I’ve always loved the joke about the man driving through the mall parking lot at Christmas. Seeing no open spots, and not knowing what to do, he begins to pray: “Lord, help me find a spot. Just one spot. Find it, and I’ll start going to church again. I’ll help at the food bank. I’ll… never mind, I found one.” We are constantly being showered by gifts from the Lord, often in response to our specific prayers. But the old sinful nature that still clings to us makes them so difficult to see. It is exactly as Meister Eckhart, the 13st century theologian, once wrote. We should “be prepared at all times for the gifts of God and be ready always for new ones. For God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive.”
So many times I’ve heard church bodies and congregations pray to the Lord that he would send them needed gifts: the gift of workers for the vineyard; the gift of finances for the Lord’s work; the gift of increased numbers. Yet so often those same church bodies and congregations turn away the people God sends; they turn down open hands offering support; they turn their backs on the wandering sheep God send their way. The human heart is stubborn. And even the old human heart left in the new creature birthed by the Lord in baptism can put up a real fight.
Martin Luther’s 1st thesis of the 95 posted in 1517 in Wittenberg was this: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” If there is anything we all need to repent of much and daily, it is ignoring the multiple gifts God sends our way. We ought not blame the Lord for not answering prayers, when he so often does and we leave his answer to our prayers unappreciated – and unnoticed.
The wonder of it all is that God doesn’t give up. He keeps giving the gifts! Our temptation is to stop giving gifts when they go unthanked and remain unappreciated. But Christ continues to come to the world and offer the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation: even when the gift is unappreciated and dismissed as unwanted (1 Timothy 1:15-16). No matter how much we prepare ourselves for God’s gifts, we will always be surprised that he remains more prepared to give them than we can ever be to receive them.