If you didn’t read Part I of The Gift, I do suggest starting there before you read today’s post!
Part II: Response
Now that we know a little bit more about the gifts God gives to us all, I want to talk about how we should respond to these gifts.
Several Christmases ago, I found this unique decorative plant holder in an antique shop that I thought my mother would really appreciate. It had pretty metal scroll work and could be hung on a wall so that three circular pieces folded out to hold small potted plants. It was done in a patina color that would go well in her home. I was very excited to give her this gift, because well, let’s face it – she is tough to shop for. I remember my sadness when we traveled back to Virginia perhaps a year or so later and while washing some clothes, I found what I had thought was such a special gift buried under a whole bunch of miscellaneous stuff (junk) up on a high shelf in her laundry room. I was crushed. But I didn’t say anything and vowed to stick to safe gifts from then on, like framed pictures of the grandkids.
When you give somebody a gift, how do you expect them to respond? For me, especially if I have mailed something, I would like to know they received it. Generally, I appreciate some form of thankfulness particularly from those who know how hard gift giving is for me. Then, it is my most sincere wish that they will use what I gave them. How would you feel if you gave somebody a book they never read? Or rules to your children they rarely followed – well, maybe that isn’t so difficult to imagine. What if you gave a friend a GPS, but she continued to get lost? What thoughts would run through your head if you taught someone a skill they never once used? Have you ever been hurt by someone you love deeply whose behavior was less than loving or even downright hateful?
This isn’t just HUMAN nature, God desires a response to the gifts He has given us, too. So, what are we expected to do with what He has given us? It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the answer to this question is found within one of His gifts to us – The Word. I would like to talk about four key ways we are to respond – with Thanksgiving and Praise, Obedience, by helping others, and in Love.
The first response is thanksgiving and praise.
The art of thank you notes seems to have fallen by the wayside, but I still enjoy getting them. Don’t you? I once read that if someone gave you a gift that required at least fifteen minutes of their time or was worth $15 or more, you should send a formal thank you note. How much more than that has God given to us? How do you show your appreciation for the gift of eternity that cost Jesus His life? That kind of gift deserves praise unending. We can show our gratitude in many ways – simply by thanking Him daily in our prayers, by singing hymns of worship, by telling others about what He has done for us, and even by making good use of what He has blessed us with which we will discuss a little more later.
Thanksgiving is expressing appreciation for what God has given and done for us. We praise Him for who He is, for His holiness and His unfailing love. If my husband gives me an amazing gift, I will certainly thank him for it and show my appreciation, but I am probably also going to tell all my girlfriends how kind and thoughtful and generous and loving he is. That is also how we should respond to God’s precious gifts to us. We should shout for joy to anyone who will listen how awesome is our God. Psalm 95:2-3 say “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God, and the great King above all gods.” We should thank Him for all He has given us and praise Him for what His gifts reveal about who He is. You could even write Him a good old fashioned thank you note…I think that would be a great way to start off the new year.
One of my favorite origins of the word praise is “Halal”. It means to be clamorously foolish. Think of the way David acted when he danced for joy at the return of the ark of the Covenant to Israel. Chronicles 15:29 says, He was “whirling and playing music.” His attitude was so outlandish that everyone noticed. Not only did he personally respond with thanksgiving and praise, He also “appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God.” 1 Chronicles 16:4. He implored the Israelites to “give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples, Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of His wondrous works: Glory in His holy name.” 1 Chronicles 16:8-10.
Let’s make it our mission to create such a commotion of thanksgiving and praise for God’s gifts that every one notices!
Being obedient is the second response I’d like to discuss.
Rules may not seem like much of a gift, but receiving God’s love and salvation should make us long to obey His every command. This is part of the sanctification process, as we learn more about His love for us, our desire to obey His every Command should increase, making us more holy. In John 14:15, Jesus tells His disciples that, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
I recently received a new techie device for my birthday and it came with a start up tutorial and an owner’s manual. I admit I would like to skip over some of the more tedious instructions, but all of them are critical for optimizing performance, maximizing the capabilities of the machine and its proper function. In life I have sometimes been guilty of selectively choosing the commandments I will and won’t obey or the situations to which they may or may not apply, and I have even tried to dismiss some of His rules as being out of date or no longer applicable to me. Just like my new tablet, though, unless I follow ALL of the rules ALL of the time, I am not capable of performing at the peak of my abilities for God. Sin will always come back with an error message and until I re-boot, or repent of it, I am not demonstrating my love for Jesus.
God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments because “through the law there is knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20. He wanted to show them their sin, to teach them right from wrong, and in so doing, teach them how to be holy. The Israelites were required to keep the law in order to receive their inheritance. Moses pleads with them to respond with obedience and he says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of you house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9 Moses implored them to respond to God’s love with obedience. But time and time again they failed, just like you and I do, to keep the commandments and tragedy came up on them and their land.
Unfortunately, the law was one of those gifts that literally got buried during the destruction of the temple and years of corruption in Jerusalem by kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” When we hear the word of God we should respond like King Josiah did in 2 Chronicles when the high priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses during the temple restoration. A great revival began in Israel after its reading. The King tore his clothes when it was read to him and “went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and Levites, and all the people, great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” 2 Chronicles 34:30-31.
