Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace. [1 Peter 4:10 (NCV)]
All this thinking about spiritual gifts reminded me of when we came across a “committee” or “wake” of vultures gathered by an impala carcass in Tanzania. The dead animal had collided with a vehicle and lay by the roadside—perfectly intact but clearly dead. The birds, however, weren’t eating and seemed to be waiting patiently while dinner lay right in front of them. When we questioned if our presence was disturbing them, our guide explained that the birds were just waiting for the arrival of more vultures (and not out of politeness). The waiting vultures, while well-equipped to stick their heads into an animal’s carcass, didn’t have strong enough beaks to tear into its unbroken hide. They were waiting for the lappet-faced vultures that, with their strong beaks, could tear the animal open. Being the larger dominant birds, the lappets get to eat first but, without the bald neck typical of most vultures, they can’t stick their heads deep inside a carcass. When they’re done, plenty of food is left for the medium-sized vultures like the Rüppell’s who, with their bald heads and necks can get down and dirty into the remains. When they’re finished, the smaller hooded-vultures finally get to eat. With their small heads and beaks, they are perfectly designed to extract the last bit of meat found deep in the animal’s remains and the vultures’ job of cleaning up the Serengeti is complete. When we wondered how all the different vultures managed to find this one dead animal, we were told that the white-backed vulture, while he can’t tear open a carcass, has excellent eye sight and will “wheel” in the sky as a sort of dinner bell to alert all the others.
There are some twenty different species of vultures and God has equipped each one of them in a slightly different way. They have the same assignment—to be nature’s garbage men—and the world would be a smellier and disease-ridden place without them. Within their greater purpose, however, they each have a specific assignment. The white-backed vulture signals, the lappet-faced vultures get the job started, the Rüppell’s do the dirty work, and the hooded-vultures do the clean-up. They all need to do their part if their task is going to get done.
God gave the vultures their assignment and, in Matthew 28:19-20, He gives us ours: “So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you…” Within that greater assignment of expanding God’s Kingdom, however, like the vultures, we each have a distinct position to fill and a gift that will enable us to fulfill it. Like the vultures, the church cannot survive unless everyone uses his or her gift but, unlike the vultures, our gifts are rarely as obvious as a bald head.
While the Holy Spirit has gifted us, it is our obligation to determine the nature of His gift. In all of his discussion of spiritual gifts, however, the Apostle Paul gives no directions for recognizing our gifts. Perhaps Paul felt no need for guidance on this particular issue because recognizing our gift really isn’t so terribly difficult. All we really need to do is ask ourselves where we can best serve. Are we the guys with the big strong beaks or the ones who can pick the bones clean? When we find the place where we can best serve effectively, we will have discovered our spiritual gift and we can get to work using it to further God’s kingdom.
The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the Good News about God’s grace. [Acts 20:24 (NCV)]
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