Thank you to the Mennonite Church BC Women’s Ministry for an excellent retreat weekend! It was wonderful to celebrate Christmas in October with Christmas stockings and baskets, Secret Santa gifts, carolling, turkey dinner, and so much more!
The weekend was a refreshing mix of creativity and fun, indoor workshops and outdoor hikes, laughter and quiet times, interaction and inspiration. I’m already looking forward to next year!
In the meantime, below are my notes for my Sunday morning message focused on this year’s theme text, Romans 12: Unwrap Your Gifts.
Introduction to the book of Romans
- a long letter, much longer than any letter I’ve ever written, 16 chapters in all.
- written to Christians living in the city of Rome, to specific people, some of whom are named at the end of the letter in chapter 16 — Priscilla and Aquila, Mary, Andronicus and Junia, and others. This letter is a bit like a gift that’s meant for someone else.
- a deliberate structure: 11 chapters on the Good News of Jesus Christ and all that God has done through him, then 5 chapters on how to live in response; 11 chapters outlining the Christian faith and 5 chapters outlining the Christian life. So even though this letter was written long ago and to other people, it’s still relevant for us today — God is still at work in Jesus Christ, and we are still learning how to respond by the way we live.
- spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 are selected examples.
- other lists of spiritual gifts appear in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11.
On Friday evening, we tried this spiritual gifts questionnaire:
- For some, it was a tool of affirmation: some said, “I got the gift of helping, but I knew that already.” “The questionnaire said my gift is administration — that’s no surprise.” “I knew my gift would be serving behind the scenes.”
- For some, it may have been eye-opening: as a young adult, I took a similar questionnaire and was surprised that wisdom was listed as one of my gifts. That gave me a lot to think about especially as a young person.
- This kind of questionnaire can also be confusing: This one was long, some of us had trouble with some of the wording, and we may or may not have agreed with the results. According to this survey, wisdom is nowhere near the top for me, so I’m apparently not as wise as I used to be!
Whatever our experience with various spiritual gifts questionnaires, what’s clear from Scripture is that all of us have gifts. According to Romans 12, grace has been given to each of us, and gifts have been given to each of us.
These gifts of God don’t depend on our opinion of our abilities, our family background or how our parents raised us, our gender or our education. We all have gifts, according to God’s grace.
Your gift may or may not be listed in Romans 12. It may or may not have been on our Friday night questionnaire. It might be one of these other gifts that I observed at the retreat this weekend:
- the gift of creativity
- the gift of humour and laughter
- the gift of friendship
- the gift of listening and being quiet
- the gift of women’s ministry
- the gift of baking peppernuts
- the gift of getting things done
- the gifts of music and poetry
- the gift of painting
- the gift of design and decorating.
I would keep going, but you get the idea. As we read Scripture, as we look around us, it’s clear that God has gifted us in so many ways. God has gifted YOU in so many ways!
Romans 12 may seem somewhat disjointed, like a stream of consciousness, a laundry list of different ideas thrown together:
- beginning with some general instruction to offer ourselves to God,
- then a list of gifts,
- followed by various other instructions on love, prayer, hospitality, pride, how to treat our enemies, and a number of other topics.
One way to unwrap this chapter is to read it as an outline for how best to use your gift. We might call it How to Put Your Gift to Work. Or Now That You’ve Found Your Gift, Here’s What to Do With It. Or as I call it:
The 7 Best Ways to Unwrap Your Spiritual Gift
1. Give it to God (Romans 12:1; cf. v. 11).
This is the best place to start!
2. Allow God to transform your gift (Romans 12:2).
In the story that I read on Saturday morning (Paul Flucke’s The Secret of the Gifts), each of the magi had a gift that he needed to lay at the feet of the Christ Child to be transformed. In what way does your gift need to be transformed?
- For those who find it difficult even to think of yourselves as gifted, transformation might mean accepting God’s gift to you and finding the freedom to release it into the world.
- For those struggling with the weight of many responsibilities, struggling with doubt or fear or uncertainty, now might not be the season to unwrap your gift. For you, transformation might mean finding your hope in God as you rest in him.
- For others, transformation might look like growing into your gift, developing it, and finding new confidence as you express it. It might look like passing on your gift and mentoring someone else.
3. Don’t think more highly of your gift than you ought, but think with sober judgement (Romans 12:3, cf. v. 16).
The alternative to pride in Romans 12 is not chronic low self-esteem. The alternative is to think with sober judgement and to have a proper estimate of your gift, both its strengths and its limitations.
Do you think too highly of your gift by trying to do too much? Does your gift bring joy to you and to those around you? Or is your gift running you ragged?
Do you think too little of your gift by denying what God has given you? Are you so afraid of making a mistake that you hide your gift away?
4. Remember that your gift is meant to work alongside the gifts of others (Romans 12:5-6, cf. vv. 10, 16).
Sometimes our different gifts rub each other the wrong way. Those with the gift of evangelism who want to go after the one lost sheep don’t always understand those with the gift of pastoral care who shepherd the ninety-nine who remain in the fold. Those with the gift of getting things done can become impatient with those with the gift of listening.
Our text calls us to work together as a body, to be cooperative instead of competitive, to encourage one another instead of envying, to outdo one another in giving honour.
5. Use your gift to express genuine love (Romans 12:9-10, cf. vv. 13, 15).
I noticed examples of this throughout the retreat:
- The worship team for the weekend served out of love for the gift of music, for the women who had gathered, for the love of God.
- one woman who shared during the retreat’s Saturday evening Show and Tell expressed her painting as a ministry of love — e.g., donating four paintings for a cancer fundraiser — another created beautiful cards, hand-made and given with love.
6. Do good, even when others misunderstand your gift or fail to recognize it (Romans 12:14, 17, 19, 21).
Not everyone will understand, recognize, or accept your gift. There may be times when it seems that no one understands or recognizes or accepts it. That can be extremely painful, for as the angel Gabriel said in our Saturday morning Christmas story, our gifts are the essence of ourselves. Yet even when we’re misunderstood, Romans 12 challenges us to persevere in doing good and to bless others.
7. Pray (Romans 12:12).
Pray about your gift — not just to identify it, but for how you will best use it. Pray to dedicate your gift to God. Pray for God to transform it, to grow it, and deepen it. Pray that you won’t think too highly or too little of your gift, so it can be used most effectively. Pray for the way your gift works with others, that it would be welcomed and received with joy, that you would use it in love and without bitterness; to do good and make peace instead of conflict; to build up others instead of tearing down.
For those of you at the retreat who asked about some of the resources I used during different parts of the weekend:
- You’ll find the Christmas story I read on Saturday morning here: The Secret of the Gifts: A Story for Old and Young by Paul Flucke.
- Click here for everyday conversations on work, life, and God: The High Calling.
- Click here for information on the indoor walking program: Leslie Sansone.