Someone Else’s Spiritual Gifts

Fairplain Presbyterian Church
Fairplain Presbyterian Church
Someone Else’s Spiritual Gifts


John 1:43ff


Manuscripts reflect what preachers planned to say before they started preaching; sermons are what they actually said, which will always be somewhat different.

I’m going to say something that would probably get me fired if I said it as a pastor in the churches I grew up in:

I have never convinced anyone to accept Jesus.

I have never in my life, to the best of my memory, sat down with anyone and read them the Roman Road or the four spiritual laws and had them pray and invite Jesus into their heart. Not once.

And it’s felt like a failure of faith on my part.

Somebody asked me that a couple weeks ago – “Has there ever been a time when your faith has drawn others to Christ?” I couldn’t think of a time, at least not the way I was taught about it growing up.

The churches I grew up in talked a lot about the Great Commission – Matthew 28:19-20, go ye therefore and make disciples – I memorized it at Vacation Bible School and other places – as the Great O-mission. They gave you the idea that this was God’s will for all Christians for all time.

I still remember when I was somewhere between 8 and 12, the pastor’s son came and told us he had just “led this 5-year-old kid to Christ,” and I felt… bad. This kid was RIGHT THERE, and the person who helped him pray the sinner’s prayer could’ve been ME, but no, it was the pastor’s son who was a few years older.

If you don’t know the sinner’s prayer, it’s basically a repeat-after-me prayer that Baptists teach people to say that makes them a Christian. It’s the Christian version of “There is one God and Muhammed is his prophet” – You say it – but you have to mean it! – and you’re a Christian.

I’ve never been able to pull it off.

So far my evangelistic efforts keep getting foiled by the fact that either people have very good reasons for not being Christians that I can respect, or by the fact that… they’re already Christians haha.

I’ve hated the e word (evangelism) for a long time. Because it’s always felt like a word of judgment against me, personally.

It made me feel inferior.

It meant selling, and for me to sell something means I have to believe it will do somebody more good than doing nothing will. Even though I believe in Jesus for myself,

I only ever really believed in Jesus in a way that I could sell Jesus
during a time in my life that is now over,
and I’m pretty sure I was insufferable at the time.

My brother wrote a story about our family around that time, with different names, and the character that was a spin-off of me… sounded insufferable.

But the thing is – this what the sermon is about: we are beloved anyway.

I saw that on the sign at the congregational church after I had the bones of this sermon, including that phrase. Last week was the Baptism of Christ but we nudged Epiphany into it.

We are beloved anyway.

Whatever that thing is that we think we’re supposed to do that’s going to make us the kind of Christian we think we’re supposed to be, that mashup of all the holiest people we know… It’s wrong.

For a long time, I’ve worried that the fact that I don’t have a daily time of reading scripture and praying means I’m a bad Christian. I’m not. I just have ADHD. All these people are like, “You have to do this ONE THING every day to succeed” and I kinda go… really? Because I take a shower every day. I eat every day, and I brush my teeth once a day – not twice, and I don’t floss, because so far, that’s been enough.

I do the dishes almost every day because if I don’t, they pile up and I have to do them anyway and it gets worse.

Between Kristen and I, we put the kids to bed every day because otherwise they’ll be up all night and won’t get enough sleep. We cook meals every day because we’ll go hungry if we don’t. …Is this making sense? If there aren’t significant, tangible consequences for not doing something every single day, no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself do it.

And some people may say, “Well there are serious consequences – to your spiritual life!” and that’s probably true. I might be a calmer person if I did that every day. I’d also be a more physically fit person if I did a workout every day, but here we are.

Willpower runs out.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to start doing stuff every day.

For some maybe it’s reading your Bible every day, praying regularly – whatever it is that you think a really spiritual person would do or feel or be but you just CANNOT make yourself do it… For me, evangelism – trying to get people who aren’t Christians to become Christians – is absolutely one of those things… You can let it go. You’re free. Jesus loves you anyway.

