Are you a born-again believer in the Lord Jeus Christ? Do you know that you have received the Holy Spirit? If not, then you need to sort out these things first. Is there any strong area of disobedience in your life, such as a refusal to be baptised? You don't have to be perfect to receive and use gifts, but it is not good to be in a state of rebellion as this causes hardness of heart which can lead to misuse. You need open hands and a warm heart to bless people.
Do you desire to worship, honour and serve Christ and his people - that is, unlike the Corinthian church, you want the gifts for the right reason? Do you find the prospect of powerful gifts rather awe-inspiring, even embarrassing, rather than attractive and desirable? If so, that is good because it will guard you against pride and the danger of drifting into the occult.
If you are ready, how do you get started? One thing I will not do is teach you how to 'speak in tongues'; this practice arises from false understanding leading to foolish attempts to 'help' the Holy Spirit. Such efforts are almost bound to lead to false gifts. Instead, I will try to help you discern the will of God. You must remember that it is the Spirit who decides what gifts he will give you. Others may encourage you, or lay hands on and pray for you, but ultimately it is up to God.
Don't expect a blinding flash, which leaves you with super-powers like some comic book hero. Instead, consider things as they are already. It is likely that God has planted seeds in you. The two most common gifts are tongues and prophecy, so these are often where people start. Do you ever find, when praising God, that you are frustrated by the inadequacy of your ability to express what is in your heart? If so, this could be a sign that the Spirit wants to give you the gift of tongues. The best time to start in tongues is in an atmosphere of worship. Speak your praise to God, but let him give you the words. You might find that you switch back and forth between your native language and your new language. You don't lose control, as you can stop whenever you wish. Anyone who seems to be out of control when using tongues probably has a false gift.
If you find that God sometimes seems to speak to you, so that prayer is becoming a conversation rather than a monologue, then you may be developing the gift of prophecy. Once you have learnt to recognise his voice and hear from him for yourself, he may want to use you to pass on messages to other people. Perhaps they don't have this particular gift, or maybe God wants to emphasise something he has already said to them. You should not go around announcing "Thus saith the Lord" like some Old Testament prophet; New Testament prophecy is different. Your prophecy has to be carefully considered by the recipients, and may be rejected as being not from God, or not fully from God. You will be pleased to hear that if this happens they are not required to stone you to death!
Do you find that you often 'see' things coming before anyone else does? A prophet sees danger or opportunity early, so he can help God's people prepare for it. Of course, they may ignore you. If you can't cope with people disagreeing with you then you are probably not cut out to be a prophet.
Are you the sort of person who acts as a magnet to the sick or hurting? Do you work as a practitioner in one of the caring professions? If so, the Spirit may want to give you gifts of healing, encouragement ('helps') or discerning of spirits. Then you can offer more than sympathy or medical science, important though these are. Offer to pray for people, right there and then. If appropriate, and there seems to be no unclean spirit present, ask if you can lay hands on them. Don't expect to see an instant healing every time, but you will see God blessing people through you.
Finally, are you the sort of person who loves truth and always wants to get to the bottom of a matter? You may find yourself using gifts of teaching, words of wisdom, words of knowledge or discerning of spirits. These enable the church to understand what is really going on, and so deal with it.
Many people have a mental picture of spiritual gifts which revolves around a Christian megastar on a huge stage, with a swaying choir, and people falling over as he touches them. Some find this attractive; most are repelled by such a vision! I hope I have shown you that supernatural gifts can be part of the everyday life of the child of God; they are perfectly normal. Your life as a Christian began with a supernatural event - you were born again. This was made possible by another supernatural event - the resurrection. So it is normal for God's people to be supernatural.
Another common picture of the gifts is a wild Pentecostal, permanently gabbling away in tongues in a stage whisper. I once had one of those sitting behind me at a wedding; very annoying, but it was in a Pentecostal church! Some people are just strange, like those cessationists who insist that the only proper English bible was published by King James. Don't be put off by bad examples.
In addition to the supernatural gifts described above, God can sanctify and use our natural abilities. The church needs both, so never concentrate on one to the exclusion of the other. You will probably want to see talented musicians leading your singing. However, I have heard of people who are normally tone deaf but who can sing beautifully when bringing a prophecy; any church would be blessed by someone like this but you wouldn't put him in your worship band!
back to Bible home, received the Holy Spirit?, Cessationism, Science and Faith
updated 17 Feb 2009: add links to tongues and prophecy