“How does one acquire specific spiritual gifts?” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 52–53
Arthur R. Bassett, professor of humanities, Brigham Young University. Perhaps this question resolves itself when we remember that spiritual gifts are indeed gifts. Ultimately, they are bestowed on individuals by an act of grace of Jesus Christ, the giver of all good gifts, through the medium of the Holy Ghost (see Moro. 10:8, 17–18).
A gift is generally not something one earns. Rather, it is a free-will offering, given gratuitously, though not entirely undeserved in every case. Scripture suggests that the same is true for spiritual gifts. In urging us to “seek … earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8), the Lord emphasizes our need to desire and pray for them (see D&C 46:9, 28, 30; compare 1 Cor. 12:31; 1 Cor. 14:1). Nowhere in scripture does he state or imply that receiving spiritual endowments is necessarily and solely the automatic result of any studied, systematic development of spiritual qualities on our part. The Lord’s will is preeminent; he decides what is expedient. Spiritual gifts are bestowed on individuals “according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men” (D&C 46:15).
The Lord encourages us to know what gifts are available (see D&C 46:10) and their different purposes beyond the collective purpose of benefiting all the Saints (see D&C 46:12). The Apostle Paul provides a helpful distinction between (1) gifts given to help with a specific calling, but sometimes more permanently—for example, gifts of wisdom, healing, miracles, prophecy, and discerning of spirits (see 1 Cor. 12:8–10) and (2) a more vital category of gifts—faith, hope, charity—that we all must acquire if we are to inherit eternal life (see 1 Cor. 13; Ether 12:34; Moro. 7:38–48; Moro. 10:21).
Although we might feel doubly blessed if we receive any of the gifts in the first category, we should not be troubled if that is not yet the case. In fact, spiritual gifts are often transitory, bestowed upon us for however long or short a time the Lord deems expedient. For example, we may have noted that we were blessed with a certain spiritual gift only for the duration of a particular Church calling.
To a degree, spiritual gifts can profitably be compared to the talents in one of the Lord’s parables (see Matt. 25:14–30). They are dispensed by the Lord with the expectation that the recipients will magnify them, using them for the good of others.
Indeed, a great benefit of a church organization is that individually we need not possess a specific gift in order to reap its blessings. Our fellowship with the Saints gives us access to most, if not all, spiritual gifts. Thus, other Church members are vital to our spiritual well-being, just as we are vital to theirs, through the gifts with which we have been collectively blessed. The Apostle Paul underscores this point in comparing spiritual gifts to parts of the human body: “There should be no schism in the body; but … the members should have the same care one for another.
“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25–26).
Thus, although we cannot develop (in the fullest sense of the word) any spiritual gift entirely through our own efforts, we are encouraged to prayerfully pursue the best gifts. We also need to be aware of those gifts with which we have been blessed and be worthy and prepared to use them for the blessing of those around us.
Such awareness may naturally follow from noting the multiplicity of spiritual gifts given to the Church membership generally and watching for evidence of any of them in our lives. (That three of our four standard works include a registry of such gifts seems to more than suggest our need to become familiar with them.)
Priesthood ministrations such as an ordination, patriarchal blessing, or setting apart may reveal to us our specific gifts or talents. Magnifying our gifts and talents enables us to function more integrally within the body of the Church and avoid being like the slothful and unwise servant in the parable of the talents.
If our lives are devoid of the vital gifts of faith, hope, and charity, we should earnestly examine ourselves and our relationship with our Father in Heaven. We should pray for those essential gifts earnestly, because acquiring them is crucial to our eternal salvation. Indeed, to have charity is to have acquired a quality vital to salvation, the Apostle Paul implies, while to lack it is to have nothing of eternal significance (See 1 Cor. 13:1–8).
Although our acquiring other spiritual gifts is certainly less urgent than obtaining the cardinal gifts of faith, hope, and charity, we do well to prayerfully and patiently seek any gifts that stand to help us magnify our callings and serve the Lord more effectively.