When we used to live out in the county, we built a lot of bonfires. Although I enjoyed the big flames, I loved the embers and rekindling them into flames. Paul is writing his second letter to his spiritual “son” Timothy, remembering his “genuine faith” (2 Tim 1:5). Paul is encouraging Timothy to be courageous in his faith. His first direction is to rekindle Timothy’s gift: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6)

1 Corinthians 12 states that spiritual gifts are given to God’s people by the Holy Spirit for “the common good”, and specifically according to His will. “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” (v 11) The term “spiritual gifts” comes from the Greek words charismata (gifts) and pneumatika (spirits). They are the plural forms of charisma, meaning “expression of grace,” and pneumatikon meaning “expression of Spirit.”

We are told in Ephesians 4:11-16 that these gifts are given to prepare God’s people for service and for building up the body of Christ, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (v 12). Whichever gift(s) the Lord chose to give us is by His design and for His purposes, and He intends that we make ourselves available for His purposes.

We should all humbly understand that as we read Paul’s words, “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim 1:6) The idea is one of fully implementing power: fanning a flame makes it stronger, brighter, and hotter, the way we felt when we first became believers. To fan the flame, we must tend to the embers, and keep our embers infused with the very life-blood oxygen only Christ’s gifts of grace can give us.

Are spiritual gifts given to us when we receive Christ, or are they cultivated through our walk with Jesus? The answer is both. Normally, spiritual gifts are given at salvation, but also need to be cultivated through spiritual growth. Can a desire in our heart be pursued and developed into our spiritual gift? Can we seek after certain spiritual gifts?

1 Cor 12:31 seems to indicate that this is possible: “earnestly desire the best gifts.” You can seek a spiritual gift from God and be zealous after it by seeking to develop that area. At the same time, if it is not God’s will, you will not receive a certain spiritual gift no matter how strongly you seek after it. God is infinitely wise, and He knows through which gifts you will be most productive for His kingdom.

No matter how much we have been gifted with one gift or another, we are all called upon to develop a number of areas mentioned in the lists of spiritual gifts: to be hospitable, to show acts of mercy, to serve one another, to evangelize, etc. As we seek to serve God out of love for the purpose of building up others for His glory, He will bring glory to His name, grow His church, and reward us (1 Cor 3:5-8). God promises that as we make Him our delight, He will give us the desires of our heart (Ps 37:4-5). This would surely include preparing us to serve Him in a way that will bring us purpose and satisfaction.