Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:3-11
A couple of years ago I was in Nashville, TN to be a presenter at a Christian education conference. As those things tend to do, the mornings started with a time of worship and devotion. After singing the closing song the woman next to me, a complete stranger, turned to me and completely unsolicited said, “I could not help but hear you, would you like a few pointers on how to sing?” What made it worse is that she used the same tone and had the same accent that southern women have when they say, “Oh bless your heart.” I knew that I had just been savagely insulted. Unfortunately this is not the first time I had been put down because I cannot carry a tune.
Even though I cannot sing, I still end up listening to music. The live action Beauty and the Beast remake came out 79 days ago. In that time I am fairly confident that I have had to listen to the soundtrack about 790 times. Despite that, I have not seen the movie and I have little desire to do so. I mentioned it before, but I do not like musicals. They really are not my thing, and if you asked me to I could give you a detailed explanation complete with examples as to why I do not like musicals. I could rant and rave about it, but that would all be cover for the truest reason. If I am being 100% honest the reason I do not like musicals is because they assume a world where everyone and anyone could break out in song at a moment’s notice. They are based on the assumption that everyone, even the random people on the street, can break out into perfect harmony. I do not like musicals because they create a world that I cannot participate in, because I cannot sing.
Here is the thing though, I actually can sing. Only about 2% of the population is actually incapable of singing. My vocal chords work just fine, and I am not tone deaf. I am physically capable of carrying a tune, it just does not come easily or natural to me. I think the reason why from a very early age I have been convinced I do not know how to sing is because people to whom singing comes more naturally assume everyone knows how to do it. They do not quite know what to do with someone like me. Singing is something that I am capable of learning it is just not easy. In fact, it is not easy for anyone of us. Researchers have found that 60% of untrained singers regularly make pitch accuracy errors. That means that only 40% of us are naturally good singers, but 98% of us have the capability to be so.
I see a strong connection between my life long struggle with music and this morning’s scripture. This morning’s scripture puts forth that “Now to everyone the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Notice the scripture does not say just to the pastors, to the prophets, to the saints, to the gifted. It says everyone, all people who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, have a manifestation of the Spirit in them. Every single one of us have a way that we can be used by God to serve and transform this world. However, much like how only 40% are natural singers, on average only 40% of regular church-going Christians participate in the ministry and mission of the church. The premise of all musicals is that everyone has a song inside of them that needs to come out. Perhaps, there is more truth to that than I care to admit. The premise of this morning’s scripture is that every believer has the capacity to serve God in incredible ways, and that is the absolute truth.
It is easy for us to forget how important the Holy Spirit was to the early church. The church did not really exist as the church until the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was the fuel that got the fire of church going, and it was the Holy Spirit that fanned that fire into flames that spread and caught hold wherever it was blown. Today, the Holy Spirit is still what is responsible for the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel. For as this morning’s scripture says there are different kinds of workings but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Anything successful that any church does that bears fruit, changes lives, and makes a real difference is because God is at work. The way that God is at work in the world is through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of God’s people. In the same way this morning’s scripture states “no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit that is the agent of God’s grace and love before we ever acknowledge God. It is by the work of the Holy Spirit that our heart is softened and our soul is open to receiving grace and forgiveness. It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to say yes to God’s yes of salvation for us. Yet, the Spirit works once again through the body of Christ. It is only through the words and actions of God’s people that others can be told the story of Jesus and his love. When you get right down to it, church without the Holy Spirit is not a church, it is just a less fancy country club.
It is through the workings and power of the Holy Spirit that miracles happen. It is through the working and power of the Holy Spirit that this world is transformed. It is through the working and power of the Holy Spirit that souls are saved. It cannot be overstated, the Holy Spirit is the power of God at work in this world. It is almost incomprehensibly amazing that this Sprit of the Living God, was promised by our savior Jesus to come and dwell in us. Again, this scripture tells us that to each one a manifestation of the Spirit has been given to the common good. To some that gift is a gift of knowledge to impart, or wisdom to counsel. To others the Spirit grants a faith that inspires others, generosity that makes the greatest impact, and the power to heal and to comfort. The list of spiritual gifts in this morning’s scripture is not complete. There are other gifts, and we need to be clear about what these are. Spiritual gifts are not just churchy sounding titles for our natural abilities. Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They are the very power of God working through you to bring life, love, compassion, kindness, gentleness, and justice into this world. If you believe in God and if you proclaim Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then the witness of the Bible is the Spirit is in you, and you (yes you!) can be used by God, empowered by the Spirit, to change this world.
If each and every one of us, can be empowered by the Holy Spirit, if each and every one of us is given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, then why do only 40% of church goers actively engage in the mission and ministry of the church? I think the answer, is the same reason that people like me do not think we can sing. So many disciples stay on the sideline because they do not think they can do it. Following the leading of the Holy Spirit and using spiritual gifts will always require us to take a risk or make a change, and for many people that does not come easy. Far too often, faithful people shirk away from fulfilling their God-given gifts because they think it is something they cannot do or they fear they will not do it right.
Researchers have determined the #1 reason that people who claim they cannot sing cannot sing, is because they do not sing. The single best way to get better at singing is to sing. It took a science experiment to conclude that people who sing more regularly are better at singing than those who do not. It sounds like common sense, but there is profound truth to that. We cannot get worse at the things we do with great regularity. In the same way, if we seek to take a step in faith to serve God in some way we will get better at it. If we daily seek to practice whatever spiritual gift we think we have, then we will get better at utilizing that gift to serve God and fulfill the mission of the church. In the book of Romans, Paul also wrote about these Spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit. There he wrote, “If your gift is prophesying then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving then serve, if it is teaching then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement, if it is giving then give generously if it is to lead, do it diligently, if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
Paul’s words were best summed up by Nike: Just do it! Each and every one of us here, right now, has been given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit; a Spiritual gift that has the potential to changes lives and transform the world. Chances are, deep down, you already know what this is for you. You know the way that the Spirit has been tugging on your hearts. You know the people that the Spirit has a lit a fire in your soul to reach out towards. You know the nudges to do something incredible that you have been ignoring. Each and everyone one of us know how God can use us. We do not know where being faithful in that will lead, we do not know how successful that will be, and usually that is what keeps us back. What keeps non-singers like me from singing is we know that the noise is not going to be perfect so we stay silent. How tragic it is when the same type of fears and hesitations get applied in our faith. Instead of trusting God, stepping out and being faithful to the works of the Spirit we stay silent, we stay still, and we continue to do nothing.
When a bad-singer like me sings a song of praise to God, then God is glorified. The bible never states that praise needs to be on key and pitch perfect. It just said to make a joyful noise. In the same way, if anyone takes a step in faith and seeks to serve God by loving and being sacrificial on the behalf of others then God is glorified. It may not be executed perfectly and the impact may be smaller than we imagined, but God is still glorified. The assumption of this morning’s scripture is that each and every one of us has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and through that we can serve and glorify God. In the same way, the assumption of all musicals is that everyone has a song that they are ready to start singing. If that is true, then that means even a non-singer like me has a song just waiting to burst out of them. If that happens it will be a terrifying experience for me, it will be pitchy, have problems with finding the right key, and probably keeping the right tempo. However, if that song praises God then God will be glorified. If someone like me can do that, then someone like you, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can use that power to serve God, glorify God, and make a real difference to someone.
With that in mind : “I’m going to sing when the Spirit says sing/ I’m going to sing when the spirit says sing/ I’m going to sing when the Spirit says sing/ and obey the Spirit of the Lord.”
May we all obey the leading of Holy Spirit and glorify God no matter what our gift or song might be.