Remember being a kid and looking forward to birthday presents from Grandma and Grandpa?
Yes, you had to go through the long, drawn out process of taking forever to open and read the card, but afterward? Rip, tear and toss away, finally diving into a box of something sure to bring pure delight. After all, grandparents tend to give kids what they ask for. Moms and dads, on the other hand, might be more likely to give their kids something they think they need – something more like socks, a scientific calculator for school, or the dreaded-and-oh-so-humiliating-gift to open-when-in-mixed-company bra.
You can watch the drama unfold on a child’s face. Big smiles when they start to open the package, then hesitation. They confusedly lift an object from the box, uncovering the undesired or unexpected. Sometimes there are forced smiles… or tears… or confrontational questions and accusations… or even a full-fledged tantrum in discovering that the dreamed for prize is nowhere to be found in that box. An inferior, unwanted something or other had replaced it.
We grown-ups… we missionaries… are not above this exact same type of behavior, and I was recently challenged about this by a new missionary friend of mine.
Most faith-based international workers look at the opportunity to serve God and others overseas, in the far flung and exotic corners of the world, as a precious thing that God has gifted us. He places it in our hands and just like a child we start to rip into that gift with all of the enthusiasm of a toddler at Christmas time.
Sometimes the things we pull from that metaphorical box bring squeals of excitement, enthusiasm and enchantment.
But what about those other times? Those times when we lift something up, turn it slowly in our hands and then look at the Giver with an incredulous expression. We mentally grasp for words of dutiful thanks to mutter… or sometimes we actually whisper, “Why? This isn’t what I expected and it is certainly not what I asked for!” Even worse, just like an angry toddler our attitude sours, the volume of our voice escalates, and we end emphatically with “Take it back! Give me what I wanted!” We may even angrily stomp our foot and trudge off the scene, or attempt to throw the gift back.
God’s Word shares stories of many who’ve struggled with God’s gifts because they weren’t the gifts expected… the ones they thought they’d been promised… the ones they felt were their due… or the ones for which they’d begged God…
- even Jesus… in the garden
My favorite of these stories, however, is the story of Abraham. In Genesis 15, God comes to Abram and says “Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” God essentially says, “Here, Abram… I’m giving you Me… I AM your reward.” In the all’s pious, holy and right with the world version of this story, Abraham would have been ecstatic. Talk about the most amazing, overwhelming and wonderful gift! God just gave Abram God Himself!
But that isn’t exactly his response. Abram essentially says, “But that’s not the gift I’ve been waiting for. It isn’t what you promised. You told me my gift was a child…” I do not at all want to imply that Abram stopped trusting God or even that he didn’t want God as His shield and reward. What I am saying is that at that moment, what Abram wanted from God more than anything else was the son God had promised. Those good desires for a future promise clouded his current perspective. Thus, Abram appears disappointed with what was ultimately a much better gift.
Thankfully, God grows and changes Abram. Later in life, Abraham’s obedience to God’s direction, desperate trust and an unexplainable confidence in God’s provision far surpasses the immediate worth of that precious, promised son.
That Abraham learned this lesson gives me hope that I will too, someday.
It is hard.
How does my grandmother begin to trust that the loss of her husband of almost 70 years? How does she believe that any future here and now without my grandfather is a good gift from God?
How does my father remain confident that a simple procedure turned into worst case scenario complications followed by a long, and potentially difficult recovery somehow constitutes God’s best?
How do I whole-heartedly accept that transitioning from a land, a ministry our family loved and where we thrived… to a new place and a new ministry in a diametrically different place with so many new, even frightening, unknowns… is a precious prize to seize, unwrapping with unreserved enthusiasm and confidence?
There are standard, true answers – but they sound almost cliché in those questioning, struggling right now moments. God is trustworthy, always loving, worthy and blameless. His gifts are always good – perfectly good. Even (as a friend recently wrote to me): “Our small perspective of ‘God’s gifts’ is just so small.” Honestly, though? Those true answers don’t necessarily encourage me to just buck up and trust more.
I can share, however, what does encourage me.
Recently, we – as an online community – were challenged to make sure we only give good gifts to those we seek to serve. Key to good giving is knowing and understanding our recipients and their realities. This necessitates visiting often, stepping into their lives and stories, listening, assessing and judging circumstances correctly… so that we can then be confident our gifts are good ones, needed ones, and ones that can be well received.
Jesus, God Incarnate, did just that.
He came. He visited. He listened. He walked this life. He understands. He judges correctly and with grace and mercy. He learned obedience and He trusted His Father to only give Him good, albeit hard, gifts. He knows. I can trust Him because I know He has shared my condition or circumstances. Just last weekend, we celebrated His infinite love, great sacrifice and amazing victory. Thus HE IS uniquely qualified to identify and offer us gifts that are always all and only good. I can be confident of that truth.
With this reminder, may we all always eagerly open our good gifts from God choosing gratitude and excitement for both the expected and the unexpected. May we determine, by God’s grace, to practice contentment and enthusiasm as we unwrap each day, pressing on for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
What encourages/comforts you when God gifts you with something unexpected or different?
When you receive an unwanted or unanticipated circumstance or future path, what reminds you that you can trust God and that your perspective is limited?
First image – Handmade Gift Wrap by Erika G, on Flickr.