Christian Living

Spiritual Life

General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Guidance by the Book

Chapter 7: Evaluating Possibilities


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

·    The nature and purpose of spiritual gifts.  

·    The value of experimentation in choosing a vocation.  

·    Two types of circumstances.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

·    Use your gifts to build up the body of Christ.  

·    Determine if you are qualified for a specific vocation.  

·    Assess the open and closed doors of your life.      

Our Gifts  

The wise may bring their learning;

The rich may bring their wealth;

And some may bring their greatness;

And some bring strength and health;

We, too, would bring our treasures

To offer to the King.  

- Anonymous

Relevance of Spiritual Gifts

Key Scripture: "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men" (1 Cor. 12:4‑6).  

When considering a vocation, the first step is to seek God's will concern­ing it. As He gives direction, we may not immediately recognize His method. Often He will encourage us to ask ourselves some questions: "Do I have the ability or gifts to carry out the responsibilities of this job? If not, do I at least show evidence of potential in this area?"  

To answer these questions, we must have an understanding of the spiritual gifts. Their nature and purpose are mentioned throughout the New Testament, but the most extensive passages concerning the gifts are found in Romans 12:3‑8, 1 Corinthians 12‑14, and Ephesians 4:7‑16. Familiarity with the concept of spiritual gifts is critical to understanding the relevance of God's guidance to our ability.  

Christians who have a faulty concept of the spiritual gifts consider it irreverent to emphasize personal talents or abilities. They may enter a profession, regardless of personal qualifications, trusting God to provide them with the necessary abilities. They put themselves in a tenuous position in a vain attempt to glorify God. On occasion God does enable people to perform in vocations for which they have shown no aptitude. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule.  

Five Principles of Spiritual Gifts  

The following general principles will help us to understand our spiritual gifts:  

  • 1. The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to every believer. Each Christian as a member of the body of Christ has a guaranteed endowment (1 Cor. 12:7). There is no age distinction and no direct relation to status in the church. However, Paul did make a distinction between gifts of the Spirit and fruit of the Spirit.  
  • 2. Spiritual gifts are a present reality, and they will continue to operate throughout human history. However, Christians who are dispensa­tional in their theology believe that some of the gifts, especially healing and tongues, ceased after the first century. But Paul, who addressed spiritual gifts more comprehensively than other biblical writers, nowhere indicated that any of them would ever cease. If the gifts were to end, surely God would have instructed the church on how to phase them out.  
  • 3. Spiritual gifts are special manifestations of the Holy Spirit that create a unity between the human and divine. But much confusion sur­rounds their exact nature. Some gifts, such as teaching and admin­istration, are natural talents that God has transformed into spiritual gifts. But others, such as tongues and healing, are clearly supernatu­ral. Spiritual gifts use our innate ability and personality, but often transcend them through the power of the Holy Spirit.  
  • 4. Spiritual gifts are given for building up the body of Christ. Our gifts, when used for a specific purpose, provide a ministry. To judge if you are employing a spiritual gift in a ministry, ask yourself: "Is the service I'm performing helping others or bringing them to Christ?" The real test of a ministry is its effect on others. Many successful ministries, such as friendship evangelism or helping the homeless, are found outside the church.  
  • 5. A believer may have more than one spiritual gift.

You're a Gift to Others - But Not a Savior  

While Paul talked in 1 Corinthians of God giving gifts to people, he spoke in Ephesians of individuals, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, being gifts to others. They are "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (4:12). This fivefold ministry has a unique role to play in the church; yet each believer is also a unique gift of Christ to His "body" and to the world. But the burden of giving ultimately rests with God, who gives to others through us. Our responsibility is a willing heart. This attitude enables Him to make us into the intended gift.  

Scripture confirms that God fashions each of our lives differently to make us unique gifts to others. The characters in the Bible were unique individu­als who followed God's will. Today He still gives each of us certain talents, energy levels, and tastes, which make us different from others. Our responsibility is to understand our distinctiveness and to invest ourselves in the most effective way.  

A Light Unto My Path 

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17).  

"Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit" (Eph. 1:13).  

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows" (James 1:17).

Life Application: Complete No. 3, For Personal Study, KGW, p. 195, which discusses the gifts and abilities of Mary and Martha.

Defining Your Gifts

Key Scripture: "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10).  

Sometimes it is said, "Each believer is given only one gift!" As a result of this unwarranted assumption, many Christians struggle to determine their single gift. Once they have developed this gift, their possibilities for serving the body of Christ narrow greatly. Furthermore, concentrating exclusively on one Gift closes the believer off to other areas of ministry.  

