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The Gifts of the Spirit


What is the difference between a gift and a present?

This is the question that I have been asking myself for the past several years, every time my birthday or the holidays roll around. It is the question that exasperates my loved ones as they try to give me gifts.

Here is my own personal definition: presents are something that I have specifically requested. I would like this shirt at Macy’s. I would like that item on Amazon. When the designated gift-giving day rolls around, I get to enjoy the present that I chose.

On the other hand, gifts are a little different. A gift is something that has been carefully selected (or made) by a loved one who knows me well. This person took into consideration my taste, my preferences, my interests and chose something unique, something that I will treasure. I do not have any idea what the gift will be until the day that I open it and revel in the gift and the gift-giver.

I wonder if my personal definitions of gifts and presents could apply to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Part of the joy and wonder of the Holy Spirit’s working in our midst is that the Spirit “decides who gets what and when.” (1 Corinthians 12:11, The Message) Part of the beauty of the gifts of the Spirit is that they can be revealed in the most surprising ways by the most surprising people.

But have you ever received a gift that did not seem to fit you? Perhaps it was the time you were given a gym membership for your birthday or a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, and you thought to yourself, “What is this supposed to mean?” Most gifts are supposed to bring a sigh of recognition, that someone loves you and knows you well, and has gifted you with a gift that is just right. Yet, there are some gifts that are unsettling—to say the least.

Spiritual gifts can also have the same effect. Most of the time, I am convinced that the Spirit’s gifts are so inherent and natural to us that we could easily chalk them up to talents or being “born with it.” Yet, there are also people in our midst who have wrestled with their gifts, convinced that it does not fit them, convinced that they “should not have that gift.”

I cannot help but think of my own call to preach and teach and how, I believe, this gift has been given by the Spirit and affirmed by my faith community. While preaching and teaching come very naturally to me, for a long time, I wrestled with this gift. Was this a gift that someone like me should have? Someone who is young and female?

I have come to see, though, that spiritual gifts are not given to us because of our gender, our race, our nationality, or our spiritual heritage. These spiritual gifts are given lovingly by the Spirit—the Spirit who decides what gifts are needed and who will bear these gifts forth. It is the Spirit who gives the gifts that do not always naturally reflect what we would expect to receive or what we might expect a spiritual gift to look like, but who has carefully chosen gifts for us in love.

The next time my birthday or a holiday rolls around, I will still probably ask for a present. My loved ones—who get frustrated with me in their attempts of gift giving—will probably ask me to choose a present. Yet in this, I want to open myself to the possibility of a gift and to revel and delight in the Gift-Giver.


Alyssa M. Foll is a chaplain for Adventist Health System. She lives in Orlando, Florida. 


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