One night as I was reading my Bible – I don’t recall exactly what passage, but it was one that referenced our future in heaven when we would spend our time singing praises at the throne of God – I had one of those all-American, in-the-flesh, I-can’t-believe-I just-thought-that thoughts. I thought: what’s in it for me?
Now I know the answer to that. Surely the alternative to heaven is an option I don’t care to ponder. But, truth be told, the image of sitting around all day singing praises sounded… boring.
I didn’t say the thought was right or good. Just that I had this thought – and once it was out there, God surely heard it. It was too late to take it back. I turned out the light and went to sleep and didn’t think about it again. But our God sees and hears and does not forget.
Fortunately, we have a God who can take our doubts, our fears, our angers, and all of our other I-can’t-believe-I-just-thought-that thoughts. The Bible says God knows our hearts and minds; He knows our words before they are even on our lips (Psalm 139:4). And I have sometimes found that when I ask a sincere question, even one I feel like I shouldn’t be asking in the first place, God has some pretty remarkable ways of answering.
I heard a sermon once where the minister said he ran from anyone who claimed to have been directly spoken to by God. “God spoke directly to his people in the days of the prophets,” he said, “but if you want to know what God is saying to you today, read your Bible. That is God’s Word. That is God speaking directly to you.” I think his point is well-taken: we need to be wary of divine claims and to test them against the words of the Bible. But I also believe the Holy Spirit sometimes uses the circumstances of our lives to goad us towards a deeper understanding of God’s Word. Sometimes the events around us suddenly click in a new way with what God has been telling us all along. This, I believe, was one of those times.
A couple weeks later I was driving home after a dinner out with friends. My mind was wandering its own tangential course when it stumbled upon a gift idea for one particular friend. It was one of those perfectly personal, practical, inside-joke kind of gifts that made me giddy just thinking about it. Have you ever had one of those gifts? Something you couldn’t wait to give because it was just so perfect?
Driving alone in my car I actually laughed out loud. She would love it. I could picture her face… and out of nowhere I suddenly thought: this is a little bit what it must be like to give the gift of praise to the throne of God. This joy is what’s in it for me. Not that I feel joy because I give, but because of the joy, I cannot wait to give. How much more will this be true when I am surrounded by the joy of being in God’s presence!
I was thunderstruck. I drove home in stunned silence. I had completely forgotten my earlier thoughts. God had not.
As we approach the Christmas season and the celebration of the day when God gave us the greatest gift by delivering his Son into this world, I am reminded again of that night. Too often gift giving bears only a token semblance to something deeper. But there are still special moments, when we stumble upon that perfect gift, when we are reminded of the true joy of giving. And there are moments when we receive a foretaste of the joy that will surely beset us when we eternally sing praises to our amazing God. During this holy season, may we experience the joy of God’s gift to us, but also the joy of giving back to Him.
Freely you have received; freely give (Matthew 10:8).