In Australia, it can take hours to drive between towns and fatigue can lead to accidents. So at busy holiday times rest stops are set up on major highways with volunteers offering free coffee. My wife, Merryn, and I grew to enjoy these stops during our long drives there.
On one trip, we pulled in and walked over to order our coffee. An attendant handed the two cups over, and then asked me for two dollars. I asked why. She pointed to the small print on the sign—at this stop, only the driver got free coffee; you had to pay for passengers. Annoyed, I told her this was false advertising, paid the two dollars, and walked off. Back at the car, Merryn pointed out my error: I had turned a gift into an entitlement and become ungrateful for what I received. She was right.
When Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he urged them to be a grateful people (Deut. 8:10). Thanks to the blessings of God, the land was abundant; but they could easily treat this prosperity as something they deserved (vv. 17–18). From this, the Jews developed a practice of giving thanks for every meal, no matter how small. For them, it was all a gift.
I went back to the woman and apologized. A free cup of coffee was a gift I didn’t deserve—and something for which to be thankful.
My friend Gloria called with excitement in her voice. She had not been able to leave her home except for doctors’ appointments. So I understood why she was so happy to tell me, “My son just attached new speakers to my computer, so now I can go to my church!” Now she could hear the live broadcast of her church’s worship service. She raved about God’s goodness and the “best gift my son could have given me!”
Gloria teaches me about having a thankful heart. Despite her many limitations, she’s thankful for the smallest of things—sunsets, helpful family and neighbors, quiet moments with God, the ability to remain in her own apartment. She’s had a lifetime of seeing God provide for her, and she talks about Him to anyone who visits or calls.
We don’t know what difficulties the author of Psalm 116 was encountering. Some Bible commentaries say it was probably sickness because he said, “the cords of death entangled me” (v. 3). But he gave thanks to the Lord for being gracious and full of compassion when he was “brought low” (vv. 5–6).
When we’re low, it can be hard to look up. Yet if we do, we see that God is the giver of all good gifts in our life—great and small—and we learn to give Him thanks.
While on vacation recently, I gave my razor a rest and grew a beard. Various responses came from friends and co-workers—and most were complimentary. One day, however, I looked at the beard and decided, “It’s not me.” So out came the razor.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of who we are and why one thing or another does not fit our personality. Primarily, it’s because God has bestowed us with individual differences and preferences. It’s okay that we don’t all like the same hobbies, eat the same foods, or worship in the same church. We are each uniquely and “wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Peter noted that we are uniquely gifted in order to serve each other (1 Peter 4:10–11).
Jesus’s disciples didn’t check their characteristics at the door before entering His world. Peter was so impulsive that he cut off a servant’s ear the night Jesus was arrested. Thomas insisted on evidence before believing Christ had risen. The Lord didn’t reject them simply because they had some growing to do. He molded and shaped them for His service.
When discerning how we might best serve the Lord, it’s wise to consider our talents and characteristics and to sometimes say, “It’s not me.” God may call us out of our comfort zone, but He does so to develop our unique gifts and personalities to serve His good purposes. We honor His creative nature when we permit Him to use us as we are.
When I first made the acquaintance of a new friend from abroad, I noticed his posh English accent and that he wore a ring on his little finger. Later I learned that this wasn’t just jewelry; it revealed his family’s history through the family crest engraved on it.
It was a bit like a signet ring—perhaps like the one in Haggai. In this short Old Testament book, the prophet Haggai calls for the people of God to restart the rebuilding of the temple. They had been exiled and had now returned to their homeland and begun rebuilding, but enemy opposition to their project had stalled them. Haggai’s message includes God’s promise to Zerubbabel, Judah’s leader, that he had been chosen and set apart as their leader, like a signet ring.
In ancient times, a signet ring was used as a means of identification. Instead of signing their name, people would press their ring into hot wax or soft clay to make their mark. As God’s children, we too make a mark on the world as we spread the gospel, share His grace through loving our neighbors, and work to end oppression.