Maybe some practices can help you. Maybe praying more would do us all good. Maybe thoughtful, meditative engagement with Scripture would help us to grow. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think about what about our faith would help someone else… And do that thing to help them.

But it doesn’t mean you’re an inferior Christian.


When I went to CREDO last year, one of the things they had us do was take a spiritual profile, and then we plotted where we came out on a graph, and then I think we wrote our name up on a big paper.

They had two axes – Mystery/spiritual vs factual / religious, and interior / contemplative to Exterior / active.

And this group – not just a group of Christians but a group of pastors – we were all over the place on this graph. There were only two of us in what I called the Northeast Quadrant – that’s where I was – but having that chart just felt so validating, like the fact that I feel more aware of God when I am engaging in inward reflection, not during a service-related activity – I felt vaguely guilty that it wasn’t a service activity, and a WHOLE bunch of my peers said the service activity made them feel closer to God… but it was SO freeing to realize… we’re not all called to the same things; we don’t all connect with God in the same ways.

I think I’ve said this before, but when I told my CPM that really the only consistent spiritual practice I had while I was in seminary was Sabbath, they were SO pumped. I felt like I was inferior somehow because I wasn’t doing daily devotions and prayer, but they were so excited for me, and that was such a gift.

The point is, if somebody else is doing some spiritual activity that really doesn’t connect for you, or if you’ve tried it but just can’t make it work or can’t do it consistently, it doesn’t mean you’re inferior if you’re not doing that. It just means that’s not a great means for you to connect with God now.

And I have to emphasize the “now” part because we go through different seasons in our lives. My prayer and devotions aren’t “daily” by any stretch, but I have times when I do them more, and times when I do them less.


I read an article recently that said churches shouldn’t set goals for the new year.

Many of us have fallen, I think, in church leadership, into the trap of thinking we should be doing this or that or the other thing, of reading these books written by people who have lucked their way into successful churches and thinking maybe we should start doing the things that they’re doing, because they seem to be working, or we should hire a consultant or do a mission study or whatever the trend of a given year is.

If we were just doing this program, or just doing that program, THEN our church would grow; THEN we would be the kind of church everybody told us we were supposed to be.


We are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. We’re not called to be successful; we’re called to be faithful. (Mother Theresa)


But to loop back to the evangelism thing that got this started…

I don’t think I’ve ever convinced anybody to pray and accept Jesus. And I’m okay with that. Well, I’m working on being okay with that.

But what I have done, over the years, and I know this because they’ve told me – is I’ve encouraged people.

I’ve published blog posts about doubt and questioning, and I’ve had those conversations, and I think it helps a lot when you have questions to find someone else who is asking those questions, or has asked them, and has hung onto the faith.

I think I’ve encouraged a lot of people’s faith, helped them know God loves them, that they can be beloved children of God even with doubts and fears and uncertainty and without being perfect people who have their lives together…

And I’ve let Satan – the Hebrew word “ha Satan” from which we get our English word “Satan” means “The Accuser” – I’ve let the accuser hide that gift of encouragement and support from me because evangelism isn’t my gift. I let the accuser make it all about what I’m not doing, what I feel physically incapable of doing, instead of what I’m called to.

And I don’t want to do that anymore.

I know other people have been that for me.

Some of the most influential people in my faith aren’t the person who originally “led me to Christ” – I prayed to ask Jesus to come live in my heart listening to a radio preacher when I as 7 years old and what a wild ride he’s had there since… But I hardly ever think about that.

Who I think about are the people God has used to carry me along, to help keep me in the faith. A woman on the radio when I was doubting whether I had meant it hard enough when I was seven; Greg Boyd when I thought God had told Israel to commit genocide; a preacher named Jonathan Martin back in the summer of 2012 when I thought the church had sold its soul to the devil over a fight about Chick Fil-A…


So if you find yourself looking jealously at other people’s spiritual gifts and wishing you had them;
If you find yourself looking jealously at other people’s spiritual practices and wishing you had the willpower to do them…


Stop and see what God has given you – whatever it is – and be thankful, because gratitude is the enemy of fearful envy.

Thanks be to God.