When you receive a gift the keyword is ‘receive.’ You don’t work for a gift, earn a gift, beg for a gift, demand a gift, manifest a gift, or finagle a gift. You simply receive it. But human nature — particularly for those of us who are hard-wired to earn or prove our worth — drives us to think we have to work for what the Bible says is already ours in Christ.
Yes, most of us give a mental nod to the teaching that God’s promises and grace in our lives can’t be earned, but let’s be honest, most of us can still be caught hustling our way toward them.
What’s counterintuitive about how we receive God’s gifts and promises?
Take a look at Romans chapter four in The Message:
“If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it — you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked — well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.” (Romans 4:4–5, MSG)
Early on in our marriage my husband’s family — being quite large — decided to do a pick-a-name gift exchange for Christmas. I participated for a few years before calling it quits because there was no joy in the gift-giving or gift receiving process of this tradition for me.
You see, as soon as each person drew a name they would tell the recipient whose name they chose that they were their gift giver and then ask, “What do you want?” The recipient would give a detailed description — down to the make, brand, color, and size of the item on their wish list.
On Christmas Eve when “gifts” were opened there were no ooohs and aaahs of surprise and gratitude, only a “gee thanks — that’s what I could have bought myself.”
I learned early on that unique and thoughtfully purchased gifts were not appreciated when I found several of the gifts I had given stashed away in basement corners shortly after the holiday had passed.
A gift I can buy myself is not a gift — it’s just an item that someone picked up for me at Target or Kohl’s because they happened to be shopping. How stale would God’s gifts and promises be if we could attain or purchase them on our own?
What do we do with a God-gift or a God-dream?
You’ve probably heard someone say something like this, “If your dream doesn’t scare you then it’s not big enough.” And that’s basically what Paul is saying in Romans chapter four. “Sheer gift” is what he calls it. We can’t earn all that God has for us. Even if we made a wish list of promises it would never be as complete and fulfilling and joy-filled as what God has for us.
“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him’. But God has, through the Spirit, let us share his secret.” (I Corinthians 2:9–10a, Phillips)
Neither could Abraham earn or imagine what God wanted for him, which is why God made His covenant with Abraham before the act of circumcision. From Day One it’s always been about faith, trust, relationship, entering into what God wanted to do for us — not what we could do on our own or what we needed to do to please God.
Some years ago — too many I care to recall — God opened my eyes to His gift for me: writing. Eager and full of trust, I began to put words on paper and the first story I wrote was published in an anthology called A Cup of Comfort for Christians (and I was paid!). That seemed like a sign I should continue drawing closer to this gift. But, as all childlike faith eventually gets tested, I became overwhelmed by the gift and the responsibility I felt to be “obedient” to God as a writer (insert foolish pride here).
On a mission trip, as we sat around a campfire, the pastor leading our group talked about having a God-dream. I tentatively confessed to him that I felt disobedient for not working hard toward the calling I knew God had revealed to me. He said something that has stuck with me ever since: “Don’t think of it as pursuing God’s call or purpose — instead, like Abraham — think of it as following the promise.”
What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point.” (Romans 4:3, MSG)
The turning point in receiving from God
Are you striving to achieve a dream, a promise, a place that God has shown He has for you? Do you feel you can see His promise but it’s like a dangling carrot and the harder you lean toward it the further away it seems? Do you question whether you heard God right because all your efforts seem to fall short? Do all the experts’ strategies and tips seem to work for everyone but you? Do you feel like you’ve disappointed God or that you must not have what it takes to see it through?
Maybe you feel a bit like Moses standing on the edge of the Promised Land looking in but not being able to taste the honey for yourself.
Maybe the turning point for you is the same as it was for Abraham — entering into what God’s already done for you. And accepting that you can’t disappoint God because it’s never been an Abraham story (or a Mary-story, a you-story). It’s always been a God-story (Romans 4:2). It’s not a business deal, a contract, a here’s-what-you-get-if promise (Romans 4: 13–15). It’s simply a promise — a God-promise and
“the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and His way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift.” (Romans 4:16, MSG)
Instead of handing God your wish-list or asking Him for something you can obtain on your own, why not allow Him to gift you with His promise? Let Him be the planner, the strategist, the designer, and the gifter of your dreams. And then humbly enter into what He is already doing for you. Follow the promise, accept the gift, receive His plan. Let your story be a God-story.
Looking for some ways to make gift-giving more meaningful?