Each of us has our own unique stamp that reveals how we’re created in God’s image and expresses our particular mix of gifts, passions, and wisdom. It’s our call and privilege to act as this signet ring in God’s world.
One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of “Christmas lists.” Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red or green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the One whose birth they were celebrating.
If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God’s service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal. 5:22-23).
The most important gift we can ever receive is God’s gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.
The church service was still in progress, and we had some visitors there that morning. The speaker was only halfway through his sermon when I noticed one of our visitors walking out. I was curious and concerned, so I walked out to talk with her.
“You’re leaving so soon,” I said, approaching her. “Is there a problem I can help with?” She was frank and forthright. “Yes,” she said, “my problem is that sermon! I don’t accept what the preacher is saying.” He had said that no matter what we accomplish in life, the credit and praise belong to God. “At least,” the woman moaned, “I deserve some credit for my achievements!”
I explained to her what the pastor meant. People do deserve recognition and appreciation for what they do. Yet even our gifts and talents are from God, so He gets the glory. Even Jesus, the Son of God, said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” (John 5:19). He told His followers, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).
We acknowledge the Lord as the one who helps us to accomplish everything.
O Henry’s classic tale “The Gift of the Magi” tells of Jim and Della, a young married couple who are struggling financially. As Christmas approaches they want to give special gifts to each other, but their lack of money drives them to drastic measures. Jim’s prized possession is a gold watch, while Della’s is her long, beautiful hair. So Jim sells his watch in order to buy combs for Della’s hair, while Della sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch.
The story has deservedly become beloved, for it reminds us that sacrifice is at the heart of true love, and sacrifice is love’s truest measure. This idea is particularly appropriate for Christmas, because sacrifice is the heartbeat of the story of the birth of Christ. Jesus Christ was born to die, and He was born to die for us. That is why the angel told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Long before Christ’s birth, it had been determined that He would come to rescue us from our fallenness—which means that we can never fully appreciate the manger unless we see it in the shadow of the cross. Christmas is completely about Christ’s love, seen most clearly in His sacrifice for us.
My daughter and I consider brownies to be one of the seven wonders of the culinary world. One day, as we were mixing the ingredients of our favorite chocolate treat, my daughter asked if I would leave some batter in the bowl after pouring most of it into the baking pan. She wanted to enjoy what was left over. I smiled and agreed. Then, I told her, “That’s called gleaning, you know, and it didn’t start with brownies.”
As we enjoyed the remnants of our baking project, I explained that Ruth had gathered leftover grain in order to feed herself and her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 2:2-3). Because both of their husbands had died, the women had returned to Naomi’s homeland. There Ruth met a wealthy landowner named Boaz. She asked him, “Please let me glean . . . after the reapers among the sheaves” (v. 7). He willingly consented and instructed his workers to purposely let grain fall for her (v. 16).
Like Boaz, who provided for Ruth from the bounty of his fields, God provides for us out of His abundance. His resources are infinite, and He lets blessings fall for our benefit. He willingly provides us with physical and spiritual nourishment. Every good gift we receive comes from Him.
Social media is useful for many things, but contentment is not one of them. At least not for me. Even when my goals are good, I can become discouraged by continual reminders that others are accomplishing them first or with greater results. I am prone to this kind of discouragement, so I frequently remind myself that God has not short-changed me. He has already given me everything I need to accomplish the work He wants me to do.
This means I don’t need a bigger budget or the assurance of success. I don’t need a better work environment or a different job. I don’t need the approval or permission of others. I don’t need good health or more time. God may give me some of those things, but everything I need I already have, for when He assigns work He provides the resources. My only assignment is to use whatever time and talents He has given in a way that blesses others and gives God the glory.
Jesus and Peter had a conversation that got around to this subject. After making breakfast on the shore of Galilee, Jesus told Peter what would happen at the end of his life. Pointing at another disciple, Peter asked, “What about him?” Jesus responded, “What is that to you?”
That is the question I need to ask myself when I compare myself to others. The answer is, “None of my business.” My business is to follow Jesus and be faithful with the gifts and opportunities He gives to me.