As spring fades into summer here in the South, another kind of season is approaching along with the longer days and warmer weather: wedding season. While most of my friends are married with children now, I still receive at least one wedding invitation every summer. Part of the pleasure of attending a wedding, for me, is choosing a gift for the happy couple.
I love to find the perfect gift, one that brings a smile to the bride and groom whenever they see it. Ideally, it will be both useful and beautiful, chosen to suit the personalities of the individuals and also to reflect the uniqueness of their identity as a couple. It’s fun to add to the joy of the occasion and to provide something special to help the newlyweds start their life together.
In Scripture, the church is lovingly described as the Bride of Christ, a bride for whom Jesus laid down his life so that he could present her to himself radiantly cleansed of all sin, holy and without blemish. Each believer, upon salvation, enters into a covenant relationship with Christ, of which marriage is meant to be a picture. And there are gifts!
The most amazing gift is the Holy Spirit, who is now part of us, as we are part of Christ. The Spirit is, in fact, Christ in us. Along with himself, the Bible says the Holy Spirit brings each new Christian one or more spiritual gifts—special abilities chosen specifically for each believer as we begin a new life in Christ. These are truly gracious gifts, useful and beautiful, just like the best wedding presents.
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Romans 12:6-8, NLT
The spiritual gifts given to each believer help us minister to one another so that our local church body becomes mature and unified in our faith and in our knowledge of Christ. Ephesians 4:16 reveals God’s purpose for the grace of spiritual gifts: “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Each of us is an integral part of the Bride of Christ, and God’s design for the church is for each person to use his or her spiritual gifts within the body of believers in whatever way God has chosen.
There is great beauty in the diversity of the church when it is brought into unity through individual obedience to Christ in daily life. The work God calls me to do, using my spiritual gifts combined with my personality, talents, and life experience, will not be the same as the work to which God calls you. Moreover, the way I serve with my gifts will vary in different seasons of my own life.
Before I was married, I used my gifts of teaching and encouraging in a much different way than I used them when I was a new mother with two children under age two. Now that my children are in elementary school, God has given me new opportunities to employ my spiritual gifts for him, and I am confident God has carefully planned each season yet to come.
Though I cannot know in advance what the next season holds for me, God knows. He has already prepared a place for me to serve—maybe multiple places, or perhaps one place in which I can serve in multiple ways. As a small but significant member of the Body of Christ, part of my responsibility is to follow God’s leading in each season of my life so that his purposes are fulfilled in me and through me just as he wills.
I’ve been studying the growth cycle of the tulip recently. Never having grown any plant in the bulb family before, I was struck by the way the tulip’s lifecycle stretches across the four seasons. It stays alive all year, yet it looks very different from one season to the next, developing from a small bulb in the fall to a full-blown flower in the spring. It then changes again, drying up in the summer to return nutrients to the bulb, which typically multiplies and then goes dormant in the fall to prepare for new growth in the cold ground of winter.
If cared for properly, the tulip plant can root, grow, bloom, replicate, and then rest before beginning again, year after year. What a lovely picture of our own lives when we allow God to work his life and purpose in us and through us in each season, according to his plan! I have seen the truth of this firsthand, though it took me years to learn it.
When I became a mother at the age of 27, I had spent a decade using my spiritual gifts, talents, and education in a variety of ministries that allowed me to invest in the lives of hundreds of students from all over the United States and around the world. But it had always been my desire—and I knew it was God’s calling as well—to stay at home once my husband and I had children. I gave birth to two boys eighteen months apart, both high-needs infants in their turn, both requiring intense levels of care from me for the first six years of motherhood. Before our third wedding anniversary, my sphere of influence had shrunk to the size of our modest suburban home and the husband and two small boys who inhabited it with me. And it stayed that way for a long, long season.
There was nowhere else I wanted to be. This was my dream come true, and I loved learning to be a wife and mommy, pouring all God gave me in the way of gifts and grace and love into ministry to my husband and my babies. And yet, I would be lying if I said I never wondered whether it was really God’s will for me to be tucked away for half a decade the way a dormant tulip bulb is buried in the cool, dark ground for half a year. Certainly, I asked God if I would ever grow out of this hidden place of hard, holy service and be allowed to unfurl my gifts in ways that hadn’t seen the light of day in years.
Though that seemingly dormant season in my life lasted longer than I ever dreamed it would, no season lasts forever. And God’s work in us or through us is not always visible to the outward observer. In the steadily cooling ground of fall, the tulip bulb is secretly sending forth roots. By the harshest part of winter, its root system has grown to full strength and shoots are pressing upward through the soil, ever closer to the open air, but as yet unseen.
Looking back now, I can see how God used that long season, which held so much darkness and struggle along with the wonder and joy, to cause the roots of my faith in him to grow deep and wide into his love for me. How he used that season to make my love for him burst with new life until I was so full of it that his life in me had no choice but to break forth and grow into something more. How he strengthened and refined the gifts he’d given me so they could flourish, by his Spirit, in fresh ways I could never have envisioned in the depths of that often-painful—but infinitely precious—season.
Little by little, like green tulip shoots pushing through the snow-covered earth ready to blossom as spring returns, opportunities to minister to others beyond my home began to appear. God revealed new plans for me to build up others with my spiritual gifts. He gave me new purposes for all I’d learned along the way, purposes to redeem my pain and bring him glory by encouraging others with testimonies of his all-sufficient grace.
Yet grace [God’s undeserved favor] was given to each one of us [not indiscriminately, but in different ways] in proportion to the measure of Christ’s [rich and abundant] gift. Ephesians 4:7, AMP
That rich, abundant gift is salvation. Christ’s gift of eternal life through his sacrifice on the cross is an immeasurable gift, freely given. With that same lavish generosity, he gives us spiritual gifts when we enter into that covenant relationship with him and become like a bride he has clothed with his righteousness and crowned with his love.
Like mine, your spiritual gifts were given to you to be used for God’s purposes, according to plans he has made in advance just for you, perfectly tailored to every season of life. Whether in the heart of our private homes or on the highest hills of public ministry, God offers us a holy calling and, above all, his presence. If we abide in him, he will empower us to exercise our gifts in such a way that fellow believers will be built up in the faith and knowledge that unifies us in Christ and enables his Bride to share him faithfully with a world desperate for his saving love. Each season is a gift of love from the sovereign God of life and our spiritual gifts can flourish in every one, for his glory, as we grow in his grace.