Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit simply there for the asking, or does the Lord decide who gets which gifts, and when?
Believe it or not, the answer is both. Sometimes the Lord will give someone a certain gift without them having specifically requested it. Most often, however, He’ll give it in response to our request. The apostle Paul explains that “the same Spirit works all these things [spiritual gifts], distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) But Paul also admonishes us to “earnestly desire the best gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) Why would he tell us to desire them if they weren’t for us?
The Lord knows which gifts of the Spirit are going to do you and those around you the most good, but He also promises that if you delight yourself in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart, (Psalm 37:4) and that if you ask, He will give to you according to your faith. (Matthew 7:7; 9:29) When your heart’s desires are to please the Lord and use His gifts for His glory, He’s the one who has put those desires there.
Your will and His will are in agreement, and when that happens, “you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7) “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)
If that’s the case, then why don’t more Christians have gifts of the Spirit?
It does seem that not many Christians today have gifts of the Spirit—at least not many have the more overt and undeniably supernatural gifts like healings and miracles. There are several reasons for this.
First of all, some Christians believe that the gifts of the Spirit were only for the Christians of the early church, and are not for us today. This is simply not true! Just as Jesus often worked His wonders through frail, imperfect humans in the past, He still works today. He says, “I am the Lord, I change not,” and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8)
Others hesitate to pray for the outwardly manifested gifts of the Spirit for fear that miracles won’t happen at their hand, or that the people they pray for won’t receive total, instantaneous healing like they read about in the Gospels. They don’t want to be disappointed and they don’t want to look foolish before others, so they don’t even pray for those gifts. It’s really a lack of faith; they don’t have enough faith to put God and themselves on the spot, so they don’t receive. (James 1:6-7)
And there are probably yet others who don’t receive the gifts they pray for because their motives are wrong. Perhaps they’re looking for selfish gain or self-glory. They “ask and receive not, because they ask amiss.”(James 4:3)
But if any Spirit-filled Christian will just pray in faith and claim God’s promises, and if their motive is right, if they can say with the apostle Paul that the love of Christ compels them to use God’s gifts for God’s glory, to preach the gospel and help others, (2 Corinthians 5:14) then God will give them those gifts and “confirm their witness with signs following”—signs and wonders and miracles! (Mark 16:20 KJV)
How do I know that I’ve received whatever gift I’ve prayed for?
If you’re a born again, Spirit-filled Christian and have prayed for a certain gift of the Spirit, it’s yours by faith, even if you don’t see any immediate evidence. Like salvation or the baptism of the Holy Spirit or any other gift from God, you know that you have received what you’ve prayed for because of God’s Word, because God said you would, and He doesn’t lie. (Numbers 23:19)
Sometimes the timing is important to the Lord. He knows the best time for you to start exercising a new gift, so He may wait until then for it to manifest itself. But you still have the answer to your request by faith—it’s in the mail, even if you haven’t received the package yet.
How and when can I expect my new gift to first manifest itself?
You have the gift if you’ve prayed for it, but there are several reasons why your gift may not manifest itself immediately, or the way you expect or would like it to. When and how much a particular gift of the Spirit is manifested in the life of someone who has asked for it is something that can’t be predicted or fully understood. It’s part of the mystery of God’s plan for our lives, and we just have to have faith that if we’ve asked and are doing our part to believe and put into practice what the Lord has shown us, He will see to it that the gifts we need are manifested in His good time.
First of all, there may not yet be a need for you to have that particular gift. Some gifts we all need, at least in some measure, like faith, wisdom, and discernment. The gift of tongues is nice for your own edification, and the gift of prophecy is invaluable in finding the Lord’s will and receiving personal counsel and encouragement from Him. Some of the other gifts like healings and miracles may not be evidenced until a situation arises when it is the Lord’s will for you to manifest them and He knows they can serve His purpose and glorify Him.
Second, He may want you to use other gifts that He’s given you. For example, He may not give you the gift of prophecy if He wants you to refer to His written Word more. Then once you’ve learned to get His guidance and draw strength from the written Word, and base your decisions on that, He may begin to speak to you directly through prophecy, His living Word.
