I had an opportunity to travel around the country of Albania for several weeks, right after Communism was lifted there in 1992, teaching leaders about the present-day ministry of the Holy Spirit. The territory of Albania overlaps that of ancient Illycrium, a Roman province where Paul preached and actively showed the people the power of the Spirit. We know about Paul’s ministry there from his letter to the Roman church.
One of the cities in Albania where I held meetings is called Shëngjin, which is Albanian for “St. John,” and their tradition holds that Paul once preached there, in addition to Titus and John the Beloved. As it turned out, I was part of the first public meeting in recent history at which the gospel would be preached, accompanied by signs and wonders in the power of the Spirit. Only God could have set things up so well to confirm the truth of the gospel.
God Sets Us Free
There was no church building for our meeting, so we gathered in a fortress-like community building on a cold, rainy February evening. There were maybe a hundred and twenty people packed into the room, all wearing their winter coats because it was as bitterly cold inside the place as it was outside. Except for my Christian interpreter and the friend who came with me, everybody else in the room spoke shqip (pronounced roughly like “shkeep”), which is the Albanian language.
I had been praying specifically for a word from God for these spiritually hungry people who had gone for so long without one. Through my interpreter, I began to preach about how God sets us free from rejection and oppression, and I told a little bit about my background and testimony.
I kept speaking for a while, although I could see I wasn’t getting much of anywhere. Then the name Sarah floated through my mind. That was the second time it had happened that day. Earlier, as I had been preparing myself in prayer for the meeting, the same name had occurred to me. I had put it aside because I felt I was supposed to minister to the whole group, not just to one person; and anyway, I had reasoned, Sarah is not an Albanian name.
I had to assume that God had brought the name to my attention for a reason.
But now that the name had been brought to my attention a second time, I had to assume that God had given it to me for a reason. I turned to my interpreter and asked, “What is the name ‘Sarah’ in Albanian?”
“Sabrina,” he said.
“Is anyone here named Sabrina?” I asked. A youngish lady with a somber expression raised her hand. Everyone seemed to know her. I asked her to step out into the aisle and to come forward, which she did, bundled in her coat. Only then did I start to grasp more of what to say to her. My words were translated for her as I said, “Your name is Sabrina. You have never heard the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ ever in your life. You are thirty-two years old. You have a tumor in your left breast, and Jesus wants to heal you.”
The woman looked startled at my words. She had never before been to a Christian meeting, especially not to a charismatic-type meeting. Yet even without ever having seen it happen before, she began to tremble violently. She knew the words were true. The rest of the people knew it, too, because they knew her. Sabrina gave her heart to Jesus in front of the group, followed by others. Even those who may not have been saved that night definitely had an encounter with the power of the living God. We all forgot about being cold because God’s presence was so intense.
Eventually things settled down, and everyone went home except for the three of us: my friend, my interpreter, and me. We didn’t have a hotel or a home nearby to go to; we were supposed to travel to the next city, where we were lodging. The security guard escorted us down the hill to the street, where we hoped to be able to hail a taxicab, although cars were scarce in all of Albania, and the roads were terrible. All we could do in the rainy, dark night (no streetlights, either) was to try to thumb a ride.
Amazingly, a car pulled over. It crossed my mind that this was like the incident in the book of Acts where Philip got into the Ethiopian official’s chariot—and God got in, too. (See Acts 8:26–40.) The driver was willing to take us to the next city, so we got into his “chariot,” and our God-sent chauffeur set out, navigating around the potholes in the dark.
I occupied the front passenger seat, with my interpreter and my friend in the back. The interpreter translated for me as I started telling the guy the story of what had just happened at the community center. All of a sudden, the driver was seized with trembling, and it wasn’t because of the bad road; it became clear to me that I was in the middle of another divine appointment. This man turned out to be Sabrina’s husband! He was a Muslim, and he had never heard the gospel before, either. He kept driving, and I kept talking. Before we arrived at our destination, he was saved, too, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This was like the book of Acts where Philip got into the Ethiopian official’s chariot—and God got in, too.
After that, I knew I could make Paul’s words to the Corinthians my own: “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”
(1 Corinthians 2:4). God was doing a mighty work in northern Albania!
The Holy Spirit is demonstrating God’s power through His church much more widely than we realize. The Spirit is at work everywhere in the world, and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). This means that all of His gifts are still fully operational, such as the prophetic gift through which I was given the word for Sabrina.
Why Does God Give Spiritual Gifts?
For the Common Good
Scripture exhorts us to seek spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1), and the apostle Paul made it clear that the gifts are meant to be used on behalf of other people. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The gifts have been given so you can channel God’s love to someone else. Gifts are for giving away!
For the Whole Body
God gives spiritual gifts so that the entire body of Christ can profit from them, so that each member can benefit the other members of the body. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12–31; Romans 12:4–8.)
For the Effectiveness of the Gospel
Without God’s supernatural endowments, the church cannot presume to preach the gospel to the whole world and reap the great harvest prior to Christ’s coming. Jesus said that supernatural gifts would be the “credentials” of believers. (See Mark 16:17–20; Acts 4:33; Hebrews 2:3–4.)
How to Receive God’s Graces and Gifts
The following are steps for positioning ourselves receptively as we seek God and His gifts.
1. Choose God’s Choice for You
First, we choose God’s choice for us. God is sovereign over all and gives graces, ministries, and spiritual offices as He desires. It takes these two seemingly opposed truths joining forces to reach the goal of receiving and exercising spiritual gifts: Is it God’s sovereignty? Or our free will? Yes—both. Let us choose to receive and operate in the gifts God has for us.
2. Be Open and Receptive to God
We need to actively seek and ask for what God has chosen. Those who are already gifted can help each other to receive God’s gifts, often through the laying on of hands. One example in the Old Testament is when Moses laid his hands on Joshua to impart to him the gift of leadership. We see this practice throughout the history of the people of God, especially after the Holy Spirit was given to the church.
3. Make Yourself Available to God
Jesus’ disciples received His impartations by making themselves available when He called them and sent them out to minister in His authority. Out into the countryside they went to test their new gifts, and then they came back to report their successes to Him. (See, for example, Luke 10:1–11, 17–19.) Ministering in Jesus’ name brought them great joy, even in the midst of the personal sacrifices and difficulties that came with the territory.
Heavenly Father, I ask You to be my Gift-giver, my Fruit-bearer, and my Teacher and Guide—always to Your glory. As I walk through life, may I reflect Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit wherever I go. Let me be continually receptive to the gifts You want to give me. I have great expectations that You will move in my life today! Amen and amen.
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