Stirring up the Gifts of the Holy Spirit-       Part I

By Sr. Nancy Kellar S.C. 

"Stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you" (2 Tm 1:6). I would like to write about stirring up the charismatic gifts taking that verse from Timothy to the next line, verse 7: "The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of love, power and self-control."

A. Love Motivates the Gifts
"Seek eagerly after love. Fraternal charity rooted in the love of God is the most perfect way" (1 Cor 14:1; 13:1). I think we have often heard that line as a put-down to the gifts. We have taken 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 on the gifts and 1 Corinthians 13 on love and taught on them separately as if chapter 13 somehow made the gifts a second rate alternative to love. I think we need to take love and the gifts together. To seek the most perfect way—love—is to highlight what ignites desire for the gifts. Lack of desire stifles the gifts.
The more we fall in love with Jesus, the more we desire to let Him use us, whatever the cost, to bring others to know Him. The more we desire to be used, the more we recognize our need to be empowered with His gifts for ministry.
The more we love our family and recognize their need to know Jesus the more we desire to be equipped with gifts of the Spirit to do this. Unless we know our need, we will not desire and unless we desire we will not ask and unless we ask we will not receive! Four times in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses a Greek word, zelonte, with regard to the spiritual gifts. It suggests a passionate desire and an active seeking of gifts. It implies that the gifts do not come simply automatically, but must be yearned for and prayed for. Love has got to be the motive for "seeking the higher gifts" (1 Cor 12:31), those that build up the Church. Without this unselfishness, the gifts get side-tracked by self-interest, self-glorification and lose their power to build up the body of Christ.

B. Gifts Express Love
The gifts are the means the Spirit gives us to express the love of Christ in concrete and practical ways. Jesus said, "Do you love me, feed my lambs" (Jn 21:15). Love is not a charismatic gift, not the greatest charismatic gift. "Charism" is never used in the New Testament to describe love. Paul does not put love into a list of charisms. Love is a fruit of the Spirit, one of the essential gifts of grace with Faith and Hope that everyone can receive. The charismatic gifts are given some to one, some to another for the work
of service. I have heard it said, "We don’t need the charisms because we have the highest charism, love." My response to that is: a man lost in the desert dying from hunger and thirst will not be served if we simply say we love him. We need to make it concrete—to feed him. The gifts equip us to give the Bread of Life to the hungry and the Life-Giving Water of the Spirit to the thirsty.

C. Love Releases and Purifies the Gifts
Love is a key part of the way God intends the charismatic gifts to be released and pruned in us—our love for and unity with one another. As we reflect on John 15 we see that if the branches are not in unity with one another, they cannot bear fruit. The same is true for the gifts of the Spirit used in our prayer groups, communities, sharing groups. Unreconciled relationships stifle the free exercise of the gifts. Where there is disunity, there is sin and the wages of sin is death. On the other hand, the deeper more committed relationships that come with sharing our lives give people a sense of belonging and that courage to take the risk of making a mistake, without which the gifts go unused. "The fruitful ones He trims clean to increase their yield" (Jn 15:2). The spiritual gifts need to be submitted to and discerned in the community. We, and the people we lead, are ready to use a gift when we are ready to have it discerned by the community. Greater unity releases the power of the Spirit; disunity and isolation stifle the gifts of the Spirit.

 D. The Gifts are Stifled by Not Seeing the Working Together of the Variety of Gifts
Wherever Paul teaches on the gifts of the Spirit, he uses the analogy of the body. The gifts work together. The mouth can’t say to the feet, "I don’t need you" (1 Cor 12:21). Perhaps the gifts of the mouth have or will diminish because we have not taken as much care with the gifts of the hands—hospitality and administration.
The gifts are stifled if some glance longingly and with dissatisfaction, coveting the gifts of others while not using their own. On the other hand, the gifts are stifled if people are arrogant about their gifts, not recognizing their need of others.

