One of the most helpful keys in understanding the gifts of the Holy Spirit is found in the phrase “manifestation of the Spirit.” Paul uses this phrase in 1 Corinthians 12:7. Here is the quote, along with some surrounding verses to provide context:
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
The Greek word translated “manifestation” in v7 is the word phanerosis. It means “expression” or “manifestation.” It means that something invisible has become visible. It means something undetectable to our senses has become detectable. A manifestation of the Spirit is when the invisible Holy Spirit makes Himself detectible to our senses. It is a way that He expresses Himself to you and through you.
The nine gifts of the Spirit listed in the passage above are nine different “expressions of the Holy Spirit.” These are nine different ways that the Holy Spirit makes Himself detectible to our senses. In v11, we see that these expressions take place at the time of the Spirit’s choosing. In that same verse we also see that these expressions will take place in or through whichever person He chooses at the time.
Here is a way to describe this, using and example of one of the many ways this could happen. Let’s say that there is a group of people praying together, and the Holy Spirit decides that He wants to do something in the group. He chooses someone from the group and gives them the means to express what He wants to happen. It may be a prophetic message of comfort, or a nugget of divine wisdom, or any number of other things. The “expression” is presented to the person the Holy Spirit selected, and if they choose by faith to cooperate, then the gift is exercised and the people are blessed.
Another way to describe this is through an analogy. Each gift of the Spirit is like a firecracker. You are handed a firecracker, and you set it on the ground, light it, and then it explodes. Then you no longer have it because you have already used it. (However, there is an unlimited supply of firecrackers that will be handed to you when they are needed.)
Each “spiritual gift” takes place when the Holy Spirit desires to express Himself. That means there is no pressure on you to make something happen. It also means that you don’t need to take a test to see what your spiritual gifts are…at least the ones in the list above. If you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, then you have all nine of the “manifestation gifts” available to you at any time He wants to express Himself in one of these ways. That is very exciting, to say the least.
So, what is my part?
God wants you to “pursue love and desire spiritual gifts…” (1 Cor 14:1). In the same way that He wants us to pursue love, He also wants us to desire spiritual gifts.
It is important to have this perspective, and to remember that this whole thing was His idea. It is not something you are trying to earn, and it is not something that you need to try to talk Him into doing. He already wants to do this with you. It seems like Holy Spirit enjoys expressing Himself to us and through us. It also seems like He is willing to take action more than we realize. He likes “handing us firecrackers.”
If you want to grow in the gifts of the Spirit, you should talk to Him about it. You should get to know Him better and spend time in relationship with Him. It has been my experience that the more I get to know Him, the more often I seem to recognize when He is about to do something. As I learn to discern His voice better, I am able to participate in whatever He is doing more often. That is not a prerequisite, but it is very helpful.
You can ask Him to train you to recognize His voice, and you can deepen your relationship with Him by intentionally including Him in your daily activities. Talk to Him. Tell Him what you are thinking about. Ask Him for advice about whatever issues you are facing, or whatever decisions you are making. Develop a habit of being mindful that He is always with you to help you. One of His names is ‘The Helper.”
It also seems that there are certain situations where He becomes particularly passionate about making Himself tangible to us. He will bring out the gifts when there is a need that can be met by Him. For my wife and I, we operate in the gifts most often when we are ministering to someone that is is need of divine rescue, or when we are helping to equip other believers.
Start taking steps of faith, and go out to meet the needs of others. This is pursuing love and desiring spiritual gifts. This puts you in a position where you can join in with whatever Holy Spirit is doing.
“Thank you Holy Spirit that you want to express Yourself through me. Teach me how to recognize Your voice and join in with whatever You are doing. Amen!”