Paul urged the believers in Corinth to desire the greater gifts (1 Cor. 12:31). He himself demonstrated a variety of gifts - apostleship, tongues, teaching, administration, giving, exhortation, and faith. Paul took a cre­ative view of spiritual possibilities. To advance the gospel and to build up the body of Christ, he involved himself in many activities. Apparently he also left himself open to receiving new gifts as they were needed.  

We must evaluate our gifts, abilities, and personality to see if we possess the qualifications needed for a particular vocation. This evaluation does not indicate a lack of faith. Rather, it is part of the process for making a responsible decision. A genuine motivation to pursue a particular vocation is an indication that God is leading us in making the decision. Usually He guides into areas where we can use our gifts and abilities.  

However, our gift or ability should never be mistaken for a calling to a specific vocation. In fact, we may be forced to make choices between various abilities - investing heavily in one at the expense of the others. Since we are not required to use all our gifts at once, the choice is ours. Moreover, different seasons in life may require the use of a variety of gifts. And as we walk with Christ, we may awaken to the adventure of new gifts.  


One of the most effective ways to determine if a vocation is right is through experimentation. We should choose a profession in which poten­tial has already been demonstrated. We must ensure that we have the capacity to develop the basic skills needed in that vocation. Experimen­tation is recommended within a context where the commitment is limited, and we can withdraw without embarrassment. A short‑term commitment will not lock us into a possibly unsuitable arrangement. Many companies have work internship programs that provide an ideal context to experiment.  

If we are contemplating missions, for example, a short‑term mission trip should be considered with a church group or missions agency. The result of our efforts, the level of enjoyment, and the confirmation of others will help us decide if the vocation is for us. If our experience is fulfilling, and we feel motivated toward missions, a longer commitment can be made.  

Experimentation involves taking a chance. Sometimes we may be very successful; at other times we may fail miserably. Therefore, it is essential to be involved in a Christian community, receiving support and helpful feedback from fellow believers.  

Combinations Within the Spiritual Gifts  

Before considering a vocation, we must carefully assess our spiritual gifts. The following list provides a glimpse of our own uniqueness and that of others. Furthermore, it will reveal the variety of combinations possible within the spiritual gifts.  


Teaching (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11)

Preaching (Rom. 10:15; 15:19; 1 Cor. 1:17; 1 Tim. 2:7)

Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11)

Interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:10; 14:27)


Knowledge (Dan. 1:17, 19‑20; 1 Cor. 12:8)

Wisdom (2 Chron. 1:10; 1 Cor. 12:8; James 1:5)  


Encouragement (Acts 4:36; Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 4:18)  


Giving (Rom. 12:8)

Mercy (Rom. 12:8)

Helps (1 Cor. 12:28)

Service (Rom. 12:7)  


Intercession (Dan. 9:3; Acts 6:4)

Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 28; 1 Cor. 14)  


Miracles (1 Cor. 12:10, 28)  


Evangelist (Eph. 4:11)  


Healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28)

Exorcism (Acts 16:16‑18)


Missionary (Acts 13:2ff; 2 Cor. 11:23‑29)

Hospitality (1 Peter 4:9‑10)

Celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7)

Voluntary poverty (1 Cor. 13:3)

Martyrdom (1 Cor. 13:3)  


Administration (1 Cor. 12:28)

Leadership (Rom. 12:8)

Apostleship (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 1:11)  

Spiritual Perception

Faith (1 Cor. 12:9)

Discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10)  


Pastor (Eph. 4:11)  


Craftsmanship (Ex. 35:30‑36:1; Ezra 3:7‑9)  


Music (1 Chron. 25:1‑7; 2 Chron. 7:6; 1 Cor. 14:26)

Dancing (Ex. 15:20; 2 Sam. 6:14; Ps. 150:4)

Art (Ex. 35:32)

Drama (Ezek. 4:1‑5:4)    

Gift Projection  

Although discovering our own gifts is exciting, it is sometimes distressing to look around at the gifts of others. Reading the biography of a renowned Christian may inspire us to noble pursuits in our Christian walk. On the negative side, our achievements may look unimpressive by contrast. Berating ourselves for lacking our heroes' energy, faith, talent, and achieve­ment can be dangerous to our emotional well‑being. Remember that we are accountable to live and achieve within God's design for our lives.  

One reason such unfair comparisons occur is because of gift projection. For example, a man with an extraordinary record for evangelism claims that anyone can be a successful evangelist. A woman known for her gracious hospitality says that this is a calling placed on all believers. A successful missionary declares that everyone can be effective at cross­-cultural ministry - at least those who are willing. Although gift projection is usually done with good intentions, it is often damaging to insecure Christians.  

