If we’re honest, I think most will agree that some gifts are better than others.
As a child, I recall that it did not take me long to figure out who was most likely to buy me new dress socks and who was going to buy me the assortment of Star Wars figures and Atari video games that I had been coveting for Christmas.
There were some gifts that I would enjoy regularly for years, and there were other gifts that I…well, I’ve probably said enough!
On one occasion when Jesus was teaching His followers about prayer, He used the analogy of gift-giving to make His point. Jesus’ instruction on this is massively encouraging. If you’ve ever imagined God to be a reluctant giver, if you’ve ever imagined prayer to be tantamount to twisting God’s arm to get what you want, Jesus sets us straight:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7, 9-11)
I realize that there is a way to misinterpret what Jesus is teaching here. There is a way of looking at this and imagining that God is like a Divine vending machine, and if we push the correct buttons, that which we desire will be given to us. However, Jesus doesn’t promise that prayer is the means by where we acquire what we want. But rather, prayer is the means whereby we receive “good gifts” from God.
As much as I’d like to think that I always know what is best for me, I have to admit that I don’t. As a finite being, I have very little clue, for example, how my actions and circumstances intersect with those of other people. Because of my limited perspective, I am incapable of knowing what constitutes a “good gift” in every instance.
God, on the other hand, as the Holy and Sovereign ruler of the Universe is uniquely positioned to determine what is the best “gift” to give to me. What we have then in this passage is the assurance that God is eager to give us what is best for us. Luke’s version of this same account actually identifies one of the “good gifts”. In Luke 11:13 Jesus says, “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”
Here we see that God not only supplies His resources, but He also supplies Himself.
Have you ever asked God to give you His Spirit? And if you have asked God for this, do you realize that the Spirit of God is not something to be merely asked for once, but that the Spirit of God can be accessed and engaged daily?
I hear Jesus saying that the Holy Spirit can be accessed immediately, frequently, and for all eternity. What is required is simply that we “ask”, “seek”, and “knock”.
On Sunday December 13, at St. Giles Kingsway and The Well, I delivered a message on this passage. If you’re interested in hearing more about how receiving and regularly accessing the Spirit of Christ can transform our lives, then I encourage you to have a listen (audio below).
If you proceed to ask, seek, and knock on the door of the One who gives “good gifts”, I am confident that you will discover that the Spirit is what we need the most. I am confident that you will discern that the Holy Spirit is the best gift, from the Best Gift-Giver.
I wouldn’t want to suggest to you that a trouble-free life is possible. I wouldn’t even want to suggest that a trouble-free Christmas can be expected. I do, however, regard that an anxiety-free life is within our reach.
Many of us, I suspect, think of trouble and anxiety as going “hand in hand”. If you have the one (trouble), then the other (anxiety) is sure to follow.
Admittedly, this is often my own experience. And yet, the teaching of Jesus leads me to believe that it ought not to be this way. Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Trouble and anxiety need not always go together. Again, it’s not that trouble can altogether be averted. Jesus promised His followers, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). In other words, adversity and challenges should not surprise us. We should not think it strange when bad things happen to us. It is often the case that the “trouble” we experience is beyond our control. What is within our control, however, is whether or not we respond to our trouble with excessive worry and anxiety.
While we might think it is natural and normal to be anxious amid adversity, I note that Jesus—who promised that I’d experience trouble—also exhorts His followers, “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25).
Jesus spends significant time addressing the subject of worry in Matthew 6:25-34. He makes a compelling case for His followers to abandon all worry. That’s something I need. That’s something I desperately want—especially as the pressures surrounding Christmas begin to mount.
1) It is useless (worrying won’t fix our problems)
2) It is unnecessary (in a context where a caring God consistently provides for us)
3) It is unChristian (worry is inconsistent with the worldview of someone who professes to trust in God)
Jesus not only calls us away from worry, but He also calls us to something. Worrying is overcome when we pursue God and His priorities.
If anxiety is something you struggle with, may I encourage you to check out what Jesus says on the subject (Matthew 6:25-34). Check out also the audio message below. I’m confident that you’ll see how a worry-free posture is within your reach!
