I love free swag, whether it’s a stuffed owl from the local phone company or a squishy stress ball shaped like an apple from a life insurance agent. I especially love receiving music from artists that I’ve interviewed – and yes that is a not-so-subtle hint. I know these gifts are given for business reasons, either for what has been done or what might be done. I’m okay with that because it’s all up front. The strings attached are easy to see.
Have you ever been offered a gift with expectations attached that make you hesitate? Instead of saying, “Thanks!” you put your hands back in your pockets and walk away. Maybe the hidden agenda was something you just didn’t want in your life. Perhaps you thought the gift was too good to be true, even with the strings attached. Or perhaps the acceptance of the gift would cause a ripple effect that you didn’t know how to deal with.
When Jesus was on earth, He once asked a blind man if he wanted to be healed. At first glance we might wonder why He would ask such a thing. Of course Bartimaeus would want to be able to see! Who wouldn’t?
A closer look at the culture of the day makes this question more understandable. In those days, a man had to have the approval of the Roman government to be able to beg for money. Upon receiving this approval, he wore a special garment showing he could receive alms. In our terms, it was his disability card to receive social assistance. The cloak was his guarantee of an income, no matter how meagre.
If Bartimaeus accepted Jesus’ offer of health, he would immediately lose his source of income. How much was it worth to him to give up guaranteed funds for a completely new life? For Bartimaeus, it was worth everything. He rose up, threw off his cloak, and asked Jesus to heal him.
Today Jesus offers us peace, joy and hope. But sometimes we only see what we might have to give up to accept those gifts. Maybe we have to give up habits that we enjoy or even a dream that we have cherished. Unlike Bartimaeus, we long for the comfort of the beggars’ cloak, the familiar everyday drudgery, rather than the amazing potential of a closer walk with the Almighty Unseen.
God’s gifts to us, unlike the free swag of the telephone company, are not meant to get something from us in return. He doesn’t demand repayment or expect our ‘business’. However in receiving these gifts we begin to understand the responsibility that is ours and we make the decision whether to invest these gifts in things eternal, or to squander them.
We see around us instances of great gifts given to people who are not able to utilize them effectively. People win millions of dollars in the lottery only to squander it all and end up owing more than they did initially. A generous parent gives a sports car to a teen who has not had the experience to drive it well, and the gift results in a great loss.
The difference here is in the Giver. God knows our hearts and He knows what is the very best gift He can give.
As with most gifts, it is up to me and to you to accept it. We may be more concerned with our everyday lives and prefer the beggars’ cloak to the ‘crown of life’ He offers. We may look for the strings attached and decide that the price we pay by letting go of the past is too much. So many people don’t understand this incredible offer and say “Thanks, but no thanks”.Today He offers first and foremost a relationship with Him through His Son. Jesus gave His life, the most precious gift of all, that we could receive His life in us. It’s supernatural and unexplainable, yet He offers this gift because He loves each one of us.
This Thanksgiving, my prayer for you is that you say “Thanks” to Jesus for His incredible gift. The only string attached is abundant life here, and eternal life to come. The ultimate in free swag and so much better than a stuffed owl.