Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.1 Corinthians 12:7-11
There is some confusion in the church about the gifts of the Spirit and how they operate. One point of misunderstanding revolves around gifts of the Spirit like healing and miracles. The comment usually goes like this, “If someone has the gift of healing, why don’t they just walk around and go into hospitals and just heal everyone.” The logic is that if they have the gift, they should be able to use it whenever and wherever they want. People often think of “gifts” as no more than supercharged abilities that we can control at will.
But this shows a lack of understanding of how many of the gifts of the Spirit work. All spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit are not always fully controlled by the will of the person who has them. It is true that some gifts are “residential” in nature in that they are always able to be accessed and used by the person who has that gift. Examples of a residential gift would be the gift of mercy, gift of hospitality, or gift of teaching. In nearly every setting, a person is able to access this gift and use it for the glory of God. The gift seems to “reside” in the person in a way that doesn’t depend on a special request of God. The person is a kind of reservoir for the gift.
Other gifts are “non-residential” and are sometimes called “occasional” gifts by theologians. By occasional they don’t mean temporary or rare. They mean that these gifts show up in particular occasions and can’t be fully controlled by the person who has this gift. Examples of “occasional” gifts are gifts of healing, gifts of miracles, gift of prophecy, etc. Those who have operated in these “occasional” gifts usually have to request that the Lord move through them in that way for that particular situation. The gift is there, but it is not released automatically. It must be released by God through the person. Rather than a reservoir, the person is simply a conduit of the gift.
We could say that a person with one of the non-residential gifts has to wait on the Lord and has to invite the Lord to use them as a conduit in that moment. When we say they “have” the gift of healing or miracles or prophecy we don’t mean they own the gift and control it at will. We mean that we have seen the Lord regularly use them as a conduit of that gift. And as a person grows in a non-residential gift, they are used more and more often to be a conduit. It happens more regularly.
With a residential gift, a person can use it all the time. Growing in that kind of gift doesn’t mean that it happens more regularly but that, when it is used, it is used more powerfully. Meaning, the effect of the gift when it is used grows in impact.
We could use modern technology as an analogy. Having a residential gift is like having the song on your hard drive. Having a non-residential gift is like having to pull it down from the cloud. Either way, you have access to it, but it’s a different kind of access.
Knowing this distinction about the different gifts is important so that we can learn to cooperate with the Spirit in the operation of the gifts given to us. Different gifts require a different kind of cooperation. When we know this, we can wield these gifts for the sake of the Kingdom of God and for the glory of the name Jesus.