gifts and growing them

‘We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.’ – Bonhoeffer, Life Together

‘Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’ – Matthew 25:29

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.’ – James 1:5,6
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I’ve begun to realize how many ‘daily gifts’ I am given but for which I do not give thanks in return; I also often forget just how much of this life is a gift (namely, all of it)…

The other night I had a talk with a friend about ‘life on earth,’ and whether there was anything wrong with trying to pursue ‘earthly’ or ‘worldly’ desires. These were not desires for bad things; they were normal desires, natural desires, and I think it’s somehow self-righteous (in a subversive sort of way) to claim that all natural desires are not good. There are in all people – Christian or no – characteristics that are reflections, however dim they may be, of God’s own character. These include, for example, a mother’s affection for her child; the ability to appreciate (and take part in creating) art as abstract beauty; the ability to reason, to think through our actions before we act, as opposed to reacting purely instinctually; etc. We can and will, if left to our own natures, completely distort these reflections of God’s character – these gifts that are common to the entirety of humanity – by putting them to use as means to an end that is less than ‘good’ or ‘holy,’ and this inherent tendency to do so causes the need for reconciliation to God (at least that’s how I see it at this point), although that’s a whole other topic. Here’s what I’ve thought about since the other night’s talk:

The parable of the talents depicts three servants who are each entrusted an amount of money (‘each according to his ability’) while their master is away on a journey. Two of the servants invest their master’s money and upon his return present to him double the original amount they were given. The third hides his money in the ground where it is not ‘put to work’ at all. The master rewards the first two: ‘You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.’ The master takes the money wasted on the third servant, though, gives it to the servant who made the most of what he’d been entrusted, and throws ‘that worthless servant outside…’

James writes that the man who lacks wisdom should, quite simply, ask for it. God will grant him wisdom; however, if the man doubts this gift (wisdom is, after all, a rather intangible thing, the effects of which are not easily perceived until after it has been put to use), then he should not expect that he will be given any greater wisdom. It is stubborn pride – not humility – that is revealed through a man’s constant second-guessing – in effect, rejection – of a freely-given gift.

While I think it’s apparent, given their contexts, that the primary application of these scriptures differs thematically from what I have been thinking about lately, a no less valid application is this: if we have been given a little thing, then we have been graciously given an opportunity to play a part in the growing of this thing. We can participate thankfully and humbly, showing ourselves to be understanding of the responsibility we have to the giver and asking for his aid in its growth, or we can wonder why we received no great gifts – and in doing so take for granted the many, many little gifts we receive in day-to-day life. I think that no matter how ‘spiritual’ or ‘worldly’ a gift may be (or, ‘sacred’ or ‘secular’ – but see 29 January’s post for my position on that), this applies. A man who does not cherish and nurture his musical talents must not hope for a career in the musical arts, just as a man who does not thankfully accept and believe in the gift of wisdom must not hope to become a great teacher or priest. And I think that even our desires for these things can be considered gifts – chances to cherish and work toward the completion of something that can be both satisfying and enriching…

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