Playing with the Box

It’s been a while now, but I can still remember the worst Christmas present I ever gave my wife. What was I thinking? Idiot! So don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those pieces about finding that perfect gift for the one you love. If you had been there on that fateful morning, you wouldn’t trust my advice anyway.

The truth is, I’m not much of an expert on giving people “just what they always wanted.” For one thing, it’s a moving target – people are so fickle about “what they always wanted.” Take my daughters; one year it’s a colouring book and crayons; next year it’s a chainsaw or something. “Just what they always wanted” isn’t always the same as “just what they need.”

Thankfully, “God the Father” is better at this stuff than “Terry the dad.” James tells us that: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. So what God chooses to give – it’s consistently just right. It’s always “just what we need.” Let me stress that it’s not always “just what we want.” What we want is a moving target, remember? It depends on our mood. And it’s sometimes tinged with selfishness and often polluted with outright greed.

So what do we really need? Perhaps, since what God gives us is always just right, we can look to His gifts for a clue as to “just what we need”:

Speaking to a Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well at Sychar, Jesus said: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). He was referring to Himself. The one who was speaking to her was the gift of God. He in turn would offer her a further gift; living water.

For his part, the apostle Paul informs us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). Once again, the gift is Christ, and eternal life is included. And of course we know from John that God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Jesus Christ is God’s perfect gift. And in receiving Him, we gain eternal life. Eternal life – frankly, we don’t deserve it. Without God’s mercy and grace we could never expect it. But God is merciful and gracious, and His mercy and grace flow through the channel of His Son. Hebrews makes that plain: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16). You see? Mercy and grace from God through Jesus just when you need it.

So as we consider God’s good and perfect gift to us, the gift of eternal life in Christ, let me ask a question that has dogged parents through the years. Even when the gift is so good, why do they always just play with the box? This particular gift comes wrapped and packaged in a brightly-coloured fancy-tinseled holiday. There are even some people who would love it if you paid more attention to the pretty wrapping than to the gift it contains. Their profits would swell, and their ratings would soar.

But why be content to play with the box when the gift is so good; so perfect; so “just what you need”? Set aside some time to spend with Jesus this year. He is the gift from the God who loves you totally. Don’t be distracted by the glitz and sparkle, the ribbons and bows. Celebrate, have fun, enjoy the season, but be careful not to lose the gift in all the trimmings.

…And, just for the record, what woman wouldn’t want a coat-rack for Christmas?

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Dr Terry Boyle serves as Pastor for Insight for Living UK. His ministry involves teaching a weekend radio programme, hosting the weekday Insight for Living broadcast, helping with issues that come in from listeners, and providing a personal and local approach to Chuck Swindoll’s ministry.

Terry was born in Windsor, England. He moved to the United States in 1981. Although he began his professional life as a biochemist, Terry holds a Th.M. in Pastoral Ministry and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.

Terry served as senior pastor of Skillman Bible Church in Dallas until he and his family moved back to the UK in 2007, to take on the role of pastor for Insight for Living United Kingdom.

Terry and his wife Rose Ann have been married for twenty seven years, and they have three grown children: Hannah, Emily, and Terence.