Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
The account in Matthew’s Gospel of the Magi tells us that they ‘brought out of their treasures gold and frankincense and myrrh’. It would appear that they had carried other treasures on their journey and that they chose to give the most fitting to the Christ Child. One of the essential tasks of prayer and reflection in the Christian life is the discernment of gifts.
For some readers they may have a ministry in the church, which involves helping others discern and develop their gifts. Indeed, it is normally the case that it is someone else who will say to a person: ‘you have a gift for this’ or ‘have you thought of doing that?’ It is a sign of the mutuality of the work of the Holy Spirit as seen at the creation of the Church at Pentecost that they saw tongues as of flame ‘resting on their heads.’ I can imagine the apostles shouting out, ‘You’ve got one too!’ They could not see the top of their own heads; someone else was a mirror to them. Discerning gifts is the work of the whole body of Christ as led by the Spirit. In one sense we are all engaged in this task. If you have seen a gift to be used in someone else, say so – you may be the answer to his or her prayer.
The fact is we are all stewards of myriad gifts. We are by are human nature gifted and by the work of the Holy Spirit endowed with gifts as the Spirit sees fit. It is part of our wonderful nature, being in God’s image, that we are so blessed with gifts of physical, mental and spiritual capacities, provided for the benefit of God’s beloved creation.
Here some readers may baulk. Too few of us would accept this statement as a personal fact about ourselves. A common response is ‘you are mistaken’, or, even worse,’ I have nothing to give.’ If that is how you feel, this ought to be brought to
the centre of your prayer and reflection. Ask the Lord to reveal to you the gifts and abilities he has given to you and how he desires to use them. The answer may come through others, but there is no reason why one should not sit down and write a list. A good place to start would be with practical skills – cooking, reading, writing, walking, sewing, music making, singing, etc. If you did not possess these capacities, for whatever reason, you would desire them as a gift. Take nothing for granted. The same goes for mental abilities: memory, reason and others. The same too for spiritual gifts: love, kindness, gentleness, patience and the rest.
When you have compiled the list, the next step is to ask the Lord how he desires them to be used. Remembering the example of the Magi, it might be that some of your gifts and abilities are in demand at home and in the community at this present time. Why not go over your list with a Christian friend? A more personal task is to match up your list of gifts and abilities with a parallel list of inhibitions – ask yourself why you do not put them to use. Sometimes the answers are quite revealing.