I realize I am a little late to the party, but I saw the Machine Gun Preacher for the first time yesterday. It was really moving. However, what really got to me was the sense of purpose that Sam seemed to fall into. He went from being a convict to a missionary in 2 hours. Realizing that this was a journey over the course of many years for Sam, I wondered, how did he come to the point of knowing and acting on what he wanted to do? How did Sam Childers come to know his purpose?
Just visit your local bookstore and you can get an idea of how difficult this question is to answer. Enough books to fill a library have been written to help people find their purpose in life. Unfortunately, there are probably as many answers to that question as there are books that have been written about it.
As a minister to young adults, I am well aware of the desire to know one’s purpose. While in a generic sense I do not think that is a hard question (we are all here to glorify God). I think the waters get a little more muddy when you are talking about the specifics in someone’s life. The answer to the question “how can I glorify God the best with my life” is illusive. While this question may come from a place of selflessness, it becomes a question that cripples us. Searching for the answer to this question can keep us from reaching the purpose to which we are all called. On one hand, we want to be as useable as we can for the Lord. However, trying to answer this question and never getting around to acting on ANY answer is useless. This, I believe, is where spiritual gifts enter the picture.
From Scripture, we know that there are three main passages that speak about spiritual gifts:
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28)
However, none of these lists are exactly the same. Because of this fact, many believe that these three passages make up an incomplete list of spiritual gifts. It is possible that these three were just highlighted because they were the ones that were most relevant to the audiences Paul was writing to (Paul was the author of Romans and the Letters to the Corinthians). One thing that is important to keep in mind is that all of these gifts come from the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:4).
Taking another step back, we can use Sam’s life as a case study of spiritual gifts and the hand of God in his life. The thing that sticks out to me is the ferocity that Sam is willing to pursue lost and hurting children. That passion that Sam used to save so many, had also been used to pursue evil earlier in his life. When that passion was turned to evil, it was sin, but when Sam began to use that go glorify the Lord, he began to fulfill his God-given purpose. Other skills Sam had that could be seen as spiritual gifts is his ability to speak/teach, exhortation, compassion, etc. All of these are gifts given by God to help Sam fulfill a purpose and glorify God.
Next time you are feeling purposeless, ask yourself, “what are my spiritual gifts?” If you don’t know, you passions are good places to start. What do you love to do? What have other people affirmed you are good at?
Above all else, don’t let you desire to do you best or uncertainty about where to start keep you from serving and glorifying God at all.
Disclaimer: While I may not agree 100% with Sam Childers on his theology or methods, one must respect his compassion and commitment to loving children.