Why haven’t I received a spiritual gift like tongues or prophecy?

Q. I have been a believer for some time, and to the best of my ability I love our Lord with all of my heart, soul, and mind. I have prayed for years that the Holy Spirit would manifest in me and I would receive the gift of speaking in tongues, prophecy, or some other sign, but to date nothing like that has happened. Should I interpret this to mean that for some reason God hasn’t found favor with me, or that the Holy Spirit isn’t living in me? Or even, heaven forbid, that I am not saved? I desire to know God to the fullest, and I desire the deepest relationship with him possible.

Actually, I’m certain that you already have received a spiritual gift that evidences God’s favor upon you, the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life, and your salvation. This gift probably just isn’t manifesting itself in a public, declaratory way like prophecy or tongues (which, as I explain in this post, is the gift of speaking a language one has not formally acquired).

The reason I’m certain about this is that Scripture tells us clearly that “to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Or, as another translation puts it, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” In other words, every single believer in Jesus is given a spiritual gift that they can use to build up the community of his followers. But because the needs are so great and varied, and because people have such diverse personalities, interests, concerns, and passions, the Holy Spirit distributes a wide range of gifts throughout the community, and these gifts don’t all look alike.

The statement I just quoted is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. When he first says this, he illustrates it by listing several high-profile gifts such as you’re asking about—prophecy, tongues, miracles, healing, discernment of spirits, words of wisdom and knowledge, etc. These are most likely the kinds of gifts that the Corinthians valued and wanted to have. But Paul then proceeds to explain how the whole point of the gifts is to build up the body, and that a wide range of gifts is needed for this, so everyone shouldn’t want just this one kind of gift; they should seek to discover and welcome whatever gift God actually has given them.

In fact, as Paul concludes this discussion, he offers another list of gifts, and while it includes some of the ones he named earlier, such as prophecy, miracles, and healing, he now also mentions things like teaching, helping, and administration. In Romans, after explaining similarly that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us,” Paul mentions further gifts such as serving, encouraging, giving, and showing mercy. These are quiet, background gifts, but they are just as essential to bringing blessing throughout the community of Jesus’ followers and to people who are not yet part of that community.

Indeed, I once heard someone say, perfectly seriously, that the person with the gift of prophecy stands up and says, “Thus says the Lord, I have set before you an open door that will lead to a great expansion of this ministry,” and the person with the gift of administration responds, “In that case, we’d better buy another filing cabinet”—and both are just as spiritual.

So I would encourage you to consider in what ways God has already been using you to bless and help others, and to recognize what gifts God must have given you to make this possible. As you consider this, one gift may stand out, or you may discern a cluster of related gifts. In any event, I hope you will recognize that this indeed means that you are saved, the Holy Spirit is living in you, and God has shown you his favor. These are all good things, and I commend you for desiring to be reassured about them, in the context of knowing God to the fullest and having the deepest possible relationship with him, by identifying a spiritual gift you have received.

But beyond this, please recognize that the essential purpose of God giving us spiritual gifts is “for the common good” or “so we can help each other.” So with your new assurance of God’s love and favor, and your new recognition of the gifts God has given you, put those gifts to use to build up the body of Christ and spread the good news about Jesus. As another version translates Paul’s words in Romans, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

4 thoughts on “Why haven’t I received a spiritual gift like tongues or prophecy?”

  1. Thank you Christopher. Using our gifts to build up the body is so very important and does assure everyone who serves in the Church they are important.

    I’m wondering though. Could it be that the questioner was seeking a more profound experience, a deeper knowledge or as Paul puts it “solid food.” Speaking in tongues as in speaking Hebrew, Latin, Greek or Aramaic can enhance one’s knowledge of the Scripture. Take the name Jesus Barabbas for instance. Knowing that the name Bar means son of and Abbas means Father is important to understanding just who was imprisoned and why. Also Knowing that the name Nicodemus means “Victory of the People may bring the believer that much closer to appreciating the Victory Jesus brings. Knowing that Beth as in Bethany means house and Anny or Anna means Grace, can give a more profound meaning to the Ascension.

  2. Hi,

    A great post indeed. Well, there are two issues here probably. One is the natural languages of men, and the other one the Spirit-enabled languages, which in principle is the speaking in tongues referred to by Christians.

    Biblical Hebrew and Greek are the natural languages of men, once spoken by the respective social groups. You don’t need to be a believer to know these languages. You only need to work hard to learn them probably in a higher learning institution that teaches these languages, if you so choose to. However, it becomes more beneficial spiritually to someone who learns these languages and is born-again and spirit-filled.

    Now, to your question, if I got it well, to be initially filled by the Holy Spirit is when the Holy Spirit is poured upon you to receive power from on high (Acts 1:8; Luke 4:1,14-15). This is spiritual empowerment for the work of ministry. God promised this as a sign of the last days’ ministry and it is to every believer, old or young, male or female (Joel 2:28-32). Jesus called this, “the promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). There is no need to be begging God on this as if you don’t deserve it; It is His own promise. You only need to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His promises. Jesus said, “…how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:13)

    Whoever asks receives, whoever knocks to him the door is opened, and whoever seeks receives. It is your right as a believer. Just relax, have faith in Him, He is more willing to fulfil that promise to you than you can imagine. You can be prayed for or you can be at your own room in a praise and prayer mood and ask the Lord to fill you with His Spirit. All are possible because it is Him who promised. Be blessed.

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