There’s something lying on a massive table. It’s a huge picture. You move closer and see that the design is made up of individual pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle. But the pattern is unusual. It isn’t an immediately recognisable image, such as a Swiss mountain or a bouquet of tulips.

As you focus on the details, you notice that the pattern is constantly moving and changing in almost imperceptible ways. The tiny pieces are connected by an intricate web of activity, like the nervous system, blood vessels and muscles of your body. In the very centre of the design is a heart that glows with pure light, pulsating fresh supplies of love through the arteries, veins and capillaries. The muscles move, and the nerves transmit messages. Everything works together harmoniously. Every piece is vital.

Now imagine that everyone who loves God has been given at least one piece of this jigsaw puzzle. When all of our fragments are interlocked, we make up something far more amazing than any of the individual pieces on their own. Together we create a picture of God’s character, His amazing, kind, nurturing and generous love.

Now imagine that some bits are missing from the design. If someone hides their pieces, loses them, doesn’t bother to unwrap them or keeps them in their pockets, the perfect picture will be spoiled. The other pieces will need to be adjusted so that the flow of God’s love is uninterrupted. The isolated pieces might find it harder to reflect God’s character on their own. Their images might slowly fade.

Experiencing God

This incredible jigsaw puzzle is a metaphor for our interconnectedness as Christians. No human being can be a perfect reflection of God’s character, because we’re all flawed and none of us can ever be just like Him. More importantly, none of us can represent God on our own, because His love is experienced in relationship. God’s character is perfectly revealed in the way the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit collaborate for our present and eternal wellbeing.

Love can only be seen and experienced when it’s put into action. God created us to live in relationships—families, churches and communities—because He knew it isn’t good for us to be alone. We need each other so we can experience God’s love with human arms, ears and voices. We need each other so we can experience God’s love flowing from them to us and from us to them.

So, every Christian is like a small piece of the puzzle that helps people to understand and experience more of God’s character. When we put our pieces on the table in the places where God has created us to be, we portray a more complete picture of His love.

Unwrapping spiritual gifts

Spiritual gifts are the special presents God gives us when we choose to belong to His family. It’s as though He takes the huge jigsaw puzzle of His love out of the box, including all the things He does for us such as being generous with us, helping us, teaching us and guiding us, and divides them into bite-sized chunks that human beings can manage more easily. Then He distributes them like spiritual birthday presents, specially selected to suit each one of us, our personal preferences, the things that bring us joy, the needs of our communities, our natural talents and the skills we’ve learned.

It’s a mystery how God distributes these gifts, but He can always see the ever-changing mega picture, the one on the lid of the most amazing jigsaw puzzle in the universe. He keeps His eye on each of us, on each church or fellowship, and on each community, and He’s continually remixing and giving out His spiritual gifts to create the greatest web of blessings for the whole world.

How God choreographs all of our gifts is beyond my comprehension. But I don’t need to know how it all works; I just need to make sure that my piece in the jigsaw puzzle is vibrant and growing.

My piece of the puzzle

I was six years old when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and eight when a piece of my creative writing was published in our local paper.

At first, writing was just something I enjoyed. Then I thought maybe it was a talent God had given me. When I learned about spiritual gifts, I didn’t see “writing” on the Bible’s lists (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), but some of the most amazing moments in my life have happened when I’ve been asked to write on a topic that has never crossed my mind before.

I sit in front of my laptop, wordless, not knowing where to start or what to say. All I can do is pray, asking God to show me what He wants me to write, opening myself to be a channel of His love to the world. And then the words come, the ideas flow and I know that what I’m writing is totally from Him. The experience is beyond words. Today, writing is my talent and my work, and my favourite times are when I know God is using my writing as His spiritual gift in my life, my unique piece in His amazing jigsaw puzzle.

When I write, I want to communicate with my readers, so maybe it’s a modern-day version of speaking in tongues. Sometimes I write articles that are helpful, encouraging or teaching, so maybe my writing is just a channel for other spiritual gifts.

Your piece of the puzzle

You can search the internet for different descriptions and various questionnaires to help you identify your spiritual gifts. But sometimes the biblical names for the gifts can be confusing, because they are generic names, describing a range of gifts and you might not be quite sure where your gifts fit. So how can you know?

Think about what you do just because you love God and you want to help others experience His love. Think about the times when you’ve experienced a peaceful, joyful sense that you’re doing just what God created you to do. Think about those times when you’ve felt fulfilled, when you had a sense that you were being 100 per cent used by God and a sense that you were living out your purpose through every vibrant inch of your unique piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It’s in those moments of sheer, connected inspiration that you can truly discover your spiritual gifts.

Where do you fit?

God will help you to discover your gifts. You’ll feel happy when you use them and other people feel specially blessed by them. And the more you use your gifts, the stronger and more effective they’ll be. Once you’ve identified the ways you share God’s love with others, you’ll begin to see where they fit into one of the biblical categories of spiritual gifts. However, there may be other gifts emerging today that don’t fit neatly into the original biblical categories, like the gifts of communication, graphic design, music, art, crisis management, disaster relief, conflict resolution, counselling and yes, writing!

When the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus, his lists of spiritual gifts were different, so maybe they’re meant to be suggestions rather than a constraining list of specifics.

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spiritual gifts

Maybe the best way to make sure your pieces fit into God’s jigsaw puzzle is to let Him reveal His character to you and through you to those around you, every day of your life, in whatever way He chooses, so that He can use you to create a clear picture of His love in a confused and hurting world.

Unwrapping your Spiritual Gifts

Read Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30; Ephesians 4:11; and Exodus 28:3, 4. These lists include helping people, being generous, teaching people about God, sharing the good news about God, pastoring God’s people, planting new churches, being wise, being discerning, organising events and church life, encouraging others, serving others, having special faith in God, having a gift of communication, being creative for the glory of God, performing miracles, healing people and prophesying. But bear in mind that these lists are by no means exhaustive and that your special gifts may be different.

What spiritual gifts do you think God has given to you?

◗ How do you feel when you use these gifts?

◗ How do your gifts help the people in your community to experience a richer picture of God’s love?

◗ What difference would it make to you, your church, your community and your relationship with God, if you chose not to use your gifts?

◗ How have your spiritual gifts developed over the years?

◗ How have you thanked God for your special gifts?

◗ How could you use your spiritual gifts in fresh and creative ways?

◗ What other gifts might the Holy Spirit be inspiring you to nurture and develop to increase your ability to serve God and bless others?

Karen Holford is a family therapist with a background in occupational therapy and developmental psychology. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia website and is republished here with permission.