Gifts

“I have nothing to give but my heart so full and these empty hands.”

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Ever noticed a little thrill when you get a package in the mail or by a delivery service? Do you feel a sudden urge to grab a box cutter, scissors, or in a pinch just use your fingernails? The last one is a thought that horrifies the owner of my local nail salon, but sometimes you just can’t wait to open it, especially when you don’t know what it is. You tear back the tape and rip back the cardboard flaps and ooh and ah even if it is something mundane like a new duster. But, how often do we lay aside the contents, sometimes leaving it in the box it arrived in, and forget about it until we find it again a month later?

There is the thrill of the new and the excitement of the unknown in opening the package, but what good is our new arrival if it sits buried in a corner unused. This year I made it a goal to try and begin using a gift or package as soon as I get it. I don’t always achieve it but I am trying to do better. As a matter of fact, just this morning I found a purpose for a new journal I received at Christmas. I had set it aside looking for the right time and project and I found one on journaling about the cross in preparation for Easter. Since I just re-found another gift, Andrew Murray’s The Way of the Cross, I thought it was a sign.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

Ephesians 4:7

We are all given gifts from God when we accept Christ as Lord, spiritual gifts. It sounds great. You know it’s there, but you don’t take it out of the box and use it. So, what good is it? Spiritual gifts were meant to be used. They have a purpose.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:12

We are supposed to be using our gifts to help others. As Christians we are part of the body of Christ here on earth. Our gifts are how we function in the body. If we don’t do our part, the body may keep moving, but it is hindered from reaching its full potential.

So, break out the box and see what’s in there. There are studies and tests to help you figure out what your gifts are, but I dare say that you probably already have an idea. The key is putting the gifts to work. Look around your church and your community and I am sure you will find a need that you can meet.

Start with prayer. God is more than willing to give us an assignment if we will only ask. But you still have to take action even if it is only to raise your hand. You will be surprised what the Lord can do with a willing heart. Come to God with a full heart and empty hands and He will use them in ways we can’t even imagine now. God has already done His part. Now it’s your turn.

So, what’s in the box?

Gift Giving God’s Way

I like to paint. Give me an empty room with clean blank walls, taped off and ready to paint, and I am itching for a roller so that I can get started. I love to see fresh color transforming walls into something fresh and clean until the whole room is new. However, I don’t like the prep work. First, you have to move stuff out of the way. Then, you have to clean the surfaces and wait for them to dry. Finally, you tape off or cover anything you don’t want to get paint on. It’s a bit tedious and time consuming. Painting is the fun part.

Yet each step of the project is necessary if you want the project to be the best it can possibly be. The same is true of our gifts from God. He intends them to be used in service for Him, our gifts back to Him. In her Bible study on Gideon, Priscilla Shirer points out that Judges 6:19-20 sets out four steps in giving gifts:

  1. Prepare it.
  2. Present it.
  3. Put it down.
  4. Pour it out.

#LessonsFromGideon

For example, God expects me to use my gift as a writer. The first step is preparing my gift, which means honing it to the best of my ability. Writers should read good writing, keep in God’s Word, study the craft in classes and through experts, and practice as much as possible. We should work at revision and listening to constructive criticism, especially from fellow writers and experts.

The next step is presenting our gift, which means we have to turn all of those notes and ideas into an actual written document. Brainstorming is fun; writing is hard work. You have to research topics and fact check. You have to organize those thoughts into a clear and logical order. Then, you have to revise, edit, and proofread until your writing is the best that it can be.

The third step can be difficult for some people. Eventually, you have to release your work. You have to submit it in some form or fashion for others to see. Either you share it with a friend or you submit it to be published in some way. No matter how you do it, allowing others to read your work can be scary, leaving you vulnerable. You wonder if it is good enough.

Finally, you have to allow God to do what He wants to with it. The point of the gift is to give it back to Him, but sometimes we aren’t happy with the results. Many times we have no idea whether or not our words actually make a difference, but that is where we have to trust God that it won’t return void if it is done in His Will. After all, it is His gift, and He can do what He wants to with it.

What gifts do you have? God gave us gifts for a purpose, so if you have been hiding a light under a bushel basket, get it out, dust it off, and ask God what He wants you to do with it. Seeing what He has given us, it’s the least we can do. I still don’t like prep work, but He’s worthy of our best work, so it’s time to get out the cleaning rags and painter’s tape and put my best brush forward and pray that I can paint a picture with my words.

The Great Vending Machine

Vending machines can be very convenient, even more so since many of them now take debit cards. You don’t even need cash. You just walk up, swipe your card, make a choice, and out comes your desire. Of course, most of the choices are not healthy, but it is our choice to make. However, sometimes when you go to the vending machine it will either not take your money or card, or it will not give you the item you chose. Sometimes it will give you something you didn’t choose. How you choose to respond to the vending machine is a good metaphor for our spiritual lives.

For example, in Sunday school, the teacher was using the vending machine as a metaphor in relation to children and parents. As long as the children get what they want from their “vending machines,” they are happy, but the moment the vending machine doesn’t give them what they want, they react. Think about it. What is your first reaction to the vending machine not acting like it “should?” You punch the key harder. You rearrange the bill or card and try again. Eventually, you resort to rattling the machine to make it drop your choice. Some people will shake the whole machine, or even kick it. Some people have been known to lose all control and either bust the glass or turn the entire machine over all because they didn’t get what they wanted.

I think this metaphor is a good analogy for our spiritual walk, especially prayer. We walk up to the vending machine and give our payment of praise and offer up our choice. Everything is fine as long as we get what we ask for. When we don’t, we get petulant and hurt and angry. How dare God not give us what we wanted! Sometimes we can’t even get Him to respond. Then we are really angry. We deserve to receive our request. But, what if what we requested is not what we need, or what if God has something better in mind? Maybe we are trying to get a bag of chips from the machine when God has a steak dinner with all the trimmings down the road.

God knows what we want, but He also knows what we need. The choices we see with our earthly eyes are not all the choices. God has a universe of options to choose from and the ability to see the future and know what we will need down the road. We might need more protein for the road ahead when we only want a sugary snack. When we hit the middle of the journey, we will be grateful for the protein that will sustain us when the sugary snack will have long since faded. By all means lift up prayers and petitions, but make sure to give it to God and let Him decide what is best for us and accept whatever He gives with gratitude, knowing that one day “we will understand it better by and by.”