Gifts (Part 1)
As a kid, I equated Christmas with a very short list of things: baby Jesus, lights, a tree, and gifts. Up until about age 16 or 17, the excitement of waiting for and opening the Christmas gifts was the absolute highlight of the season for me. My interest in gifts began to wane due to several factors. 1) The intangibles became much more valuable to me as I became more spiritually aware (3 ounces of world peace, please). 2) Gift-giving and receiving is not one of my primary “love languages,” though my mom, sister, and wife speak it very well . 3) Rather than waiting until Christmas, I saved up and purchased the big things I really wanted.
Over time, I allowed my irritation with holiday consumerism to steal my joy in the gift-giving tradition at Christmas. This irritation was only heightened by the added overhead of managing the garbage and recycling for three gift-opening sessions once we had children. Every year I have had to make a conscious effort to try and not be the wet blanket during the shopping process.
However, this year I developed a renewed interest in gift-giving. A friend of ours shared her tradition of giving only three gifts to each of her daughters in keeping with the Wise Men’s gifts to Jesus (Matt. 2:11). Putting a spiritual twist and a limit on the gifts opened up some new possibilities for me.
My wife starts thinking about gifts for the girls as soon as Costco starts displaying toys (right about mid-October). There are the multiple scouting missions as we take the girls to find out what they like. It’s an excellent training opportunity to teach them to communicate their wishes and squash the god of entitlement that plagues the vast majority of American children (“I really like this one” rather than “I need/want that”).
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This year I could tell that my heart had changed when I found myself getting drawn into my wife Casey’s sessions on Amazon, eBay, ToysRUs, Target, Walmart, and Costco. Casey takes great delight in finding gifts that the kids will love (thankfully she’s also a wonderful bargain hunter. Jade is nearly 5 so shopping for her is particularly fun because she has so many interests and I have some assurance that she will truly enjoy her gifts.
All of this got me thinking about Matt. 7:11, which states, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” God knows the desires of our hearts (Ps. 20:4) and he truly gives the best gifts! James 1:17 states, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
To be honest, I don’t feel (yet) like a great gift giver. But this year I felt a certain closeness to God as I considered how much I enjoyed finding good gifts for my kids. I want to spend some time reflecting here on gifts from a Biblical perspective and try to better understand how God thinks and feels about gifts. Acts 20:35 describes the gift being able to give gifts! “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
To discover what gifts God offers to us, I went to BibleGateway.com and found 158 hits for “gift” and 1,546 hits for “giv” (and its derivatives). Here is a list of what I found. I encourage you to spend a few Quiet Times “unwrapping” the gifts God wants to give to you! Some of them are in this life, some are in the next life. Some are tangible, some intangible. Some are specific instances in time, others are gifts of character. Open your mind to what God wants to offer you, because 1 Cor 7:7 says, “each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” Meanwhile, my next article will consider what gifts we can give back to God.
Ability to accept one’s lot in life (Eccles. 5:19)
Ability to do skilled work (Ex. 36:2)
Ability to enjoy wealth (Eccles. 5:19)
Ability to produce wealth (Deut. 8:18)
Aid against our enemies (Ps 108:12)
All beasts, birds, fish, and critters (Gen. 9:2)
All things (Rom 8:32)
Answers (Gen. 41:16, Num 22:8)
Authority (Matt 9:8)
Breath of life (Num. 27:16)
Children (Gen. 30:6, 48:9; Deut. 28:53)
Comfort (Jer 31:13)
Daily food, drink, clothing (Matt 6:33)
Desires of your heart (Ps 20:4) River of delights (Ps. 36:8)
Dominion, power, might, glory (Dan 2:37)
Dreams (Gen. 41:32)
Earth (Ps 115:16)
Encouragement (Romans 12:8, 15:5)
Endurance (Rom 15:5)