E. Charismatic Gifts are Stifled by Limiting Them to Special People
It is not uncommon to find an attitude of "non-participation" among people in the Charismatic Renewal today. An attitude that says, "Gifts are just for special people and I’ll just sit back and get ‘blessed’ by other people using them." The spiritual gifts  are not intended to be for a few people, but for everyone in the Body of Christ. "To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). When we have received the Spirit the question is not, "Do I have the gifts?" The questions are, "What gifts have I been given?", "How does the Lord want me to exercise the charisms He has given me?" We will be most blessed by the gifts we allow the Lord to use us for. We need to be free of false humility that stifles the gifts. We need to recognize that the charismatic gifts are gifts from God, not of human origin but the fruit of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—fruit that we don’t deserve and didn’t earn—that are free, absolutely free gifts from God. "He singled out the weak to shame the strong" (1 Cor 1:27). We need to let this recognition overcome a false humility that says we are too sinful, too unworthy or ignorant to be used by God. They are gifts of God’s love—gifts of the God who says, "Would a father give his son a snake when he asked for a fish?" (Lk 11:11).

 F. Love Authenticates the Gifts

Love not only motivates, releases and purifies the spiritual gifts, love also authenticates them. Paul challenges (1 Cor 14:37) the Corinthians’ claim to be "spiritual" because they have these gifts... not as long as there is jealousy and strife among them. The truly spiritual person is the person of love. Without love he tells them they are "noisy gongs and clanging cymbals." Even more strongly the apostle Matthew challenges all with spiritual gifts to know that without love they are nothing! In Matthew 7, he speaks about love, about avoiding judgment, about treating others as we would have them treat us and about bearing good fruit. Then as a challenge to every charismatic, he quotes Jesus saying to us, "When that day comes, many will plead with me, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? Have we not exorcised demons by its power? Did we not do many miracles in Your name as well?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Out of My sight, you evildoers!’ " (Mt 7:22-23).

 We need to stir up the charismatic gifts with an ongoing expectancy, and we also need to pray for a fresh outpouring of love. In part II, I will continue with "power and self-control" as they relate to stirring up and persevering in the use of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit.

Reprinted with Permission from ICCRS Newsletter January February 1998


Stirring up the Gifts of the Holy Spirit-       Part II

By Sr. Nancy Kellar S.C. 

The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of love, power and self-control" (2 Tm 1:7). In writing about stirring up the gifts, I have already focused on how love motivates, releases, purifies and authenticates the spiritual gifts (see Jan./Feb. issue). Now I would like to turn to how power and self-control are related to stirring up the gifts of the Spirit.

II. Power

A. The Gifts: Power for Mission

"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Greek word for power is dynamis from which we derive the word dynamite—an explosive! The Holy Spirit is meant to be explosive in our lives. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is meant to be more than a conversion experience, it is meant to be an empowering call to go out and witness to Christ. In Tertio Millennio Adveniente (45) Pope John Paul says, "In our day, too, the Spirit is the principal agent of the new evangelization."

The Spiritual gifts are an integral part of the mission of evangelization. Paul uses three words for the charismatic gifts—gifts, services and workings of power! All three are used to stress that the gifts are for the work of building up the Church. Without the gifts there is no power in evangelization. Failure to say yes to our mission stifles the charisms.

B. The Variety of Gifts
The Gifts are Stifled by Too Narrow a View of the Variety of the Gifts and the Variety of the Ways the Lord Wants to Use Us with His Gifts. We need to ask the Lord to stir up the more familiar charisms of tongues, prophecy, healing and deliverance  and pray for fresh outpouring of the gifts of teaching, preaching, the gifts of faith, giving, mercy, of being helpers and administrators, the gifts of intercession and hospitality, the gifts of words of wisdom and knowledge, and the gifts of marriage, celibacy, voluntary poverty and even martyrdom.

Don’t limit God’s activity to what seems like the supernatural activities. Charisms are concrete manifestations of the action of the Holy Spirit that are oriented towards service and the building up of the community. The gifts of administration, helping and giving are all charismatic gifts mentioned by St. Paul. We need to recognize our natural gifts and abilities and ask God to empower them for greater service to the Body. A charism does not always have to be emotionally charged—it just has to be moved by the Spirit.

The most important charisms that have been renewed are the fundamental charisms of our vocations in life. We need to recognize them as charisms—as empowerments by the Spirit—and appropriate them anew. I was on the verge of leaving religious life before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. My vocation with the gift of celibacy was renewed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

 C. Variety of Ways and Places
We need to have a greater expectancy of the variety of the ways and places the Lord wants to use us. Be open to surprises! Don’t limit God’s activity to our past experiences. Charismatic gifts are not just for charismatic prayer meetings. A "word of knowledge" is an insight into a reality for practical decisions, not just for healing services. It is a gift for responding to problems with children, for counseling, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The gift of prophecy needs to be used in priests ’assemblies, congregational meetings and parish meetings. The Lord wants us not only to speak in prophecy in prayer meetings, where it is easy to do so, but also to be prophetic when it means speaking for unpopular Gospel principles.

