One day, Kimberly and I went Christmas shopping. Faced with a long list of “to dos” that needed to get done, I took a day of vacation and we headed out in the All Wheel Drive sleigh trying to fill it with presents to deliver on Christmas morning.
I realize some men will deduct several “man card” points for me saying this, but I actually had a lot of fun yesterday. (For those of you who deducted those points, let me clarify that the fun part was being with my wife all day. +5,000.)
As we worked our way around the malls looking to make purchases, we were guided by a list of names of people we were buying for. On this list are friends and family, and because they are so dear to us, the opportunity to bless them with a gift is always a real privilege. The problem, however, is what kind of a gift do you bless them with? Moments like this are a great object lesson for understanding the need for a budget. If I were to let my love for the people on my list dictate what I bought them, I would never be able to pay off the balance of the bills! I simply have more love in my heart for the people on that Christmas list than I have money in my bank account — or even than I WILL have in my bank account if I did not spend a cent between now and when Jesus returns. Therefore, I cannot determine what to give them based on how much I love them, because I do not have a matching resource to offer to the scope of my love.
A second way I could determine what to give them would be to play the principle of reciprocity. By this, I mean that I try to give a gift back to someone of equal value of what they have given to me. This principle, however, is also flawed. I can never pay back my parents (for instance) for all they have done for me. No sweater (I don’t care which logo is on it) can ever equal sitting through little league games in 40 degree weather or caring for me when I was sick or providing love, food, and shelter for me throughout my growing up days. I simply will never be able to pay back what has been given to me — I have just received so much.
I was thinking about all this yesterday as we shopped, and it reminded me of a deep spiritual truth that impacts my understanding of God’s love for me and my response to that love towards Him.
First of all, though our budget always constrains our ability to give, it never constrains God. God is the only One anywhere who has no budget. Even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have their limits, but God does not. He has everything at His disposal, so He never tires at ways to demonstrate His love for us. The obvious “big gift” that God gives us each day (including Christmas) is the gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. As Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The God who has everything gave His very life so that we might live and know that He loves us. Even beyond that big gift, however, God continues to give to us without a budget. The beauty of nature, the spiritual encouragement of the Body of Christ, tasty food to nourish our bodies, etc. are all evidences of God’s gifts to us. He never tires or grows weary in giving to His children. He has all the resources to match the scope of His love for us.
As I was shopping yesterday, however, a second thing stood out to me. I cannot practice the principle of reciprocity with God. There is no “sacrifice” that I can make in this life that is of equal value to the gifts God has given to me. No “I’ll go serve you in Africa” claim could ever be the same as all that God has given to me. We cannot pay back to God what He has given us — for we simply have been given too much.
Given these truths, what are we to do? Well, when it comes to understanding how much God loves us, we should stand in awe of the gifts He continues to send our way. What great demonstrations of His budgetless love! Stop right now and thank Him for His indescribable gifts. Second, stop trying to pay God back for His gifts to us, for you can never give enough. This does not mean that we do not serve Him or worship Him or love Him or give back to Him. We absolutely do that. Just as I still bought presents for family and friends yesterday as reminders of my love for them, we still give to the Lord out of our love for Him . . . we just don’t do it to settle a score. This frees us up and purifies our motives in responding to His gifts!
As you shop over the next couple of days before Christmas, may the gifts you purchase remind you of the gifts we have received from Him that we can never repay.
Below, I have pasted the text to Matthew 2:1-12, the verses that tell us of the wise men visiting Jesus and giving Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These three gifts were symbols of Jesus’s future as both king and martyr. These men responded to the announcement of Jesus’s birth by worshipping Him and reorganizing their time (they took a trip), talent (they were expert star gazers) and treasure (the three gifts delivered). We give back to God from the same three categories, not to pay Him back, but (like the wise men) to simply worship the King.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.