Treating God's gifts with the enthusiasm and gratitude they deserve
Christmas is over, New Year’s Day has passed. To me, the post-holiday season always feel a bit weird, sluggish, and anti-climactic, and looking back on the past decade brings even more bittersweetness to the mix. Yet however we feel about either the recent season or the whole decade gone by, there’s so much about the prospect of a fresh start that we can look forward to.
This time of resolutions and goal setting has made me think a lot about what to aim for in the year(s) ahead, and, to be honest, this year it has been more difficult than in the past. But as I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve kept coming back to a realization I had a while ago that helped me better assess and appreciate the ways God has made me, so I thought I would share it with all of you as you plan your year(s) ahead as well.
Think back to just a handful of days ago to when you were sat around the Christmas tree with your family. Imagine you had painstakingly made one of your family members a gift by hand – maybe you knit them a sweater – and you can’t wait to see their reaction when they open it. Finally, the moment arrives. The delight of anticipation is enough to burst out of you and make you rip the gift out of their hands to open it yourself, just so you can see their overjoyed reaction without having to wait a second longer.
Nonchalantly and without any rush, they open the present. Upon seeing the sweater, they pause, lift it out of the box, give it one look-over, shrug, and put it to the side while they turn to their neighbour and remark on how the apple cider is a bit too sweet.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us would be a bit gutted at this point. After all that time, care, and excited anticipation, a reaction like that would be a bit of a disappointment, to say the least.
Perhaps, you think, they were just having an off-day. Maybe they appreciate it more than you think. But they never mention anything to you about it, and even though you’re with them almost every day, you never see them wear it.
Finally, six months later the sweater reappears, much to your delight. Wearing it out to the coffee shop, the barista remarks to your family member, “Wow, I love that sweater! It looks so good on you!”
“Oh, this thing?” they say, half-rolling their eyes, “It’s really not that great. The colour isn’t good on me, and I really prefer wool to cashmere.”
Standing right there as they harshly review your gift, your heart sinks as you realize it wasn’t just an off-day; the gift you had dreamed up and crafted specifically for them clearly hasn't incited the joy you had hoped and intended it to.
Some of us may have had a similar giving experience either this Christmas or in holidays past. But a while ago I was thinking about the parable of the talents and realized this is something we often put God through, though when we do so it’s often in the name of (false) modesty, insecurity, or even laziness.
How many of us have been complimented on some “gift” that we possess – perhaps it’s a musical talent, athleticism, being tech-savvy, creative, good with our hands, working well with kids, speaking well, drawing well, being a good listener, or something else – and have merely brushed it off? Often, in what I can only assume is a strange way of proving we’re not arrogant about the gift someone has accused us of possessing, we flat-out reject the compliment, turning it into a joke, or flipping the comment to pick out all the flaws in our gifting instead. “You’re such a good leader, you really inspire and unite people!” “Oh, no, not really, I’m just so loud that people can’t ignore me even when they try!*Chuckle chuckle chuckle*”
Or perhaps don’t outright deny our gifts, perhaps we just leave them on the shelf to gather dust. We remember a time when we used to volunteer on a team to do yard work for people who couldn’t do their own, and how we seemed to have a real knack for it, and for chatting with the people afterwards. But there are other people filling the committee now, and it doesn’t seem worth the effort to put ourselves out there when they’re doing just fine without us.
The only way either of these actions would be justified is if we were the source of our gifts. But I think we often forget that our gifts we were, indeed, given. From before eternity, our Father built a predisposition for each of our talents into all of us, and He’s the One who has given us mentors and opportunities to see these seeds of talent flourish. When we forget about God’s role in the equation and (perhaps subconsciously) give ourselves too much credit for what He’s built and developed in us, we feel entitled to use it (or not use it) and denigrate it however we so choose.
Reflecting on this turned my mind to the parable of the talents. Often we look to this story either to teach us about money or spreading the Gospel message, but I think it applies to any resource God entrusts us with – including with our talents (using the modern definition of the word). In case you need a refresher, the parable can be found in Matthew 25:14-30. The story goes that a wealthy landowner leaves on a journey, entrusting small amounts of his money with three servants before he goes. The first two servants use the money for investments and projects, which results in them earning more money. The third, however, digs a hole and hides his money away. Sure his money is safe, but it's also useless. He might as well have never been given it. When the master returns, he praises the first two with joyful exuberance, enthusiastically entrusting them with more of his resources for the future. But the third he furiously admonishes for wasting the trust and potential that his master had given him, taking away even what the servant had originally been given.
God has entrusted each one of us with gifts and talents of some kind or another. Whatever God has shaped you for, that is a far better, more blessed, and infinitely more beautiful place than the highest human pedestal which is reached by clawing up for selfish ends. Whatever we’ve been given, however typical or traditionally recognized it is or isn’t, it was thoughtfully and intentionally dreamed up and crafted for us and our situation specifically. And, when the Maker of the gift is the One we’ve got, that is enough to make any gift worthy of the highest esteem, glory, and honour. And, not to mention, worthy of being taken out, used, and enjoyed.
As a bit of an aside, I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes our gifts aren’t “talents” in the usual way we think of them. Sometimes it’s a life experience that enables us to connect to a certain group of people, or gives us a unique perspective that the church can benefit from. This is a gift just as much as other “talents” are, and can be just as joyful and fruitful an investment in the Kingdom.
This all being said, I don’t want anyone to go away from this article entirely focused on investing and results and generally being overly pragmatic or utilitarian about the whole thing. Because, just like when you (in our imaginary story) gave the sweater for your family member’s joy and would have received joy yourself by seeing it, so I believe it brings God joy to see us finding delight and giddiness in the gifts He has given us. He does love us, after all; we sometimes forget that He’s not all about practicality and return on investments either!
This truth is affectively illustrated in a very famous line from one of my favourite movies, Chariots of Fire. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember Eric Liddell, a Scottish Olympic athlete, has some trouble (at least in the movie) convincing his sister as to the value of his competing in the games. As they go for a walk to finally sort out what his future will hold, Eric tells her, “Jenny, I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
I believe that too. Not, for Pete’s sake, that God made me fast (oh dear, no no no, He definitely did not). But He did make me other things, just like He did with all of us. And when we do pull out these gifts to use and enjoy them, to feel the full pleasure of them and the full pleasure in knowing they were hand-crafted just for us, then we can feel His pleasure – just as you would have been full of delight and pleasure to see your sweater being worn with pride and delight.
As I go into the year ahead, one of my main resolutions is to take a step back and to ask God to show me in honesty, frankness, and humility, what He has given me, and to pursue His delight and the coming of His kingdom in the exercise of those gifts. Perhaps you’d like to do the same. Perhaps you might even want to ask a trusted friend what they see God has built into you (maybe explain where you’re coming from so you don’t feel like you’re just waltzing around asking people for compliments) and ask God in prayer what using those gifts for His glory then looks like. Though at first we may fear arrogance when daring to look and acknowledge our gifts square in the face, when we remember that they are gifts, and in fact say much more about the goodness and glory of their Giver than anything else, we can instead be turned to love, glory, and praise rather than inward to empty vanity or the threat any other ugly thing.
In 2020, I pray all of us will uncover and find new delight and pleasure in what God has gifted us in, and that we’ll find a new depth and richness in our bond with Him because of it. Wishing you all the very best in the year ahead, and thank you for all your reading in the year behind us as well.