You’re standing there, awkward, embarrassed. Someone you know—a friend, an acquaintance—has surprised you with a Christmas present. And you didn’t get them anything.
Maybe they view your relationship differently, or maybe they’re just generous. It doesn’t really matter at this point. Our culture tells us we should have bought them something too.
I grew up with this mentality. If someone invited my parents to dinner, they felt pressured to invite them back. This was a huge source of stress, since my mom didn’t exactly practice hospitality, she entertained. It was a big production and everything had to be perfect. I got the sense that she was more concerned with the ham, o’gratin potatoes, and peas coming out exactly right than with our friends having an enjoyable evening.
All that didn’t matter, though. The important thing was to reciprocate.
A few Sundays ago, our pastor made a statement that has been stuck in my head ever since: “If we always have to reciprocate, we haven’t caught grace.”
While we might be able to “pay back” nice things people have done for us, there is absolutely no way we will ever give God enough to make up for what He has given to us.
We sure try, though.
Especially in the non-profit world of Christian ministry, we feel driven to try and earn God’s approval. Yes, we know that we can’t earn our salvation. But from there on out, it’s all about works—proving to God that He made the right decision when He saved us.
In the past few years, a surprising number of ministry “professionals”—people who are leaders in the church, heads of mission organizations, respected for their wisdom and faith—have confessed to being more about doing things for God than being with God. They get to the point of retirement and realize that they really don’t know God at all.
I just started reading Revelation (yes, an odd choice for this time of year). Jesus tells the church in Ephesus: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” (Rev. 2:2). Yes, that sounds like a lot of people I know—hard working and strong in the face of obstacles. But Jesus continues, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Rev. 2:4)
We need to get past this idea that we can ever match God’s generosity. His presence with us, His rescuing us from death and darkness, from a life of futility and insignificance, His adoption of us as sons and daughters, the power of the Holy Spirit—it’s all more than we could ever begin to repay.
Grace, by definition, is undeserved. Just as with the unexpected gift, our best option at this point is to simply express our great gratitude and say thank you.