Sometimes God teaches us a lesson in an unexpected way.
She looks up at you with disappointment and even disdain. Without a word, she tosses your gift aside. It lands with a thud amidst all the forgotten wrapping paper and empty boxes. She unwraps another gift from someone else, something you know she thinks will be much better than yours.
I doubt if many of us have experienced a similar even or so impolite to treat someone we love in this way. But how often do we treat God’s gifts this way?
Sometimes we do throw aside His gifts and for a variety of reasons. For instance, I sometimes grapple with envying what others possess. I’ve always been aware of this, but knowing it and working to do something about it are entirely different things.
Perusing the internet while doing some research, I found a website offering a monthly poetry contest. As a prize, it offered a blue ribbon and publishing the poem on the site. I figured I had nothing to lose by submitting a poem of my own.
The end of the month came and went, and I received no response. Figuring I didn’t win, I returned to the website to discover what sort of poem beat out mine.
The winning poem brought tears to my eyes and for several reasons. First, it was one of the most beautifully written poems I had ever read, and I saw the beauty of God in the author’s every word. To my surprise, I discovered the main cause of my tears came not from the winning poem, but how pathetic mine was in comparison. I switched off my computer and sat at my couch to indulge in self-pity. I wondered how God could have given me only a smidgen of talent while He showered so much more on others. It simply wasn’t fair.
Hardly any time passed when God set me straight. After venting my frustrations to Him, the Christmas story above unfolded within my mind. If I could be heartbroken over someone treating a gift from me so callously, why would God feel any different when I do the same to Him? I was that petulant, selfish child expecting a wondrous gift to take my breath away. When I received something I felt didn’t measure up, instead of appreciating it, I threw it aside.
After mulling this over a while, James 3:14-16 came to mind: “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)
Harsh words, but sometimes, harsh words force us to pay attention. Not only did I envy the winning poet, but my true intentions behind submitting my poem clarified. I didn’t want to share a profound spiritual experience or a piece of God in an eloquent or even loving way, but to show off. I wanted people to see how well I used my God-given gift. And if I had won, I’d go around bragging to everyone how I won a poetry prize.
That’s never what God intends. Glory belongs to God, not to those who serve Him. I now understood that my poem wasn’t meant to win a poetry contest, but merely to help me grow closer to God, or even to touch a friend or family member. As for whose poem was better, it doesn’t matter. However similar my gift seems to another, they don’t compare. God desires for us to walk different paths; to touch different people in completely different ways.
I have no idea the ultimate use God intends for my gifts, nor is it up to me to decide. 1 Peter 4:10-11 describes this best: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaks the very words of God. If one serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
I admit my longing to see my name in print in every book store, and have hundreds of people approach me for an autograph. But at what price? Will I maintain my humble walk with God, or will I concentrate more on seeking the accolades of man, attempting to please them instead of Him? I need to keep in mind that bringing even one person closer to God has greater rewards than the praise of the masses.
This is not about us, but for the glory of God. We must keep our focus on why God graced us with His gifts in the first place. He has a purpose, even if it’s to only reach one person who goes on to reach others. Are we the springboard, or the one who soars? Which do we seek, and is it the same as what God wants? In the end, when we allow God to work through us as we exercise our gifts, He rewards us with at least a closer walk with Him. He may even allow us to see how our gifts have impacted on others.
Isn’t that worth sacrificing envy, pride and selfish ambitions?