Eternal life (John 6:27, 10:28, 17:2; Rom 2:7, 6:23)
Everlasting name (Is 56:5)
Everything needed for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3)
Everything that lives and moves for food (Gen. 9:3)
Food in general (Ps 104:27), daily bread (Matt 6:11)
Fruits and vegetables for food (Gen. 1:29)
Fruits of the soil (Deut. 26:10)
Full/long life span (Ex. 23:26, 1 Kings 3:14)
Capacity to give generously (Romans 12:8)
Glory (John 17:22-24)
Good things (Num. 10:32, Ps 85:12)
Grace (Romans 5:15)
Great & precious promises (2 Peter 1:4)
Hearing (Ex. 4:11)
Heart to know God (Jer 24:7)
Help (Ps 94:17)
Holy Spirit (John 3:34, Luke 11:13, John 14:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 5:32)
Honor and praise among people (Zeph 3:20)
Hope (Ps 119:49)
Inheritance (Zech 8:12)
Insight & understanding (Dan 9:22)
Jesus’ body (Luke 22:19)
Jesus’ life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28)
Joy (Neh 12:43, Is 56:7, 1 Thess. 1:6)
Keys to Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:19)
Kingdoms (1 Sam 28:17)
Knowledge of secrets of Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10)
Land (Gen. 13:15, 28:13, Jer 3:19)
Law/10 commandments (Ex. 24:12, Deut. 6:17)
Ability to lead others (Romans 12:8)
Life (Neh 9:6)
Life after death (Rom 4:17)
Light to our eyes (Ezra 9:8)
Living water (John 4:10), water of life (Rev 21:6)
Love (2 Tim 1:7)
Mercy toward others (Romans 12:8)
Message for others (Jonah 3:2, Matt 28:18-20)
Mouths/ability to speak (Ex. 4:11)
Name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12)
New birth (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:3)
New heart (Ezek. 36:26)
New spirit (Ezek. 36:26)
Peace (Num. 6:26, Ps 29:11, John 14:27)
Plunder and others’ possessions (Gen. 31:9, Deut. 20:14)
Power (2 Tim 1:7)
Power to do miracles (Ex. 4:21)
Proofs for belief (Acts 17:31)
Prophecy (Romans 12:6)
Prosperity (Jer 32:42)
Purpose (Matt 28:18-20)
Rain (Jer 5:24, Zech 10:1)
Relief from bondage (Ezra 9:8)
Relief from suffering, turmoil, harsh labor (Is 14:3)
Rest (Ex. 33:14, Is 63:14, Matt 11:28)
Reward for what you’ve done (Rev 22:12)
Right to eat from tree of life (Rev 2:7)
Right to sit on Jesus’ throne (Rev 3:21)
Righteousness (Rom 3:22)
Salvation (Ephesians 2:8)
Satisfying work (Eccles. 3:13)
Self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7)
Serving (Romans 12:7)
Sight (Ex. 4:11, Ps 146:8, Pr 29:13)
Signs of God’s leadership (Is 7:14)
Songs in the night (Job 35:10)
Special provisions for food (Ex. 16:8, Num. 11:18)
Spiritual shepherds (Jer 3:15)
Splendor (Ezek 16:14)
Strength (Ps 29:11, Is 40:29, Phil 4:13)
Success (Neh 2:20, Ps 20:4)
Sufficient room and space around us (Gen. 26:22)
Ability to teach others (Romans 12:7)
The Sabbath (Ex. 16:29)
Undivided heart (Ps 86:11)
Unity of mind (2 Chr 30:12), singleness of heart & action (Jer 32:39)
Victory over enemies (Ex. 23:31, Deut. 7:24, 20:4)
Victory over sin & death (1 Cor 15:57)
Wall of protection (Ezra 9:9)
Well instructed tongue (Is 50:4)
White stone with new name on it (Rev 2:17)
Wisdom (Ex. 28:3, James 1:5)
Words of wisdom that are irresistible and incontrovertible (Luke 21:15)
Giving Back to God (Gifts, Part 2)
In my previous article, I explored the idea of giving gifts from God’s perspective and provided a list of things he loves to give his children. As Rom. 8:32 puts it, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Clearly, God is the ultimate generous giver and never holds back from us. But what can we give back to God? What would he like from us for Christmas?
My kids are relatively young (under 5), but they are constantly giving back to me in some very special and touching ways. Their sincerity and love is always cute and often heartwarming. On multiple occasions when I have given Jade a single cookie (e.g., one of the good Subway chocolate chip ones), she’ll share back a good third or even half of the cookie when she could easily eat the whole thing herself. “Here Daddy, this is for you” is very touching when I understand all these things about the situation. And I don’t think I will ever tire of hearing, “Daddy, I made this for you” as I’m handed a craft project from Kids’ Kingdom. I’m sure that parents of older children will tell me to enjoy it because it won’t last forever. But then along come the grandkids.
