Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a “list” person. When it comes to birthdays, Christmas, or other special occasions, when people ask me what I want, I intentionally, and thoughtfully, make a list of the things I would like. This list is not a guidepost pointing to other items I want. Rather, it contains the exact gifts I would like. This is the reason I make the list. As harsh as it sounds, I’m not interested in spontaneous, random, or “I thought you’d really like this” gifts. I don’t want an off-lister. If received, the likelihood of me returning it is extremely high.
In prayer the other day, I discovered that I approach God’s gifts in much the same way. By God’s gifts, I don’t mean physical, tangible presents, such as money, shoes, or watches, but rather the unique talents and abilities God has given each of us, and the opportunities he’s afforded us to live these out.
While I’ve never made a “list” for God, over this past year, I’ve prayed for an awareness of, and the obedience to live out, the gifts God has given me. For most of my life, I’ve failed to embrace the skills he’s blessed me with, choosing to live in denial of my talents, rather than embrace his gracious invitation to use them. God’s loving pursuit, and numerous “show me your glory” moments (Exodus 33), have resulted in my current openness and willingness.
What I failed to realize was that God would grant my requests; that he would respond to my openness; that he would answer my prayers, and that this initial response would create a ripple effect of off-lister gifts. Despite my asking, I wasn’t prepared to receive, and found myself inquiring whether God had a return policy. If so, I wanted to use it, and was willing to pay the restocking fee.
From what I can assess, my inability to receive stems from fear, distrust, and the weight of responsibility.
In contrast to earthly gifts, which, most often, are for our singular enjoyment, God’s gifts are for communal edification. Typically, when we receive an earthly gift, it’s for our personal benefit, and isn’t something we usually share with others. In short, we’re the sole recipient, and can do with it as we please.
However, Scripture makes it clear that any gifts we have, whether wisdom, knowledge, teaching, leadership, or service, are all designed to build up God’s people. The purpose of our gifts, the reason why God grants them, is so that we can share them with others, rather than hoard them like the last bite of ice cream. We’re to indulge, spend, and invest our talents generously for the benefit of others. God’s gifts have little, if nothing to do with us as individuals, but everything to do with his people.
Thus, stewarding our gifts appropriately is a big responsibility. Just as Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3.11), I’ve found myself asking God lately, “Who am I that you have chosen me for this task?” “Who am I that you have given me this responsibility?” “Who am I to bring your word to your people?” However, what’s fascinating is that just a few verses later, God reverses Moses’ question with a statement—“I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3.14). God doesn’t answer Moses’ question (nor has he answered mine). He doesn’t affirm Moses’ ability, but rather, in declaring his identity, affirms his.
When God calls us, when he grants us gifts, or uses the ones we already have, to carry out this calling, he knows what he’s doing. The gift can be trusted, received, and given away again, because the One who gives is wholly trustworthy, good, and capable. These gifts are merely an extension of himself. He entrusts them to us because he knows his abilities. He gives them because he knows his power. He bestows them because he’s bringing about his will.
I’m still working on recognizing and embracing my God-given talents. I’m practicing receiving what I’ve asked God for, accepting the blessing with open hands. In this process, I’m learning to trust in God’s abilities, realizing that I need not fear or feel overwhelmed.
I’m also working towards accepting off-listers. I’m practicing receiving what in my wildest dreams I never would’ve predicted, or conceived of, for myself. I’m trying to welcome the unsolicited and spontaneous. I’m learning to trust the off-list Giver.