Understanding Your Unique Gifts, Strengths and Passions

Deep in the heart of every person is a desire to know that they truly matter and that they can make a meaningful difference. These longings are a part of God’s imprint upon your life. They speak to the concepts of belonging and becoming. Belonging is about relationships — it means you are convinced that you matter to someone. Becoming relates to contribution — it means that you are confident that you have been shaped for a purpose. 

Connecting Your Story to God’s Story explored the value of seeing your small story in light of God’s grand story. God’s great storyline revealed in Scripture displays the themes of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. His storyline is both purposeful and dynamic. This framework demonstrates the importance and authenticity of the true story of the whole world, and it reveals the beauty of your participation. As a follower of Jesus, you are to bring all you possess to steward a beautiful dominion and facilitate a work of eternal significance.

The word “contribution” reflects both self-giving and agency. As a follower of Jesus, you bring the totality of your uniquely shaped self as a contribution towards the advancement of God’s kingdom. This act of self-giving includes your God-given gifts, abilities and passions. It forms the foundation of your unique contribution. As a follower of Jesus, you are also to act. You are to exercise the agency that God has provided to engage where he calls you and among whom he calls you. Following Jesus and making a difference in the world is never passive but always active everywhere. 

God’s Three Purposes for Every Follower of Jesus

Let’s begin by looking at the big picture of God’s purposes to determine our unique contribution. 

  • The Creation Mandate 
  • The Great Commandment 
  • The Great Commission

The Creation Mandate is summarized in Genesis 1:26-28 and was covered briefly in the previous post. As image bearers of God, we have the opportunity to bear his image by helping to bring order to chaos. Many times the notion of bringing order to someone or something carries the work of bringing stability where there is little to none. Bringing stability to unstable settings and situations allows people to experience peace and flourishing. You can do this in small ways every day as you go about your life. And you can do this in larger ways as you seek to right wrongs and correct societal injustices. Living out the Creation Mandate helps bring a beautiful dominion to every setting in which God places us.

The Great Commandment is referenced in Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:27. These New Testament mandates flow from Old Testament passages found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. The essence of the dual command is to love God supremely and love others as we would love ourselves. There is a singularity and equality demonstrated here. We are to love God above all else, which leads to the growing ability to love others equally and sacrificially. This overarching purpose is a clear reflection of our overall sense of being and the lifestyle we are to express in our daily lives. 

The Great Commission is primarily referenced in Matthew 28:18-20, but it is a theme found throughout the Bible. God’s heart for all people is clear. His essential strategy and emphasis in this overarching purpose are to “make disciples.” A disciple is a follower and a learner — this is apprenticeship language. To be a disciple is both intellectual and experiential. Helping others follow Jesus, learn from Jesus and become an apprentice of Jesus is our privilege and our task. The promise of God’s empowering presence accompanies this command. You can fulfill this command wherever God has placed you. 

The Key to Living Out Your Purpose

John 17 reveals one more overarching purpose that allows you to live out the others. It may be the most important. This passage reflects a private setting between Jesus and his 12 disciples — his followers and apprentices. That purpose is deep intimacy with him — oneness with God and one another. Through your intimate relationship with Jesus, you will ultimately find the wisdom, power and courage to fulfill the other three purposes. And it will be out of your intimate relationship with Jesus that you will also be able to discern and realize your unique calling and contribution in this world.

1. Live out of confidence

As we begin to narrow down and consider our unique contribution, two more important biblical reference points are worth mentioning. First, in Psalm 139:14, King David makes an affirmation toward God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (English Standard Version). Psalm 139 is a beautiful description of praise to God for his intimate knowledge of us. You are invited to affirm with David that you too are fearfully and wonderfully made. And nothing made is done so without a purpose. 

Purpose communicates why something or someone exists. Aim and intention are included in this understanding. The knowledge that you matter and the ability to make a difference link purpose to contribution. The Creator of the universe made you on purpose to glorify him through your unique contribution. 

You must apply your unique design to the overarching purposes for all of God’s children and the unique purposes that he has for you. Paul states something very similar in Ephesians 2:8-10. Verses eight and nine remind us that we did not save ourselves, but God rescued us from a life of sin by his grace and initiative. Verse ten sounds much like Psalm 139:13-14. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV). These words affirm our uniqueness as a created being, and they confirm our unique contribution in fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives. These two passages can give you great confidence in pursuing God intimately and walking purposefully toward his calling.

What about the practical side of your unique contribution? How do you discover what your unique contribution might be? There is much overlap between contribution and calling. We will explore calling in a future post. But let’s begin to get practical about contribution. There is an intersection of three streams: our design, passions and our personal journey. 

2. Live out of your design

When I speak of design, I am mainly referring to your natural abilities and spiritual gifts. When you were conceived in your mother’s womb, you were given particular abilities to be developed and applied toward God’s purposes. These may include being born with a beautiful singing voice, a natural mind for numbers or the ability to perform well on the athletic field. It might also include the ability to create hospitable spaces, a welcoming presence or a keen sense of knowing when people are hurting and drawing close to them. These are abilities that are often discovered through opportunity and the affirmation of others. They are talents that could lie latent until someone affirms you, and you begin to take the development of these natural abilities seriously. We all come with a beautiful package of talents that must be unwrapped and utilized for God’s glory, others’ benefit and our deep satisfaction. Sometimes, these natural God-given abilities are discovered and recognized early. Sometimes we find them later in life. There are well-known assessments that one might take to aid and discover some of these talents.

When we think about gifts, I am primarily thinking of spiritual gifts given to us at the very moment of salvation. There are representative lists in the New Testament that categorize some of those gifts: Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Of course, you may possess more than one spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are primarily discovered and affirmed as you serve within your spiritual community or church. But there are some good assessments to aid you along the way here too. Your talents and abilities, along with your spiritual gift or gifts, work together in helping you determine what you might be good at doing and even how you might go about it.

3. Live out of your passions

Your passions and your journey work together to indicate where you might apply your abilities and gifts of service. The concept of passion in the Bible can carry one of two meanings. Most of the time, its usage communicates something negative, such as Paul’s description in Ephesians 2:3 when he speaks of the passion of the flesh that leads to sin. Here, “passion” is the desire for something that either is sin or might lead to sin. 

The other usage of passion communicates good desires, hopes and longings. You might be uniquely moved to do something about sex trafficking, homelessness or food inequities. You can begin to see how this might lead you toward a particular audience or space in concert with your expression of service for the kingdom of God. Sometimes the root word is translated as “compassion” in our English Bibles to reflect that deep emotion that moves us toward people. We see this lived out in the life of Jesus several times. His response is to bring both physical and spiritual care. 

4. Live out of your journey

Your personal journey also plays a role. It can be beneficial to spend some time considering what God has been doing in your life up to this point. Are there any themes of concern? A theme of concern might be a recurring topic, place or need that you can’t get out of your mind. Are there any ways God has used you over time that might indicate a place of unique ministry opportunity or expression? This insight is an opportunity to discover through lines in your life that could show a path, place or people where you could be used to make a difference for the cause of Christ. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy as he guides you toward ministry and service to live out your unique offering and make your best contribution.

Your abilities, gifts and passions provide a path that can lead to your unique offering. They represent your best contribution given in service to God and his kingdom, which glorifies him, serves others in God-honoring ways and results in your deep satisfaction. It does not mean it won’t be difficult or you won’t suffer at times. Following and serving God is challenging. But it does represent a holy offering unto the Lord as you pursue your unique contribution with hearts fully surrendered to him. This pursuit requires prayerful and thoughtful attention. And it is best discovered through and enhanced in community. Ultimately, he is worth it.