At some point, we may be called to do things we are not especially gifted at - living by faith, sharing the gospel, exercising hospitality, or being involved with missions. But once we appreciate God's unique design for each Christian\'s life, we will be inspired to seek the sincerity of their commitment - not their gifts. We can concentrate on our own gifted areas without comparing ourselves to others (Gal. 6:4‑5).  

Individuals in Heaven

Our uniqueness does not disappear at death, for heaven is filled with individuals. Jesus declared that God is Lord of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Matt. 22:32), confirming that the three are alive as distinctive personalities in eternity. Furthermore, according to Paul, we will have a spiritual body in eternity, different from our earthly one but similar enough to be recognized (1 Cor. 15:35‑49). In addition to a new body, each believer will receive a new name (Rev. 2: 17). To the ancient Hebrews, the name implied everything unique about the person. This is another reminder that you are a one‑of‑a‑kind creation both now and throughout eternity.  

A Light Unto My Path  

"He…brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name" (Isa. 40:26).  

"He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing" (Zeph. 3:17).  

"Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1 6).    

Life Application: Complete No. 4, For Personal Study, KGW, p. 195, which encourages you to examine your giftedness.

Circumstance Open or Closed Door?

Key Scripture: "Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son" (Gen. 18:14).  

Christians struggle with the importance of circumstances in guidance. The greatest struggle usually comes in major decisions concerning voca­tion. Often we attach too much importance to circumstances, viewing them as an infallible indication of God's will. In fact, circumstances should play a very limited role in making major decisions. Once a vocation has been chosen, we can trust the Lord to lead us through its responsibilities. We can safely assume that the normal obligations of our commitment are part of God's will. He then will use circumstances as the primary means of guiding us in making everyday minor decisions. Furthermore, circum­stances stress the importance of yielding to the Lord's will.  

Circumstances consist of two types - constraining (closed doors) and non-constraining (open doors). Constraining circumstances prevent believers from taking certain actions. Many Christians feel that a closed door is Satan's attempt to prevent God's plan from taking effect. Others believe a closed door is God's way of saying no. Either may be true; therefore it is important to exercise spiritual discernment to discover the divine purpose. A setback does not indicate the door is shut forever. The Bible gives numerous examples of people who reached their goals late in life after repeated tries, or in spite of insurmountable obstacles. Each was willing to follow God, rather than circumstances.  

Non-constraining circumstances are open doors. Some believers see an open door as an attempt by Satan to sidetrack them. Others view it as a sign from God to move forward in faith. Again, spiritual discernment is needed to discover which it is. Open doors may be further classified as either suggestive or confirming circumstances.  

Suggestive circumstances imply possibilities. Receiving a scholarship would suggest the possibility of attending a particular college. But this circumstance should align with the other guidance factors of desire, ability, and counsel. Confirming circumstances merely confirm the choice, which we believe to be God's will. If you have already determined that you are to marry a particular person, then circumstances may simply confirm your decision.  

Unfortunately, there is no way of removing all confusion from this area. We must realize that circumstances can have radically different signifi­cance in various decisions. Therefore, it is important to be in communion with Christ at all times and totally submitted to His leading in the matter of circumstances.  

Learning to Fail Successfully  

Learning to follow God's leading through the circumstances is an impor­tant step toward successful living. But, because we live in a fallen world, even the most dedicated believer occasionally fails. Failure may come because of poor decisions - or even wrongdoing. Or we may fail in order to learn an important lesson. Sometimes God may be telling us to wait on Him - and in time to try again. There is a mystery to God's timing, which we will never fully understand. But one thing is certain - we are more ready to give up on our situation than our Lord is to give up on us.  

Failure produces introspection, causing us to ask such questions as: "What did I do to cause this? What can I change to keep from failing again?" But Jesus may be saying: "Don't do anything differently; simply do it again. This time your efforts will bear fruit." Once Jesus' disciples fished all night, but caught nothing. When He told them to try once more, they were so successful that "they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish" (John 21:6). God wants to develop resilience in us - a willingness to forge ahead in the face of challenge. As we take bold steps of faith, we will be able to understand when He is saying, "Cast the net on the right side."  

The Availability Factor  

One of the greatest factors in success is availability. God cannot use an unwilling individual. We must make ourselves available for the Lord to work in our lives. If you are wondering whether you can make a differ­ence, keep these three critical points in mind:  

  • 1. Others either may not be available for opportunities or are unaware of them. Sociologists have noticed that a person needing assistance in a public place is not likely to receive aid from anyone in a large group. When the crowd is large, each person assumes that someone else will take responsibility; therefore no one does. Individual account­ability is reduced in proportion to the crowd's increase in numbers.  
  • 2. "God can do a lot with a little when He has all there is of it." Cautiously, Andrew presented the little boy's loaves and fishes to Jesus. He implied that a few loaves and fishes could make no difference to a crowd of five thousand (John 6:9). You, too, may hesitate in situations of need and opportunity. But Christ will manifest His power through your availability in ways that transcend both your potential and your resources.  
  • 3. God has given you goals and purposes, which no one else is as well-­equipped to carry out. By being available, you begin from a position of strength. You can pursue your goals with confidence, knowing that your efforts are significant. Availability opens you to the miraculous working of Christ.  

