Friday, November 7, 2008

I Believe in Gifts of the Spirit

Articles of Faith #7
[I] believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

It has taken me a very long time to feel out what I should write about this Article of Faith. We members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find ourselves in a rather odd position. Despite the strong influence of spiritual gifts in the fledgling years of the Church, we do not speak much of them now. Although they will be alluded to in General Conference talks, it is mostly to say that they still exist, though we do not hear much of them. Otherwise, they are discussed in terms of developing talents. I often find such discussions of talents somewhat condescending, in that they seem to rob spiritual gifts of their power and relegate them to a simple ability to smile at people, or play the piano.

While other talents are certainly gifts from God, and should be used to serve Him, they are different, in my mind, to spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts include the flashy manifestations of prophecy and healing as well as the more subtle gifts of discernment, understanding and insight. My family history is sprinkled with a strong legacy of spiritual gifts, though I have not witnessed many overt manifestations in my family members. Like the tendency to diminish spiritual gifts, there is also a strong tendency to either dismiss them as pagan, mystical or downright manifestations of Satan’s power, or to speak of them with hushed and vaguely frightened voices.

It can be difficult to parse the difference in spiritual manifestations, and in our world of science and logic, it is embarrassing to speak of them. Those who claim to have had encounters with spirits, or who claim “paranormal” abilities are seen (often rightfully) as frauds. I also believe this viewpoint is engendered by the Opposition to rob us of some of our most powerful tools. It is difficult to walk the line, and must be done with a certain measure of trepidation. It is easy for Satan to entice us into thinking we are somehow more special than others, into believing we are better because we have or have witnessed these abilities. The gifts of God, however, are never done in pride or a sense of superiority. They never require money or deference to be granted, and this is what I have found to be the most effective tool in discernment.

If you hear of some spiritual gift experience, there are a few things I have found to help differentiate what comes from God and what does not, although Satan has become adept in confusing the issue.

Before I go into explaining what I mean, I want to say that I will not be sharing any of my own experiences. Although that is primarily what I am trying to do with this series on the Articles of Faith, I feel that this is neither the medium nor the time for it in this case. What I will do is try to illustrate what I have found useful in dealing with claims of spiritual gifts.

When you hear or read of a spiritual gift experience, first ask yourself if the Spirit is present. In my experience, the Spirit will not bring a sense of euphoria or of uniqueness. Rather, it brings a sense of smallness, of total humility before God. It will not inspire you to tell everyone, rather you will feel as if you hold a special highly breakable pearl which must be protected and shown only rarely. The experience will not likely be a highly advertised one, it will be simple and matter-of-fact.

Secondly, ask yourself if it brings you closer to God. This is a natural byproduct of the aforementioned humility. If it makes you feel broken, contrite and grateful, it is probably of God. If it makes you feel special compared to others, it is probably not of Him.

Another good test is to see if money, attention or power is being gained in some way. God’s gifts are never about attention, money or power. You are not likely to find swarms of people chanting the name of someone with true spiritual gifts.

Also, God’s spiritual gifts are often only manifested after humanity has done all it can. The gifts of the spirit rarely manifest to save someone from their own folly, or to do what medicine can do on its own. There is a great economy in heaven, and the Lord will not use gunpowder to light a candle. Humility is necessary to awaken spiritual gifts, and cannot be substituted with demands or fear.

I have also found true spiritual gifts are simple and direct. There is no mystical terminology or hazy description with true gifts from God. God is not there to confuse people or to impress them with parlor tricks, He is there to bless us and bring us back to Him. Haze and mysticism serve the one who is trying to mimic God’s gifts, and God has no need of them.

Also, gifts of the Spirit cannot be sought after by traditional means. Attempting to contact spirits or otherworld powers will certainly open you up to things from beyond this world, but they will never be of God. Only faith, prayer, and a purity of heart can invite spiritual experiences of this nature, and only with the willingness to wait on the Lord’s time. It is not sin to seek after these gifts, but it is a very fine line between seeking to gratify one’s own pride and seeking to glorify God. It takes a wise mind and deep soul-searching to discern one’s own motives.

In the end, true gifts of the Spirit are always to serve God. Although it can seem an embarrassing and silly thing to seek after these gifts, when we fail to seek them for the glory of God, and His service, we fail to live up to the full measure of our faith. We should all plead with God to show us how to serve Him best, and to find our spiritual gifts and the courage to use them in humility and faith.

Quick to Observe by Elder David A. Bednar
An Outpouring of Blessings by Julie B. Beck
Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall Elder Dallin H. Oaks
The Life of Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manual
The Spiritual Component of Healing by Elder Alexander B. Morrison
The Day God Healed Me in Today’s Christian


  1. This was a great analysis of Spiritual gifts. You were able to explain this concept in both a clear and concise maner, which is extremely difficult given the topic at hand.

    I also find it interesting that the LDS church defines these gifts differently than other Christian denominations. Several other churchs also claim, for example, the gift of tongues. However, it is used in a completely different way.

