Why do we give gifts this time of year? It probably is a tradition which includes the Magi giving Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is not a bad tradition, in fact I very much like the tradition of giving gifts. However, lately I have been struggling with the quid-pro-quo manners of Christmas. Am I giving to people to receive? After receiving a gift is it proper to give one back? These questions can also reflect our attitude toward God as well. Why do I worship? Why do I tithe? Why do I do good deeds? Is it because God has already done something for me? Is it so I can receive something from God? Have you had this dilemma in your life?
As a pastor I am faced with this dilemma due to the fact that a lot of people in my church show their appreciation toward me and my family through gifts. All the gifts are appreciated, but then comes the feeling of how to respond. Now, I will never trade appreciation gifts for favors, however I do feel a need to express my appreciation to those who give me gifts. Would they except a card, or knowing I said an extra prayer, or give them a little more listening time? What is the appropriate response? What about those who do not show their appreciation in the same way? Do they deserve any less? Do you see where my dilemma comes from?
For me it really comes down to what my heart directs me to do. Jesus spoke a lot about the heart. Jesus sees the heart as the center of all our faith, hope, and love. The heart is where true transformation takes place. Matthew 15 has Jesus explaining the concept in this way, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person…But what goes out of the mouth comes from the heart. And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight. Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adultery, sexual sins, thefts, false testimonies, and insults. these contaminate a person in God’s sight.”
So what is in your heart when you face a dilemma like this? Do you give a gift to receive? Do you feel obligated to give when you receive? Is what you do out of love for others or love for self? These are the questions you should be asking yourself. If the answer to any of these is “yes” then what is that saying about your heart? Shouldn’t your response during this time, or anytime, be one of love and charity. Shouldn’t we give and receive with gratitude and not greed?
Only the Holy Spirit can truly transform out hearts so that when we face dilemmas like this we face them with assurance that whatever we do we are doing it from a place of love, compassion, charity, and kindness. You can not control how someone will react to your love, but you should not stop loving on the off chance that others may react negatively. When someone gives you something, react from the heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit, not by what society dictates. When you give do it without expecting a response, good or bad. Just give from the heart and God will always direct your path.
Love in Christ through the Holy Spirit
Rev. Rusty L. Husted