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Coop's Column - Spirit at Work: Engifter

The Triune God, through the Spirit's ongoing work, equips each member of his body for being suitable helpers to each other.

Not to this very day, ten years after it happened, does Paul Carris understand why he walked over to Judith Toppin, a total stranger whose bad heart and swollen legs made it impossible for her to walk alone down the stairs from the 71st floor of the World Trade Center on 911, and give her his word: “We are going to walk out of this building together.” All he knows is that he made the promise, and carried through on it. So doing, he made it possible for the two of them—together—to make it out alive. He gave her what she needed desperately at that moment: a strong arm to support her, and a calm, insistent voice to coax and encourage her.

In response, Judith gave Paul a gift too: a stirring essay, “Angels Walk Among Us.” It’s her tribute to his selfless care for her, and about how he became a conduit of God’s goodness to her.

Among the Creator’s finest gifts is the capacity to become instruments of (his) blessing to one another. Each of us is capable of offering others timely and concrete help; in countless ways each can enrich others. The gift of showing mercy, as Paul did to Judith, is one example among many, but a good one to illustrate how gifts (can) work. How remarkable, really: One person can care about—and bear—another’s pains, thus dividing them; she can share another’s joys, thus multiplying them. And in the process, both generous giver and grateful receiver thereby give hearty assent—together they sing their well-tuned, obedient “Yes!”—to what God declared at creation’s dawn: “It is not good for [humans] to be alone; I will make a suitable helper” (Gen. 2:18).

The Triune God, through the Spirit’s ongoing work, equips each member of his body for being suitable helpers to each other. Each member’s gift(s) can bless others within the fellowship; accordingly, each has a glad duty to offer that gift. When this back-and-forth flow of giving and receiving occurs, three things happen:

  1. Both givers and receivers become blest—“built up” (1 Thess. 5:11).
  2. Love, the nourishing center of any healthy—and healthful!—Christian community, itself flourishes and grows.
  3. The Triune God takes joy. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit thrill to observe a community of persons who mirror (the love of) God himself.

The Holy Spirit’s gifts to the church are diverse. “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given,” declares St. Paul (Rom. 12:6). Comments Eastern Orthodox bishop Timothy Ware: “The Holy Spirit not only unites us, but also ensures our infinite diversity in the Church: at Pentecost the tongues of fire were ‘clove’ or divided, descending separately upon each one of those present. The gift of the Spirit is a gift to the Church, but it is at the same time a personal gift, appropriated by each in her or his own way."

So diverse are these gifts that no one individual, no matter how fine her gifts, alone can express the entire Christian life in its grandeur and fullness. Nor do one person’s gifts matter more than another’s; each one’s gifts are vital to the entire community’s flourishing.

That God has entrusted his children with gifts ought both to encourage and challenge us. The encouragement: Each of us possesses gifts, and may take humble delight in having them. No belittling of one’s gifts, therefore, or comparing them unfavorably with other’s gifts. The words of Pope Benedict XVI, spoken at his papal inauguration, are prophetic in this regard: “We [humans] … are a result of the thought of God. Each of us is loved; each is willed; each is necessary.”

The challenge: Since each person is necessary to others’ flourishing, everyone ought to make it high priority daily to pour out those gifts in blessing upon others. Or, as a time-honored Christian confession, the 16th-century Heidelberg Catechism, eloquently declares:

Believers, one and all,
as members of Christ’s community,
share in Christ
and in all his treasures and gifts. …
[E]ach member
should consider it a duty
to use these gifts
readily and cheerfully
for the service and enrichment
of the other members. (Q&A 55)

Angels do walk among us. They’re as close as a neighbor whose word brings joy, whose hand is ready to help.

The Spirit guiding us, perhaps you and I might look for ways today to join that heaven-sent company?


Jesus, whom Thy Church doth own As her Head and King alone, Bless me Thy poor member too; And Thy Spirit’s influence give That to Thee henceforth I live; Daily Thou my strength renew. Let Thy living Spirit flow Through Thy members all below, With its warmth and power divine; Scattered far apart they dwell, Yet in every land full well, Lord, Thou knowest who is Thine. Those who serve Thee I would serve, Never from their union swerve; Here I cry before Thy face— Zion, God give thee good speed, Christ thy footsteps ever lead, Make thee steadfast in His ways.

Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769