To Paul, prophets are important people in the Church, along with apostles and teachers. They have a ministry of receiving divine revelation and speaking it. He says prophecy is a sign for the  unbeliever; if there is a lack of prophets there is going to be a lack of conversion.

 Also, if there is a lack of teachers, the community is going to be confused. They won’t know what is true and false doctrine. We need to stir up the gift of teaching for homes, schools, prayer groups, ministries in our church as well as our charismatic gatherings. The first place I experienced the charismatic gift of teaching was in my secondary school classroom.

We need to have a broader expectancy even for the most familiar gifts of healing and the gift of tongues. An expectancy of healing never completely left the Catholic Church, but we often relegated it to extraordinary places like Lourdes and Fatima and to extraordinary people like the saints. I think there is a danger in the Charismatic Renewal today that we again expect healing to happen only in relation to extraordinary people and places. We need to expect healing to happen in our homes when we pray with our children, in the Sacraments, in the healing ministries of our prayer groups, in our sharing groups, in our doctors’ offices as we experience that extension of the Lord’s healing ministry, and even on the telephone!

II. Self-Control
: Spiritual Gifts Need the Discipline of Self-Control if We Are to Grow in Them.

A. The Gifts and Maturity

The Gifts are Stifled by Limiting Them to Only When We Were Younger in the Spirit.
It is not uncommon to hear, "we don’t need these spiritual gifts anymore. They were just for the beginning days of the Charismatic Renewal to get us started, but now that we have matured we don’t need them anymore."
Charisms are for mature Christians. We do need the spiritual gifts for our ongoing growth. They are not to diminish but in fact grow stronger as we mature. However, there is a change in the way we experience them and use them. One reason for a weakening in the use of the spiritual gifts is a failure to recognize that our charismatic spiritual maturing needs to go through the same "testing by fire" that the great spiritual masters have told us about down through the ages. Often, the manifestations the Lord used in the beginning to get our attention when He wanted to use us, stop. Each use of a spiritual gift becomes an act of faith, a kind of walking on water. This stepping out in faith is easy when we are still close to our own personal experience of the Holy Spirit, but then we often fail to recognize that God purifies us of whatever attachments would keep us from closer union with Him... it’s not only our sin, but also our attachment to our good feelings that can lead us to think that we are a lot holier than we are. He purifies us even of our attachment to His gifts that can make us value the gifts more than the Giver.

 B. Pruning the Gifts
Gifts are Stifled by our Failure to Give and Accept Correction in the Use of Them. The spiritual gifts need to be pruned, not to stifle them, but so that they can flourish without being discredited by misuse. If the gifts are sensationalized and make ends in themselves, they will never become a normal part of our Christian life, and some day far too soon, they will again be lost. Our job is to learn how to use the gifts with a discipline that can release their fullest power, and at the same time fulfill their true purpose. We are taught to seek the prophetic gifts (1 Cor 14:1), but we are also shown that prophecy is a heavy responsibility and that the prophets themselves should be the first to desire authoritative discernment.

The charismatic gift of discernment—the gift to distinguish "inspiration" and to judge whether it is really being inspired by the Holy Spirit—needs to be stirred up. Likewise the gift of Pastoring, which is the gift to both encourage and prune the gifts, needs to be developed. We need to have both the willingness and humility to give and accept correction. If the gifts are disciplined according to God’s own mind, and used for the one purpose of revealing and glorifying Him, we will experience them as vital keys to the building of the Kingdom and they will remain as a permanent asset of the Church.

 C. Studying the History of the Gifts
Gifts are Stifled by Being Ashamed of Them or Too Defensive About Them. Our need for acceptance can lead us to be ashamed of the gifts and to curtail them because they might keep people away. We need to study about the spiritual gifts throughout history and know the statements of the Church on them. It is important to know who we are, to know that the spiritual gifts are really in the teaching and history of the Church, so we don’t play them down. We need to be convinced of the support we have from the Church so that we can be at peace with who we are.

Reprinted with Permission from ICCRS Newsletter January February 1998