Ears to Hear image

Ears to Hear

I wonder how much time over the years I have spent in discussions about the use of spiritual gifts – it must add up to hundreds of hours. Very often this discussion has not been so much about the existence of spiritual gifts, but their appropriate definition and use. Bottom line, there are a vanishingly small number of Christians who deny the existence of spiritual gifts, but it is how they are recognized that causes the divisions between charismatics and cessationists. Liam did an excellent series of posts on this a few months back but some recent experiences have got me thinking about it again.

Often, it seems to me, the same spiritual gift can be in play but defined very differently depending upon presuppositions. For example, the charismatic may say, “God has given me this picture…” and something is then described that helpfully articulates some truth. Alternatively, the cessationist preacher might say, “Let me give you an illustration…” and describe a similar truth in a similar way. I have seen this cut both ways on many occasions – both the person who is claiming to deliver something prophetic but is really simply furnishing a helpful illustration of something; and the helpful illustration that has real prophetic weight.

Similarly, I have heard prophetic words that give tremendous insight into how a particular situation should be approached. I have also experienced those with significant leadership gifting giving profound advice about a particular situation that enables difficulties to be resolved. These two gifts actually look very similar, and have very similar impact, but one is described as ‘prophetic’ and the other as ‘leadership’.


A further observation following on from this is that different people hear things differently depending on their presuppositions about the nature of spiritual gifts. For example, among my charismatic friends there are those who can be told something by someone with a leadership gift without seeming to ‘hear’ it, but if the same thing is delivered in the form of a prophetic word they are all ears. And of course, vice versa.

All of which means, I think, that all of us perhaps need to be more broadminded in our recognition of the ways in which God speaks through his people. We tend to put things (and God) in boxes, and draw our lines around how we think spiritual gifts should operate. Charismatics can be just as guilty of this as cessationists.

This is rather like the common misconception that the part of our worship services that is singing is worship, while the part that is preaching is not. To think this way is to put things in quite the wrong box. Singing is not necessarily worship. Sometimes it is just singing. Preaching should always be worship. If it is not something is very wrong. Illustrations can be prophetic and prophecy is often illustrative. Insightful leadership can be prophetic and prophecy can help leaders be insightful. If God speaks, and if he is creative, then we shouldn’t be surprised that this is the case.

“He who has ears, let him hear.”

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