Third, your gift won’t manifest itself until you try to exercise it. You have to take a step of faith. Like Peter, you have to step out on the water! (Matthew 14:28-29) You have to put your faith into action. You show that you believe that the Lord will give you a message in prophecy, or perform the miracle, or whatever the case may be, by doing your part. Claim God’s promises of healing for yourself or someone else who needs healing. Ask the Lord for divine wisdom to solve that problem you face, and then take action on what He shows you. Dare to do that thing you believe God wants you to do, and see if you don’t have more faith than you had before you prayed for the gift of faith. At first you may feel like you only received a “baby gift,” but as you exercise it, it will grow and mature.
And if you don’t seem to get any immediate results, if instead of walking on the water you begin to sink, don’t give up and don’t doubt. Just go back to the Word, the source of faith. Read and absorb the Word, and your faith will be increased. (Romans 10:17) The Lord doesn’t always answer your prayers immediately or the way you expect Him to, but that doesn’t mean you should stop praying. Similarly, He may not always work through your gifts of the Spirit just the way you would like Him to or expect Him to, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have those gifts or should quit trying to use them. Keep praying, trusting the Lord, and doing your part, and the Lord won’t fail! In His time and in His way, He will bring about the results that He knows are best.
Like a muscle, all of the gifts of the Spirit are strengthened by exercise. Give God and His Word time to work, and keep trying. Fill up on God’s promises, and claim them in faith. Expect miracles—or faith, or wisdom, or any of the other gifts of the Spirit—and in Jesus’ name you’ll get them!
What can I do if I need the help of a certain gift that I don’t have, or don’t have the faith to exercise?
Just as all the parts of our bodies work together for the good of the whole, so should Christians, who are the “body of Christ,” help one another by sharing the spiritual gifts God has given us. (1 Corinthians 12) So if you need the help of a certain gift, but don’t have it (or you have it, but haven’t yet learned to exercise it), simply ask someone who does have that gift and knows how to use it to exercise it on your behalf. Not only will you get the immediate help you need, but seeing that person exercise his or her gift will give you more faith to pray to receive that gift of the Spirit, or to exercise your gift, if you already have it. For example, if you don’t yet have the gift of prophecy, but would like to get the Lord’s direct Word on a question or problem that you have, ask someone else who does have the gift to hear from the Lord for you.
How does the gift of prophecy work?
When you ask the Lord to give you a message in prophecy, you need to believe that He will speak to you, and then you need to accept that the first words He puts in your mouth or mind are from Him.
From then on, it’s often like interpreting: the Lord gives you one phrase or one sentence at a time, then you speak that little bit, and then He gives you another phrase or sentence, until you’ve received all that He has to say to you at that time. At other times, you may not know what He’s going to say next until you hear the words coming out of your own mouth. Or you may just hear the message in your mind and write it down, without actually verbalizing it. In any case, you show that you believe the Lord is speaking through you by speaking or writing down the message as He gives it.
To get the most lasting benefit from what the Lord tells you, you need to record it somehow—either with an audio recorder or by writing it down—so you can review it later.
All of the gifts of the Spirit are strengthened through use, but this seems especially true of the gift of prophecy. Practice makes perfect. The more time you spend in quiet, listening to the Lord and receiving His messages, the more your faith in prophecy will increase and the easier it will become. Try to get in the habit of hearing from the Lord in prophecy daily, asking Him for messages of direction or encouragement, or His solutions to specific problems you or others face.
In fact, you can be hearing from the Lord frequently, throughout the day. You don’t even have to repeat the words you hear out loud or record them. Many times you’ll be in a situation where that would not be appropriate or practical, but you can still silently ask the Lord your question, or ask for a confirmation of your plans. His answer, which He’ll put in your mind, might just be a few words or a sentence, but in this way you will be availing yourself of the wisdom of the master counselor in all that you do. You will also be strengthening your relationship with Him and thereby partake more of His love, peace, and joy.
How does the gift of tongues work?
Like any of the other gifts of the Spirit, once you’ve asked for the gift of tongues, you need to exercise it. Start praising the Lord out loud and nonstop. Let go of your thoughts and your tongue, and let the Holy Spirit take over and speak through you. It may sound like gibberish or baby talk to you, especially at first, but the Lord understands and appreciates what the Spirit is saying through your mouth, and it will thrill and inspire your own spirit as well.