Our family lived in a town on top of a hill for many years, where a steep road wound up from the river valley below. One day we ran across the scenario pictured above: a small dump truck with heavy rebar protruding from the rear that had tipped backward on the hill and stuck fast. The truck was strong, and on the plains, all seemed well. But when the hill got steep, the load’s center of gravity shifted outside the wheelbase, leaving its front wheels dangling helplessly in midair. The vehicle simply wasn’t fit for the job.
Like a city on a hilltop, God’s Kingdom offers plenty of opportunities for service. Still, sometimes the necessities of family or church life seem to demand service outside our areas of gifting. Like the truck, it can feel that we are carrying burdens we weren’t designed to bear. Remembering the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts helps us know how to press on.
KNOW THE GIVER
First, spiritual gifts are just that: gifts from a good Father. They are not assignments, delegations, or expectations. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul introduces an important passage on gifts with a celebration of God’s nature as the giver: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!… Who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” God delights in our service, but He does not depend on it. He is sufficient to carry out all His plans. When we let the deep need we see around us fall on Him, we are better prepared to use our gifts as He designed, in trust and not in desperation.
KNOW THE GOSPEL
Just as God does not need our service, we cannot earn His favor through our work. John Piper observes that, instead, “obedience is going deeper in debt to God every moment” because it is only His ongoing grace that enables our service. When Paul proclaims salvation through God-given faith, he goes on to say that believers are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:9-10). Just as saving faith is God’s gift, service enabled by faith also originates with God. Using our gifts rightly means remembering that Christ has already done everything required for us to please God (2 Cor. 5:21). The gospel frees us from using our gifts out of guilt and obligation.
KNOW THE GOAL
Finally, gifts are spiritual equipment for spiritual work. In Romans, Paul goes on to explain that our service is “spiritual worship” and continues, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly” (Rom. 12:1, 6). Gifts are given and used by grace; our service is worship of and fellowship with God.
When God calls individuals to practical responsibilities, He empowers them spiritually (Ex. 31:2-4, Acts 6:3). Even for those in leadership roles, most daily service will be mundane and unseen. Yet in God’s economy, all of it—serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, showing mercy (Rom. 12:7-8)—“causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). In our service, God invites us into His eternal work of kingdom building, growing the church into the fullness of Christ. Clinging to these truths as we’re changing diapers or shuffling papers can lift the burden of feeling alone and unrecognized in our work, imbuing it with deep significance.
PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS ABOUT KINGDOM BUILDING
There was a time early in our life overseas when I almost always felt harried. Continual hospitality and raising small children in a place where daily tasks took more time and effort meant that every part of my life was inefficient. I wanted to serve well, and each unexpected mess, illness, or guest brought feelings of failure as my plans changed yet again. What a relief when, through meditating on Scripture, God revealed to me that much of what I was “wasting” my time on was, in fact, the very acts of service He values. The more realistic our expectations are about kingdom building work, the better we’ll understand how our service should look and feel.
Kingdom building is hard work. Even when we serve in line with our gifts, we should expect to get weary and face setbacks. A dear friend who serves fruitfully in counseling women experienced a season of exhaustion and grief from walking with people in their brokenness. She took time out to pray over whether her deep empathy made her a poor fit for counseling. At that time, she sensed God’s clear guidance: she saw God form Christ in others through her labor, and she wanted to continue her investment, even though it was costly. She continues counseling, trusting God, and taking needed rest as she perseveres in the hard and useful service for which He has gifted her.
Kingdom building is seasonal work. It ebbs and flows according to God’s providence and His fresh guidance. Even when our roles are set, such as parenting, new seasons arise, bringing new demands or unexpected relief. Remembering this can help us persevere. It may be wise to commit for a season in other roles such as teaching, establishing a time to re-evaluate. Even in our most strenuous seasons of labor, we are to trust God by allowing for rest. Israel was told to keep the Sabbath even during the time-sensitive work of planting and harvest (Ex. 34:21).
Kingdom building is varied work. Different roles exist, but not all godly pastors, teachers, or mothers have the same gifts. I have never felt skilled at relating to young children, but this doesn’t excuse me from loving and teaching my children, nor from serving children in my church or community. I’m gradually learning to take my cues from Scripture rather than from culture, even Christian culture. We need not abandon whole areas of service because cultural expectations of roles don’t align with our gifts. God uses his people in unique ways. This truth also helps us rejoice when we see others with gifts that differ from or exceed our own. Their faithful service frees us for the good works God has prepared, especially for each of us.
Kingdom building is spiritual nourishment. Jesus, tired and thirsty from travel, told the disciples that “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). It often seems logical to avoid service during seasons of difficulty, but serving is a means of grace that lets us experience God’s provision in miraculous ways. Rosaria Butterfield recalls a season in her family’s church planting journey when she started her Sundays by cleaning the public restrooms in the community center where the church met and ended by serving meals for 50 people. These sabbaths were exhausting but still spiritually renewing when she leaned on the Lord. She observes that “learning to be refreshed in the context of intense labor is important spiritual work.”
CONCLUSION: WILLING WORSHIP
Our service of worship is God’s due, but true worship arises from a willing heart. Piper writes, “If we are indifferent to whether we do a good deed cheerfully, we are indifferent to what pleases God. For God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul expresses this tension in 1 Cor. 15: although he could rightly make his living from the gospel, he chooses to preach “without charge,” laboring freely “so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” His statement reminds me of working in computer networking during the tech boom. My co-workers who understood the market were investing hand-over-fist from their earnings back into the company. They didn’t just want their salary, their due; they believed in the business and wanted to partake to the fullest extent in its profits.
Here is the crux of serving in gospel freedom (Gal. 5:13): Christ has met our obligations, so we can invest freely in a kingdom that cannot fail. We are also free to seek needed rest. When I am weary in serving and need to wait for God to provide rest, I’ve learned to ask, “What can I add freely, beyond what is required of me?” It might mean flowers on the table for a meal I don’t feel like hosting, an extra story for a little one before an overdue nap, or choosing spiritually fruitful rest over “downtime.” Following Paul’s example in this way has often refreshed my heart. It raises my eyes from daily labors to the God who is with me and who sees and rewards our service in Christ. He promises that we are not abandoned to a job too difficult for us even when we feel like the truck. Our service is fruitful, our God is with us, and we will not be put to shame.