Ever since I was a little girl, I have been able to understand concepts and complex ideas without having studied them. In classrooms and later in church pews and small-group studies, I have sat, nodding my head in understanding. Sometimes, I am singled out by the teacher or leader who asks, "You seem to know what I'm getting at. Tell us, where have you studied this?" Sheepishly, as if caught in a lie, I answer that I have no formal training; it just sounds familiar and makes sense. I am suddenly reminded that not everyone hears the way I do.
In my youthful days of exploration away from Christianity, I wondered if this instant recognition was some learning held over from a past life. But that never felt quite right. Although it was as if rediscovering something I already knew, in my heart I felt this was an innate capacity.
This experience was not limited to grasping intellectual concepts on first hearing. It included the ability to hear the commonality expressed in a diverse group of opinions, to see all sides of an argument. Sometimes it got me in trouble when I could not see why people couldn't agree with one another. Why couldn't they see past their differences to their shared values?
This unusual ability and my learned skills in communication made me a good Bible study teacher — not because I magically had all the answers — but because I always made room at the table for diverse opinions. I seemed to have an understanding of the Scriptures that embraced all the different ways of approaching them, the different ways we live out our stewardship of the mysteries of God.
By 1997, when Dan Dick brought the gifts discovery process to my church in Hockessin, Delaware, I had gained trust in this innate ability; but it was still something I responded to, not something I consciously employed. Spiritual gifts discovery gave me a name for my experience — wisdom — and a means for understanding and employing its power. This wisdom was a gift of the Holy Spirit, a holy power to be channeled through my intelligence and skills to help fulfill God's purposes — that the Kingdom might be fully experienced in each and every one of us.
I have sometimes explained my understanding of the gift of wisdom as the ability to see the world through God's eyes. That might sound arrogant. Who am I to make such a claim? It is not always true; but when I can get my ego out of the way and let God be God, it is as if God is looking through me at the world. The spark of goodness shines from all creation, no matter how deeply buried that spark might be.
What difference has it made to have a name for this gift? It has made me more aware of how close God is. It has protected me from abusing the gift as special privilege, and it has inspired me to develop as an humble steward of this blessing. It has helped me to be more conscious, more intentional in employing wisdom in my relationships. It has helped me to be patient with people who don't see what I see. In my best moments, it has been my honor to share wisdom with others — to open the doors of understanding and insight — whether I am teaching, singing, preaching, or listening.
I don't need perfect understanding of how this all works. I need to continue to trust in God's good purposes and to continue to develop and deploy the amazing grace of God's love through the spiritual gift of wisdom. I do this through the means of grace — prayer, study, worship, service, fellowship, and sacrificial devotion.
It may be that you experience the gift of wisdom in a very different way. There is no one right way to live out of our gifts. In our diversity, there is strength and beauty — all God needs, and gives, to transform the world.
* Barbara is an author and freelance editor for Abingdon Press and other religious publishers.