As I started to ramp up to Christmas I began thinking about how I typically celebrate this holiday. I began to think of my customs, my habits, and my traditions. I soon realized that I had some clear preferences around how I think the holiday should go. And then I began to think how crazy it is for me to be so focused on what I’d like to see happen at Christmas time.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To put it another way, Christmas is our birthday party for Jesus.
Now, if I were to be responsible for planning a birthday party for a friend, what principles would govern my planning?
The most basic principle would be to be attentive to my friend’s values, preferences, and tastes. What I want for my friend’s party matters a lot less than what he would want. It is his celebration, not mine.
How is it then that, for many of us, Christmas has become about what we want? A house decorated to suit our preferences. A meal suited to our tastes. Visits to friends and family that align with our relationship preferences (or their expectations). Buying (and receiving) the “perfect” gift.
The more I think of it, the less I feel Jesus would want His birthday celebrated in this way.
“Bryn, how do you know what Jesus would want for His birthday celebration?!”
I don’t know for sure, in terms of the fine details, but I do have some clear principles to guide me. I read the messages Jesus delivered to His followers, and I’m able to detect that which Jesus values.
For example, to prospective followers, Jesus gave this message:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal…No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:19-20, 24).
I note that Jesus does not say that it is wrong to be wealthy. Some of God’s most devoted followers in Scripture were wealthy (Abraham, Job, David, for example). However, it does appear that our attitudes toward wealth and possessions are hugely relevant to our relationship with God.
I should mention that I am massively convicted by this text. I am tempted to covet things. I am sometimes preoccupied with my financial position, and improving that position. I like to collect and stockpile certain items (those who have seen my rec room know what I am talking about!). Jesus cautions me—these things have expiry dates on them. The apostle Paul reminds me, “we brought nothing into the wold, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:7).
I am encouraged instead to pursue “heavenly treasures”. I’m exhorted to pursue God and His priorities, and I’m told that this pursuit will pay dividends in this life and in the next.
Have a listen to the audio below and consider what our life might look like if we began to care less about collecting temporal things, and began to care more about pursuing heavenly treasures.
As always, your feedback/comments are welcome and encouraged!
There is an instructive account involving four hungry lepers found in 2Kings 7:3-16. The year is approximately 850 BC and there is a severe famine. Four lepers stand outside the city gate of Samaria and debate their best options.
They reason that if they remain where they are, they will starve to death. If they go inside the city, they will starve to death there. If they go to the camp of the Arameans they may be killed, but they might simply be made prisoners of war. With three dreadful options to choose from, the four lepers take their chances setting out to the camp of the Arameans.
What happens next is amazing. The Lord causes the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses, which makes them think they are being attacked. As a result, “they left the camp as it was and ran for their lives” (2 Kings 7:6, 7).
You can imagine the astonishment of these four lepers when they arrive at the camp and not a soul is there. You can also imagine their excitement once they realize that all of the resources of the camp—food, gold, silver, clothing, etc.—are theirs for the taking.
The lepers do what most of us would do in a similar situation—they feast, and then they squirrel away the valuables. But, eventually, something awakens these lepers to the bigger picture. Having satisfied themselves, they turn to one another and say, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves…Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace” (2 Kings 7:9).
As I think about the reasons why I feel compelled to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others, I think of this story. The lepers certainly didn’t owe the palace any favours. These men were outcasts—and yet, the predicament of the people was so dire, and the remedy was so accessible, that they had to share what they had found.
This not unlike our current context. The world around us is starving spiritually, but we’ve found a feast. It’s not that Christians are better or smarter than everyone else. Certainly, there was nothing superior about the four lepers. They had simply found something which could save themselves and others and so they told the story.
I’ve shared the Gospel with enough people in my life to detect their suspicion of motives. “What’s he trying to do?”, “Why is he trying to convince me of this?”, “Why does this matter to him so much?”
This account provides part of the answer: We’ve enjoyed a feast and we want to share it with others.
Jesus has satisfied us, and we long for Him to do the same for others.
I found it interesting that the palace didn’t immediately believe the good news. The king thought it was too good to be true. He was skeptical. Thankfully, the king’s skepticism didn’t keep him from investigating the claim.
After carefully investigating what had been reported, the city emptied, the food was found, and the people were saved.
Have a listen for yourself (below). A feast is near by. But be sure to share what you find.