Wilderness Gifts (05-03-21)
A Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 12. 4, 7 - 10
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit… To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
When Anna was first ill in Addenbrooks Hospital, I spent some time in the hospital chapel. Alongside praying for healing, I prayed that none of the family would lose their faith but would draw closer to God for strength and comfort. I also prayed that my own faith in God would grow deeper as a result of Anna’s illness. Looking back, I realise that God took me at my word. It was not an easy journey, but one that took me through wilderness places.
I wrote about wilderness spirituality two weeks ago. This is a place where life is stripped back to the essentials and nothing happens in a hurry. It is in this solitary place of waiting where we are faced with ourselves as well as God, and here we can learn who we really are. In the early books of the Bible, the very identity of the People of God in the Old Testament was forged during their wanderings in the wilderness after their great escape from Egypt.
During periods of spiritual renewal, there is much talk of spiritual gifts, particularly the more dramatic ones. It is exciting to experience speaking in tongues and prophecy during worship and to see God at work through healing and miracles. However, in wilderness spirituality, wisdom and discernment were considered the gifts to be sought after and highly prized. Without discernment we are unable to tell good from evil, we have difficulty unravelling truth from falsehood, and we are quick to blame our own selfish desires on the devil and his minions. Without godly wisdom, we all too readily make quick and unfair judgments or poor decisions, and without faith, it is impossible to walk with God.
The ancient Desert Fathers discovered that the wilderness was a fertile place for personal spiritual growth. ‘Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything’ was well-known advice. Spending time alone with God will deepen faith (faith is also a gift of the Spirit), hone our ability to discern honestly what is going on in ourselves and the world around us, and provide us with the wisdom and understanding to journey on.
Over the last forty years, there has been a huge increase in quiet days and retreats, but we don’t have to go far to achieve the same prayerful solitude. Why not set aside some time in one of our churches when they are open for private prayer. Before we begin revelling in new freedoms as restrictions are slowly lifted, make time for God now, pray for wisdom and discernment and the gift of faith, and see where God leads you next.
Lord, may I eagerly desire spiritual gifts to deepen my relationship with you and to help me to become more like Jesus, full of grace and truth. Amen.
‘To be in your presence’ by Noel Richards