What can we do that can evoke the same emotional response in our Father God? Like my children, I have no tangible value that I could ever give to God that he could not easily procure for himself (e.g., I could easily buy another Subway cookie if I wanted one). Romans 11:35 states, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” But I think our gifts do matter to God. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about giving.
After surveying the New Testament, I identified four themes of giving toward God: giving glory and praise to God, giving money and time to the poor & to the church, giving ourselves to the Lord’s work, and giving thanks to God.
The concept of giving glory and praise to God is not always easy to articulate. I think of it as giving God the appropriate credit and recognition that he deserves. In some cases, it’s simply acknowledging the character traits of God as in Deut. 32:3-4. “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
At other times, the Bible calls us to acknowledge the role that God has played in our success. King Nebuchadnezzar is a perfect example of someone who failed to give God the glory for his success. After God humbled him, the Bible records the following in Daniel 4:34-35, “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’”
Unlike the Greek gods in “Clash of the Titans,” God doesn’t literally need our praise to survive. Instead, God knows that pride in our accomplishments is one of our primary downfalls. I have found it takes constant training to redirect the hearts of myself and my children to God, the true source of all good things. And, as a father, I know God deeply appreciates a sincere compliment from his children.
Another way we give to God is by giving our money and time to the poor and to the church. Jesus made it very clear in Matt. 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” I find this so encouraging! I know I can’t possibly repay Jesus for giving his life sacrificially for me. Yet I would love to give him a backrub, provide for him, feed him a nice dinner, or just do something really nice for him. Jesus’ basic answer is, “Pay it forward to the least of these brothers of mine.”
God feels our love not only when we meet the needs of the world, but also when we build up the church. After all, the church is literally the body of Christ! When we care for our brothers and sisters, we are in fact ministering to Christ’s body. Rom. 12:4-5 states, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” We do not live our Christian lives in isolation from others. In fact, our time, money, and talents belong to others! Gal. 6:9-10 also encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” If we open our eyes, opportunities abound to meet needs in the body of Christ.
For most of us, our hearts strings are very close to our pursestrings. God made us this way and in my experience I have found he blesses me in proportion to my sacrifice. 2 Cor 9:6-8 reminds us, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” God loves to receive gifts from us, but it’s not a gift if it is given begrudgingly. I am not encouraged when my kids offer me something and say in a down tone of voice, “All right, you can have some.” Nearly half of their gift to me is in their positive encouraging attitude toward giving!
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Giving ourselves to the Lord’s work is yet another gift we can offer to God. I often need the reminder in 1 Cor 15:58 to persevere and be wholehearted, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” When Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20, he promoted us from “servants” in his business to “partners,” as shown in John 15:15. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Col. 3:23 reminds us that every daily act can be an offering to God. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”
One of the big gifts I hope to give my children is the capacity to work hard and even to enjoy it! Most kids today don’t know how to work because it isn’t natural for anyone and their parents aren’t willing to put in the investment. I remember my bad attitudes as my parents trained me to work hard, but they persevered. I could not run from their own example of hard work. That training ultimately bore fruit as my parents saw both their children put in the difficult work to become doctors. My children may never get their MD or PhD, and that’s ok. Watching my 4-year-old daughter cheerfully fold her clothes and put them away in her room is reward enough for now. I know God must feel this even more so, which inspires me to work my best for him.
Lastly, we all have many reasons to give thanks to God. It is one of the things we can offer God on a regular basis. He certainly deserves it; I also believe it encourages him greatly.
Psalm 118:28-29. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Psalm 95:2. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.
Psalm 106:1. Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Daniel made prayer and thanksgiving part of his daily routine. “Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Dan 6:10). Lastly, Jesus himself may have had a distinctive way of giving thanks to God. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (Luke 24:3031).
As you develop your Christmas gift list, don’t forget to offer God the gifts he really wants and only you can give! His list includes glory & praise, time & money for the poor and the Body of Christ, devotion to the work of the Lord, and a stream of thanksgiving. All we really have to do is follow the two great commands of Mark 12:33, “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”