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1-20-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been laying a foundation to talk about spiritual gifts and how they are essential for effective ministry in the church.

One of the characteristics of a healthy church—one that we want to focus on going forward—is gift-based ministries.

There are other characteristics of a healthy church, of course, and if you wanted to review what they are, you can find them in the “Messages” section of the church website.

Last week, we talked about the atmosphere (or attitude) necessary for spiritual gifts to function as God intended. Spiritual gifts thrive when cultivated in an attitude of humility. It’s when we humble ourselves to serve one another that gifts do the most good.

God calls us to be servants! But being servants should not imply that we are weak and powerless! Servanthood does not mean that we are poor, pathetic, and impotent!

God’s servants are also sons and daughters of the King! God gives us the strength and power to live for him—far beyond our wildest dreams.

If you’re living in defeat—overwhelmed by sin, a victim of circumstances, barely holding on—know this: God wants you to overcome! He wants you to conquer!

So we come to today’s topic: “Empowered.”  As we look at spiritual gifts and how they prepare us to do works of ministry, we need to see that gifts flow from the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts come because of Pentecost—because God pours his Spirit out upon his church.

If you’ve been held back by a mediocre, disappointing, unfulfilling life, you need to know that God wants to give you purpose and power. And here’s the thing: If you believe, that life is already available—the power is already at your disposal!

The believers in Ephesus may have been a bit like us. I’m thinking that they may have been living beneath their potential, because Paul prayed that they would finally come to realize:

18 …the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Eph 1:18-19 (NIV)

Then he prayed that they would experience God’s power to live better than they had been living: …that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being… Eph 3:16 (NIV)

Finally, he reminded them that God’s infinite, incomprehensible power was already within them: …[he] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us… Eph 3:20 (NIV)

We don’t have to live defeated, mediocre lives. We don’t have to live under the thumb of the devil. God gives us power to resist him. God’s servant possesses authority and power like nobody else!

Go through history and name all those who have conquered lands (Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler) or gained great wealth (John D. Rockefeller, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates) or changed the world with their inventions (Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs).

The greatest accomplishments of the greatest people can never compare to what God can do through ordinary servants who faithfully use the gifts he gives them! Jesus turns things upside down:

25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 1 Cor 1:25-29 (NIV)

  • So if you want to strengthen others, be a servant.
  • If you want to be filled with God’s power and Spirit, empty yourself.
  • And if you want to be more than conqueror, surrender to the Lord.

Tap into the Holy Spirit as the Source of your power, and God will equip you with the spiritual gifts to fulfill his ministry and call.

Spiritual gifts don’t come from physical or natural power; spiritual gifts require spiritual power.

A 6-cylinder engine has 6 pistons moving up and down, each doing its own thing, each in its own place, each in its own time, turning the crank shaft to transfer energy to the transmission, which engages the axle and turns the wheels, moving the car. But a piston can’t move up and down in its own time without a spark from the spark plug igniting the gasoline. The energy doesn’t come from the pistons but from the fuel!

Each of you is like a piston in the church—moving, doing your unique thing, in your special place, in the right time. But without the fuel and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can’t move and you can’t do anything.

Without spiritual power, spiritual gifts are impossible. You cannot have spiritual  gifts function apart from God’s Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts take us beyond ourselves!

Some use biblical language by saying that we need an “anointing” of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, pouring or covering with oil was called an “anointing.”

“Anointing” isn’t a word we use very often in everyday speech. We don’t say, “Anoint me with that sunscreen lotion (…or mosquito repellent),” but we could. We don’t say, “What anointing did you use for your sore muscles?” but we could.

We have an idea of what an “anointing” is. When you rub gel into your hair, that’s an anointing. When you rub ointment on a cut, that’s an anointing.

In ancient times, they didn’t have all the choices we have when it comes to hygiene products. It was pretty much animal fats mixed with lye. And everybody’s favorite: olive oil. Olive oil was used for grooming (sometimes scented with spices), for healing (“poured on oil and wine”), and for ceremonial purposes (poured over the head of a priest, a king, or a prophet).

That pouring of oil became a picture symbolizing something much more—it represented a spiritual anointing poured out upon someone for service. It reminded them that they needed God’s supernatural coveringsomething beyond natural, human strength and ability—to fulfill God’s call.

So “anointing with oil” became a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It was a sign of consecration—that a person was dedicated for God’s service and empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill the call. You could even anoint objects (such as the tabernacle, the altar, and unleavened wafers).