The availability factor relates to several important areas of life. As believ­ers, we should seek opportunities to use our gifts. It is easy to become discouraged, especially when we look for professional opportunities. We may believe that the best opportunities won't be open to us. "What can I do that others can't do just as well?" we may ask. Yet the availability factor suggests that unmet opportunities may be more extensive than we think. God's willingness to work through us is far greater than we realize. The battle between David and Goliath is an excellent example of avail­ability. Perhaps thousands of the Israelite soldiers had experiences simi­lar to David's. Yet not one made the connection between past victories and future success when faced with Goliath. David alone was able to see the situation with eyes of faith. His example enhances the need to perceive an opportunity and then pursue it.  

Steps for Pacing Yourself

While God longs for our availability, we do not honor Him by burning ourselves out in godly pursuits. He knows our physical limitations. The following are some practical guidelines for living within our limits.  

Learn to delegate whenever possible. Even a mature leader like Moses did not appreciate this principle at first. But after Jethro's counsel, Moses delegated many tasks (Ex. 18:17‑18). The Israelites received better ser­vice - and the helpers were able to use their gifts. God is more concerned with meeting a genuine need than you are. If you are not physically able to respond to a need, He may be touching someone else\'s heart with the same concern. Sometimes you may need to take your hands off the situation completely.  

Respect your need for sleep. Each of us needs a certain amount of sleep to ward off fatigue. Most people need seven to eight hours - and within the same general time period each night. Determine your optimum sleep pattern; then plan backwards. Fit your responsibilities into the remaining time. Any new obligation that leaves insufficient time for sleep is probably not from God.  

Use your quiet time to plan your day. While a regular quiet time has many purposes, one of the most essential is gaining God's perspective on your day. Plan ample time to wait quietly before the Lord and to seek His direction. There will be needs you should meet - and activities you should bypass. Ask God to help you make wise choices - to say no when needed. Make a schedule and follow it as closely as possible.  

Plan your meals to be events. Jesus and His disciples enjoyed meal times. They followed the traditional practice of reclining leisurely at the table - an event that could last for hours. God gives meals as a precious gift for stress management and enjoyment. Modern meals have lost the sense of relaxation and celebration. Plan at least one sit‑down meal daily to be enjoyed leisurely.  

Plan enjoyable exercise that fits your lifestyle. The lifestyle of ancient times required much exertion in the course of a day. God has given each of us a basic level of physical and emotional energy. The discipline of daily exercise will increase your energy level and feeling of well‑being. By managing your body well, you can be productive for Christ. However, if you push yourself beyond your limit, you will suffer burnout and fatigue.   Once you learn to live within your limits, you will discover a new zest for living, an energetic body, and an alert mind. Moreover, the person you make available to Christ will be whole - physically, mentally, and spiritually.  

A Light Unto My Path

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord" (Rom. 12:11).  

"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph. 4:1).  

"For everyone born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4).      

Life Application: Complete No. 2, For Personal Study, KGW, pp. 201­2, which deals with seeing circumstances realistically.

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts.

1. Evidence of __________ is necessary before entering a vocation.



2. Christians often enter professions without considering their __________.



3. Gifts are determined by our church status.



4. The gifts of healing and tongues are __________.



5. Spiritual gifts are given specifically for building up the body of Christ.



6. Spiritual gifts __________ be exercised outside the Christian community.



7. The real test of a spiritual gift is its effect.



8. Experimentation should be in areas of long-range commitments.



9. To develop and understand our gifts, we should be in a Christian fellowship where we can get __________.



10. In major vocational decisions, our gifts are __________.



11. Church officers should demonstrate their qualifications after their appointment.



12. Paul was more concerned with character in church leaders than with talent.



13. God will normally lead us into a vocation in which we have __________.



14. A gift or ability should not be taken as a vocational calling.



15. We should look for a profession that provides an opportunity to use our spiritual gift(s).



16. __________ circumstances represent open doors.



17. Circumstances show a need to be __________ to God.



18. A confirming role of circumstances suggests a possibility - to be judged on the basis of desire and ability.



19. __________ take circumstances alone as guidance.



20. Martin Luther referred to a Christian's responsibilities in their vocation as a "daily __________."



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