The law is still a gift for us today, but He has now given us a more excellent gift – that of righteousness APART from the law IN Christ. Romans 3:21. This doesn’t mean we don’t still need the law, but that through Jesus we may become righteous despite our inability to keep His commandments. We obey His commandments as a response to His love. I challenge you to begin your own personal revival by reading the word and allowing it to penetrate your heart and recommit to obeying the law as an act of love for Jesus.
The third way we can respond to God’s amazing gifts is by using them to help others.
Please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way…I am not claiming any glory for myself when I say my son has a gift for math. Believe me, It has nothing to do with me. If an equation adds up to anything more than 20 I need a calculator and if it mixes letters with numbers you can forget about it as far as I’m concerned. But my boy is great at math. It certainly impresses me when he solves problems in his head or asks me to make him a math worksheet with the BIG numbers. But what is most amazing to me as a mom is when I see him using his gift to help others. When he teaches his brother something or I hear that he has helped another child at school it is absolutely thrilling. Sure, math is a skill or a talent, not a spiritual gift, but the theory is the same. When our Father gives us gifts it stands to reason that He would be most proud when we use them help His other children.
Paul told the church in Corinth that “since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” 1 Corinthians 14:12 for “spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all believers.” 1 Corinthians 12:7.
I think it can be confusing for us to balance the call to be humble with the command to serve others with our gifts. Nobody wants to sound boastful by shouting out how wise or hospitable or what a great leader they are. Yet we are told with certainty that we have all been given gifts and we should put them to use for the kingdom of God. Romans 12:6-8 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives with liberality; he who leads, with diligence, he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.” The key to maintaining your humility while putting your talents to use is acknowledging their origin and giving God the glory for all you achieve.
Before I even knew it to be one of my spiritual gifts, I was using leadership in my role in the Army. But I wasn’t using it for His glory or for His Kingdom. I was using them for me, my success, my pride. Though I was quite good at what I was doing, I often felt unfulfilled at that time in my life. After much prayer, discussion with my husband, and spreadsheet analyzing, we decided I would leave the military for a variety of reasons. The desire to be in the Army and serve my country had been such an integral part of my identity for 20 years made it one of the hardest decisions of my life. Hindsight being what it is, however, I can see that among other good reasons it allowed me the opportunity to reevaluate my gifts and my purpose. Now, 7 years later, I have found a way to use them for kingdom work here at PWOC and that has been undeniably fulfilling.
Once you have taken the first step and identified your spiritual gifts you should know that He intends for us to use them to serve His people and glorify His Holy Name. In Paul’s first letter to Peter, he reminds his protégé that “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” To stifle these gifts behind a veil of humility cheapens them and indicates to God that you don’t want what He has offered you. What if our praise and worship leader tried to hide her gifts of worship by saying she didn’t think she was good enough or didn’t feel ready to sing and play in front of us – we would all be denied the amazing time on Tuesday morning where she helps us draw near to God and prepares us for the day’s study. Now that you have an idea of what your gifts are, I urge you to think of a way to put them to good use in your home, your neighborhood, the church you attend, even to serve your sisters in Christ at PWOC or any other bible study group you belong to. Find a way to use what God has blessed you with to point others toward Him and His love for them. Acknowledge Him as the giver of your gifts at every opportunity and maintain a humble heart by glorifying His name.
The final response is one that trumps all. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Love is the response that He desires above all others. It is the greatest gift we can receive or give. Anything we do for others should be done in a spirit of love. No matter what your spiritual gifts are, or how you use them to minister to others, if we don’t offer all we have in love it lacks eternal value.
If God’s love expressed through Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation is His greatest gift to us, leading others to accept it is the most awesome way we can express our love toward them. We love because He first loved us. And “if God so loved us we also ought to love one another” 1 John 4:11 . When we receive His gift of love, we are called to share it, to pass it on, to regift it to ALL. This response is how we will be known as His disciples, by our love for one another.
Love is also the fulfillment of the law because if we do all things in love we will avoid sin. If we love others with a pure heart, we cannot help but keep the law. If you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength” Deuteronomy 6:5 and you also “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37) you will keep the Law completely.
Why do I bother with the stress of gift-giving for holidays or birthdays or special occasions? To show people that I love them. God’s motive for giving to us is the same, but His love is perfect, not motivated by any reward or His own gain, but ours alone. It is a selfless love and it goes against all human nature and cultural norms to a place where we put the needs of others before our own. Loving this way is HARD. It is the kind of love Christ showed for us when he freely took the punishment for our sins upon himself. The kind of love that offers an only son up to be the savior of the world. And Jesus tells his apostles that “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 And He goes on to say that we will be His friends if we love one another as He commands us.
When you are motivated by His love to act, you will find that giving of yourself, your time, you talents doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. If we allow ourselves to be so led by God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit that we can’t possibly think of doing things any other way than in, by and through His love, our sacrificing and loving and giving to others won’t seem burdensome. Don’t let “Walk Forward in Love” simply be a catchy slogan for our theme this year. Instead, strive each day to move closer to the cross by loving others as God would in response to His gift of love to us. Be patient, kind, generous, humble, polite, seek good for others, rejoice in the truth, hope and endure all things knowing God’s power is sovereign.