    My favorite example of the gift of tongues (as this is the gift of the spirit with which I have the most experience) are the countless foreign language speaking missionaries. Each one can relate at least one experience while teaching in the foreign language when they were using vocabulary and grammer which they had either not learned or which was much above their current abilities. In my experience, such happenings always involved the native speaker hearing exactly what they needed at that moment, yet the missionary is left with relatively little inkling of what was said. In such moments, the Lord is truely working through His servents.

    That is the whole point of gifts of the spirit. They allow the Lord to do with the individual exactly what he needs at that moment, regardless of the individal's weaknesses or lack of knowledge. They are conduits through which the Lord can work directly, with minimal middle-man involvement...if we are but willing to give ourselves over to them, and the Lord, completely.

  2. Good stuff, Silver Rain.

    Only thing I would have added is some commentary on Moroni 10:24-25. Spiritual gifts are not frosting, they aren't bonus, they are absolutely essential.


  3. SilverRain:

    In your first paragraph, you seem to be lamenting the fact that spritual gifts are not spoken of much now. Yet, later you go on to say that you too won't be speaking of your experiences with spiritual gifts, etiher.

    So I think you answered your own question. Spiritual experiences generally are not to be spoken of publicly. That's the very reason you don't hear them being spoken of in church talks and conferences.

    Joseph Smith taught that the vast majority of spiritual gifts consist of only an internal component. That people could have spiritual gifts, and you can't tell by looking at them. Even the gift of prophecy can be totally internal, when the Spirit gives the person information for only their benefit, and not to verbalize to others.

    The Holy Ghost could fall upon and fill someone when they are confirmed, and an observer would never know it.

    Robin, the LDS church does define gifts slightly differently, but there is more overlap with other churches than difference. If you think other churches are entirely wrong in how they view the gift of tongues, go read 2 Nephi 31:13. That verse lines up pretty well with evangelical/pentecostal thought on the gift of tongues.

  4. SilverRain

    I enjoyed reading your post.

    I agree with Thomas, the gifts are essential.

  5. Thank you for this post. It brought together two concepts that the spirit as been whispering in my ear: humility and education.

    I realize now that the experiences I am going through are forcing humility upon me, never a fun thing. But as that humility is developed I will find the increased ability to use my gifts to help others. At the same time receiving an education will give me more knowledge and real world opportunities to use my gift to help others.

    It probably makes you wonder what this gift is and what the profession could be. I can see many professions (if not all) that are the utilization of gifts of the spirit. Teacher, Motivational Speaker, Author, Engineer, Police Officer, Psychologist, Parent, etc. Which underscores the importance of knowing yourself when you choose a profession. You don't serve the world in the best possible sense if you choose a profession that doesn't utilize and improve your gifts.

  6. Thank you, everyone for your comments.

    Robin—I have always wondered about that. In the early church, many of these gifts were used more like other churches. From what I understand, there has been a gradual tightening of the Church's approach to spiritual gifts over time, particularly in the first half of the 1900's.

    Thomas—That is a good point. None of God's work can be done without these spiritual gifts. One good way to discover what the Lord has done for you is to look at what you have done in His name, under the power of His Spirit.

    Anonymous—I understand the need to not speak of spiritual experiences, what I wish to hear more of is general principles of spiritual gifts. A discussion on how to find them, develop them and discern between them and Satan's mockeries would be extremely useful and would not tread on overly sacred ground.

    On the other hand, perhaps I just don't run in the right circles . . . .

    JenDoop—You seem to be alluding to one of the things I have also found to be true: that developing Spiritual gifts is always accompanied by an increase in humility and awe for God.

  7. It may have taken you a long time and a lot of effort to write this post, but it was definitely worth waiting for!

    I really liked the way you analyzed this Article of Faith, mentioned possible reasons why we sometimes find it difficult to talk about spiritual gifts nowadays, and explained some of the ways we may "parse the difference in spiritual manifestations."

    Although I am inspired at times when people tell about their personal experiences with spiritual gifts (either by speaking or writing on blogs), at other times I have become extremely uncomfortable.

    When someone shares what they consider a rather spectacular manifestation of a spiritual gift in a very public setting (e.g. telling in Sacrament Meeting or blogging about seeing a vision of Christ), I often have questioned either the true origin of the manifestation, or the wisdom and judgment of the person sharing the experience.

    In my experience, discussions of very sacred experiences with the Spirit happen best in more private settings.

    There may be many reasons we don't hear more about spiritual gifts in general from the pulpit right now. Perhaps other topics are simply more necessary for us to hear about. Perhaps we need to work more on the basics in order to become worthy to receive them. Perhaps individual tutoring by the Spirit will best enable each of us to develop the spiritual gifts that are most needed in our particular sphere of influence.

    I loved your closing paragraph. You have reminded me in a forceful way that I need to "plead with God" regarding the development and use of spiritual gifts, and for "the courage to use them in humility and faith."


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