Before any birthday party or the annual mayhem of Christmas morning, I always prepare my children for what to say when they open a present. I tell them that no matter what they open — whether it is something they like or not — they are to smile and say, “Thank you,” to the giver.
No matter how old we are, it’s always fun to receive a gift. However, as adults we know that though something is wrapped pretty on the outside, it might fail to deliver on the inside. While other gifts, like the ones our children might wrap for us, look wrinkled, bent, and worn, yet contain the sweetest and most precious handmade creations.
God gives many gifts to us as his adopted children. Our salvation is a gift of God’s grace that we cherish and celebrate every day. It’s never bitter. But salvation’s not the only gift God gives us. He also graces us in our sanctification. It’s a gift that is often not wrapped up with a pretty bow. Sometimes this gift is one that we treat like an unwanted Christmas sweater or a well-meaning fruitcake. We might not even recognize it is a gift at all.
Until we look closer.
Here are a few of those gifts that we might be prone to miss, but ought to cherish as much as any:
1. The Gift of Obstacles
Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes; I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way. She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.” (Hosea 2:6–7)
God is talking here about his wayward Bride, Israel, who left her Husband in search of false lovers and counterfeit gods. As we know, God sent her away into captivity. It was an act of grace so that she would repent and return to her true love.
Like the Israelites, we also have wayward hearts. We too run after idols and false lovers. We pursue experiences, things, and temporary pleasures we think will satisfy our longings. We seek to find our meaning, hope, and joy in things created rather than in the Creator. Though we don’t worship idols crafted of wood or stone, we do idolize money, family, work, success, comfort, and control. In grace, God often puts obstacles in our path to make our way difficult. They are not a form of punishment, but the discipline of a loving Father. These obstacles are intended to stop us, in love, so that we would repent and come back home to him.
Such obstacles might be a removal of the things we idolize. It might be barriers to our plans. It might be conflicts and circumstances that slow us down. Often we miss these obstacles as the acts of God’s grace that they are, and instead respond in frustration or anger. We might even question God’s goodness. We might pursue our idols all the more. But God is not content to let us remain as we are. He pursues those he loves and will do all it takes, introducing whatever obstacle necessary, to bring us back to where we belong.
2. The Gift of Suffering
Paul says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29).
The word “granted” in this passage means “gifted.” Not only is our salvation a gift, but our suffering is also a manifestation of God’s grace to us. We very often miss this gift. We simply want to “return to sender” without even opening it. But Scripture teaches us that God graces us with trials and seasons of suffering for his glory and for our ultimate good. It’s in our trials that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ.
God is intent on our complete transformation. His goal is not for our comfort and ease in this life, but in preparing us for eternity. This is why James could write, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
3. The Gift of Everyday Irritation
Another gift of God’s grace that we often miss is the everyday irritations of life. When the light turns red just as we get to it, when the checkout line is long at the store, when someone ignores our turn signal and takes the parking spot we wanted, when the kids are bouncing off the walls and won’t go to sleep, and when we’ve lost our keys for the third time in a week, God is at work gracing us with opportunities to trust, love, and obey him.
This particular gift is one we often don’t notice at all. We see these irritations as something to get past. We blame these frustrating moments on others. We think that our day would have gone better, “if only [fill in the blank] had not happened.”
But as Lamentations 3:37–38 reminds us, God rules and reigns over all things, including the smallest details in our lives.
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?
Not one moment of your life is wasted; God uses everything to transform you, even the everyday irritations of life. Each irritation is one in a series of mundane moments of life where we are given the opportunity to seek him, trust him, obey him — moments where we learn to enjoy and rely more and more on his grace.
We all like to receive gifts. But we must remember that God doesn’t give gifts like we do. He gives us the gifts we need most of all. He gives us the greatest gift: himself. In light of that mercy and grace, everything he gives should be received as the gift of a Father who loves us with a perfect and transforming love.