Did you get a gift card for Christmas? I got a few, and now I have the feeling of, as my mother would have put it, “having a hole in my pocket.” Gift cards are great, they are the gift of opportunity, of possibility, and of freedom of choice. But what do you do when you have gift cards but don’t know what you want? Do you have the discipline to wait until you want or need something? Or, do you, as the businesses that sell gift cards hope, keep looking for something to buy with that gift card?

The quandary is that you have a gift that you opened, but you still don’t know what you really got. The final form of the gift only comes after you make a purchase. Merchants optimize their webpages to suggest all manner of things you might like but wouldn’t normally buy for yourself. However, the ultimate win for the merchant comes if you totally forget about the gift card until after it expires. I know people who find gift cards regularly tucked away from previous Christmases or birthdays. What to choose–that is the challenge.

One does not want to get just any old thing with the gift card because, well, it was a gift and should be something memorable. But often getting something memorable will cost you more than the gift card will cover. Another win for the merchant. I’ve been known to use gift cards for items I wanted for Christmas but didn’t receive. Does that mean that I really did get what I asked for?

I suspect that clarity may be achieved by understanding what a gift really is supposed to be. If by gift you mean someone gave you something, then why aren’t colds and flu-bugs gifts? If by gift, you mean that someone gave you something desirable, the question becomes, “to whom is it desirable?” Who hasn’t gotten something given to them that they not only did not want, but would never desire? It is usually here that someone invokes the old adage, “but it’s the thought that counts.” By this, does one mean that being thought of enough to be given a gift makes getting that gift, however inappropriate it may be, worthwhile? But who hasn’t gotten a gift with their name misspelled? That does put a bit of a dent in one’s estimate of how much thought went into the gift. Does the value of the thing given make it a gift? Who assigns value? With a gift card, you have a clear assignation of value, but what does it convey to you?

I could go on in many directions, but my point is that gift giving is hard, and, often, gracious gift receiving is a challenge. But if we dig down deep enough, we will discover that what makes a gift good is love. Did love motivate the giving of the gift or did obligation? Was the gift received with love or with polite resignation? In the end, love is the only gift. A gift card is just as capable of conveying love, though perhaps not so much thoughtfulness, depending on who you’re buying for, as is a diamond, or a car, or a home. Does the size of the gift convey the size of the love? Sometimes, but not always. When using love as the metric for valuing gifts, the level of sacrifice is what declares the size of the love. And that leads me to my point. God’s greatest gift to us is His love and the greatest expression of that love was the sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for our sins, died our death, and offers us eternal life.

This is where every gift should ultimately turn our gaze–to God and His love for us! God graces our lives with multiple gifts every single day. God’s gifts should encourage us to be loving and generous toward others. God is entirely selfless, and has not rigged the system to His benefit, but rather sacrifices to benefit us. God’s gifts are best when we use them. God’s gifts always work for our good. God is always thinking about us. God will never misspell your name, in fact, Scripture says that He has engraved your names in the palms of His hands. (Isaiah 49:16). The measure of a gift is the love behind it and God is love, so when God gives us the fulness of His love, He gives us Himself.

Contact Pastor Lamb at leadpastor@ imlaycityamazinggrace.org