Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Recognizing undeserved gifts

Sometimes we act as though all the good gifts of God were earned. Deserved. Coming our way because we did something to achieve them.

I read about a pastor on a mission trip. He saw a starving Indian man pushing a wheelbarrow. As the wheelbarrow passed him, he saw inside it another man, almost dead, pleading with his eyes for food and care. The pastor almost fainted from "transferred hunger" but did not help. He wrote that the gift of compassion he felt was his greatest gift from his India trip.

I've been thinking about that story for a few days. My first question, because the pastor had food, was, "Why didn't the pastor help? Why not share, giving the little he had to those who had none?" Was he overwhelmed by needs everywhere so he did not see the point? Is learning compassion enough? Was sharing his resources thwarted by caste (could the men accept his food)? Did religion prevent the sharing of one person's bounty with another's dearth?

I began considering were the underserved favors that come our way by God's hand. Why was the pastor (and I) well-fed, while the two men lived at death's door? Why was one educated and working in a rich land while the others subsisted in poverty? I have no answers.

My list of undeserved benefits is long. For example:
  • We attend a church where freedom of worship is encouraged and the pastor examines scripture with us
  • We recently spent a relaxing weekend with friends, boating the islands, talking about God and his ways
  • Our children serve the Lord
  • I find ministry in unexpected places, that fits the gifts God's given
  • Networking is a joy and God often surprises me with connections that I or others need
  • We have so much food that we could throw out some if we wanted
  • Our house is warm, my office nice, and we have useful work
  • We enjoy "bonuses" like finding the exact futon model for our guest room - free on www.FreeCycle.org
There are too many other abundances to count.

So, how do we gratefully accept the undeserved gifts?
  1. Recognize that life itself is a gift. Not a day can be added or taken away by sickness, health, or other circumstances. God knows how long we'll live.
  2. God has put us where we are. If we live in the West, we live among abundance, regardless of our bank balance. Wherever we reside, we may be surrounded by a big family or a loving community. We may have work that uses our gifts and talents. None of these can be taken for granted.
  3. God has given us everything we have, whether or not we've "worked for it." The psalmist says the cattle on 1000 hills are his. Many others work harder, longer, and have crushing stressors beyond what I could bear ... yet I may have more than they do.
  4. God alone protects us, the ones we love, and our stuff. When God removes his covering shelter, lives and wealth are swept away in an instant. All the burglar alarms and police in the world cannot protect us if God does not.
  5. God gives abundance that may not be obvious at first glance. We may not have a lot of money, but do we have friends? I may have lost your job, but do I still eat? I have wish for things you can't afford, but do are my true needs met? 
Let's be grateful. On this weekend when we've celebrated the freedoms won and preserved by our countries' soldiers, we acknowledge that the world is both dangerous AND wonderful. Freedom of spirit and body cannot be taken for granted. It is hard-won, whether by spiritual giants or military engagement.

And no good thing in life is deserved or can be taken for granted. It is the gift of God, whose everything is and to whom everything belongs.

Read more:
*Your laws are perfect and completely trustworthy. … Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much. … As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands." Psalm 119:138, 140, 143 NLT

*Mortals look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

*As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct. 1 Peter 1:15
*Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your
requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9 NIV

Moravian Prayer: Lord, you find that little spark inside of us that grows into a burning flame for you. We want to work for you, the one who knows us inside and out. We know you have given us everything we need to complete the tasks you call us to. Amen.

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