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him…and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. 1 Sam 16:13 (NIV)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor… Isaiah 61:1 (NIV)

We need an anointing by the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit empowers us to release spiritual gifts in our lives for ministry and service.

Spiritual gifts do not come by grit and sheer determination. They do not come by trying harder. They do not come by our very best human efforts. Spiritual gifts come from God—poured out in power by his Holy Spirit.

Some of you are probably thinking: “Well, don’t all of our talents and abilities come from God? How are spiritual gifts different from natural talent?

That’s a good question! Here are a couple of distinctions I make between the two [CHART]:

(1)  Natural talent is like a “well”; spiritual gifts are like a “river.”
• God puts natural abilities within every person—some more, some less. Natural talents are deposited within us. They’re part of our genetic make-up. We’re “wired” with certain innate abilities. Our talents are there to tap if we want to—like drilling a well. They’re already there within; we just have to work to bring them to the surface.
• Spiritual gifts, on the other hand, do not come from a gene pool. God does not deposit supernatural abilities within us to be tapped as we see fit. Instead he pours out his Spirit upon believers—those who have surrendered to Christ, not just anybody. And with the Spirit comes a flow of spiritual gifts through us to others. Gifts are more like the water in a river rather water in a well.
Talents are already there, waiting to be tapped. Gifts come by the flow of the Spirit—flowing through us for ministry to serve others.

(2)  Talents are often selfish; spiritual gifts are to be selfless.
• Talents are often used for selfish reasons—to get rich, to become famous, to rule over others. Hitler was called a “gifted orator”—meaning he had a talent for speaking and persuading people. Talents can be used for evil. A terrorist may be a talented marksman or have a talent for explosives, but he uses his talents for evil. Other people aren’t so bad—but they still use their talents to get what they want.
• Spiritual gifts, however, are not used for self, but for others. We read it last week: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others… 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

(3)  Talents have a temporary influence; spiritual gifts have an eternal impact.
• Natural abilities and talents can be used to help others for a good cause. But humanitarian efforts, as good as they are, have limited influence. God’s power released through spiritual gifts, however, can transform others for eternity.
• Anyone can offer a drink of water to someone. But it’s something far more when you offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. The question is: Whose name is linked to your work? His name or yours? (see Mark 9:41).
• We sing a song: Touching heaven…changing earth. The best way to change lives on earth so they can be transformed for eternity, is to “touch heaven”—so God’s Spirit can work through us.

(4)  Talents are developed through determination and effort; spiritual gifts require surrender—saying “yes” to God.
• Talents are developed when a person works hard, practices, and disciplines herself. Spiritual gifts don’t work that way. However, they will flow through the life of anyone who surrenders to God’s will and allows the Holy Spirit to have his way.
Many natural talents have a spiritual counterpart. But unlike the talent, the spiritual gift is surrendered to God for his purposes. A “gifted” school teacher can have a talent for teaching without the spiritual gift of teaching. In the same way, unbelievers can have natural inclinations and abilities (given by God) for leadership, giving to others (philanthropy), healing (medicine), mercy (compassion and humanitarian aid). But it’s not until those actions are surrendered to God for his purposes that they can rise to a higher level and become spiritual gifts.

You need God’s anointing to have spiritual gifts working in your life. You need God’s power—God’s Spirit. It’s the power Paul wrote to the Ephesians about. It’s the power Jesus spoke of when he said: …you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… Acts 1:8 (NIV)

To follow the Lord, to commit to his cause, to serve his purpose and surrender to his will, to make a difference in this world, you need to be filled with the Spirit! (Too many are full of themselves!)

Our prayer should be: “Less of me…more of You!”  Less of our pride and selfishness…more of God’s Spirit and power.

From the book, Finding Calcutta: Mother Teresa often referred to herself as “a pencil in God’s hand.” She believed that everything she was able to do was done by God’s power working through her. Many people perceive Mother Teresa as someone who looked out at the poor and responded to their suffering with her own kindness, love and energy. This is not at all how [she] saw her calling. When anyone complimented [her], she would always say, “It is him, his work.” She meant this literally—God did the work through her.

Once when a reporter asked Mother to describe her life, she began with her childhood in Skopje,Albania. Then she explained her move to join the Loreto sisters in Ireland, her transition to India a year later and her life as a sister of Loreto.

As she related the shift to serve the poor, she stopped and said, “And that was the end of my life.”

[Malcolm Muggeridge, explained], “It was the end of her biography and the beginning of her life.” [From: Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Meaningful Work and Service, a memoir of Mary Poplin’s work with Mother Theresa and the Missionaries of Charity in 1996.]