Sunday, December 26, 2004

No Exchanges, No Returns

After a day of celebrating Christmas with family and friends, opening presents and eating way too much food, many people will spend today practicing yet another Christmas ritual: the gift return. Thankfully, I won’t have to return any of my gifts this year, but there are thousands, perhaps millions, of people will be crowding the stores today to return gifts that were the wrong size, wrong model, or the wrong taste.

I’ve been there. There have been many times throughout my life when I’ve received Christmas or birthday gifts that just didn’t suit me for one reason or another, and I’ve spent my fair share of time in the customer service line at stores waiting to exchange my gift for something I liked better. We all have our own ideas about what we think would be the perfect gift for us and bring us great happiness.

God’s the Master Gift-Giver. He’s given me more gifts of material, relational, and spiritual blessings than I can count. But I’ll be honest, there are times when I’ve wanted to return some of the things He’s given me. Some things (and even some people) that He’s brought into my life haven’t always seemed like gifts to me. From time to time I find myself wishing Heaven had a customer service line that I could go to and make an exchange for a blessing that I thought would better suit me.

I’ve also asked for certain blessings, and for whatever reason, He has not brought those to me. Perhaps now is not the time for those, or perhaps He has even greater blessings in store for me. But sometimes I act like God’s some cosmic Santa Claus whose lap I can sit on and recite my wish list, and if I’ve been “good” then I’ll get what I’m asking for. Doesn’t work that way!

I have to remember that God knows far, far better than I do what I need and what would best benefit me. Romans 11:33-36 sums up how far our understanding is from God:

“Oh, the depth and the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Because there are times when I don’t like what God’s given me, it helps for me to be reminded that God’s gifts are truly good:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks you 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 7:9-11

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

God chooses to bless us in different ways. My parents don’t usually give me and my sister totally identical gifts every Christmas. They know we have different tastes, different preferences when it comes to colors and scents and interests.

Likewise, God knows us intimately, and knows what gifts are best for each of us. It’s common for me to want to exchange certain aspects of my life for someone else’s, but that could be disastrous if God allowed those exchanges. What is a great blessing for you could turn out to be a curse for me. It really is a good thing that God has a no-return policy on what He brings into our lives.

Finally, even the curses that Satan tries to bring upon us (the lumps of coal, if you will) can be turned into blessings by God. Romans 8:28 speaks of how God is able to cause all things to work out for our good. Notice that’s ALL things—not just the good things, not just the convenient things. There’s nothing that comes our way, good or bad, that God cannot use in our lives for His glory.

While it’s great to be able to simply enjoy the Christmas gifts I got yesterday and not have to return any of them, I’m trying to have that same attitude with my life. I want to truly enjoy all the gifts God’s given me, the life He’s given me, and not spend so much time trying to make an exchange.

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