Australia for other college students.  I was dumbfounded.  You want me to lead?  I mean, are you sure?  Well, they were and I did. 

This unexpected surprise taught me an important lesson:

Others will see your spiritual gift in you and affirm it.

This truth took some of the pressure off myself to have everything figured out.  After deciding to accept the invitation to lead the team to Australia, I got to work on figuring out how on earth to ‘shepherd’ a team of college students as a college student myself.

I worked hard for six months planning the trip, recruiting and screening applicants, and organizing the spiritual content of the trip. 

In what felt like no time at all, we were heading to Australia with a team I had assembled over the months. I fell instantly in love with my team, getting to witness their passion for what was ahead.  I wanted this summer to be the best summer of their lives.  I wanted to see them grow spiritually to heights they had never reached before.  I wanted to see them bring countless people to Christ.  I wanted the best for them, and I immediately set out to caring for them. 

I knew my number one priority on this trip would not be evangelizing Australian college students like everyone else (though that was certainly a tremendous part of it).  My number one priority had to be setting up the team to do this task well.  I met with all the guys in discipleship pairs, teaching them spiritual truths and walking through any hardships in their lives together.  Seeing their faces light up as they experienced a new truth or after they came back from a great evangelistic experience was more than I could have hoped for. 

Leading the team through Bible lessons and guiding them into fruitful prayer times demonstrated to me the importance of a shepherd. Shepherds lead their team and care most of all for the spiritual growth of others. This role was vital on the trip and it is vital in the church. I matured by using my gift, my team reaped the benefit of my direction, and God was glorified in the process. 

In this experience I learned a second important lesson:

Using your spiritual gift brings joy to God, others, and yourself.

I felt alive the whole trip, as if I was doing exactly what God had intended for me.  At our debriefing, I had the truly amazing opportunity to hear my team reflect back to me on my usage of my gift of shepherding.  I’m man enough to admit that I cried that day after hearing my team discuss all the positive things that derived from me simply acting upon God’s will for me to use the gift of shepherding. 

Too often we try to perfect our gifts (and ourselves) before using them.  We want others to see us as perfect, or at least as having it all together.  Throughout my trip I all too often failed at being the perfect shepherd.  I learned, however, that God did not send me there to be perfect, but to be the right shepherd for the job. 

Which leads to the last important lesson I gleaned from the experience:

Our spiritual gift does not have to be perfect to be used; in fact, we use His gift to help ourselves and others become more perfect day by day. 

So, get out there and use your gift to build up the church.  If you are a shepherd, then find a group to shepherd.  Care for them.  Feed them.  Lead them towards Christ and His mission.

Every Christian receives spiritual gifts from God.  The only question is if you will use yours! 

I pray that you, along with the whole Christian body, choose to do exactly that.

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