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5 Options at a Gift Exchange

Amazing. Heartbreaking. It was the funniest thing, really. At a ladies’ tea, one woman introduced herself by sharing about her spiritual gift. Then, the next fifteen women ALSO announced that they possessed that exact same gift of teaching. You would have thought we were at a Yankee Swap gift exchange.

Should I laugh-out-loud or call them out for copy-catting? I did neither, of course. But honestly, what are the logical odds of every woman in a room—let alone every person in a church—receiving the same gift from God?

To be kind, perhaps they didn’t understand much about gifts. At a gift exchange, you do sometimes catch the duh looks. Um, what is it?

Perhaps those ladies assumed they had to mention something and couldn’t come up with any other gift. Or they feared not appearing as spiritual as the rest. My gift is so ordinary, nothing special at all…

Or maybe they just fell into the oh-so-common comparison trap. My gift isn’t as spectacular as the one she got. Some people have all the luck…

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” –Pablo Picasso

At a gift exchange party, we have more or less five choices. Five responses when we unpack the present:

Swap It

Or trade it under the table, steal from someone else… The extra feisty will even wrestle for something “better.”

In the game—as in life—you don’t choose the gift, only the exterior packaging. Everyone receives something, and no one receives everything. And to be sure, we don’t get our gifts (talents, opportunities, and dozens of other blessings) because we’re smarter, luckier, or more perceptive than the next person. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (I Cor. 4:7).

Perhaps that’s why we sometimes make mistakes about what has the best value.

We inspect our gift and maybe think, Too cheap. Not good enough. Some of us can’t dump it fast enough. And maybe don’t mind toppling and trampling over others to do so.

So…what are your gifts—spiritual, natural, developed? Have you ever wished you could do a gift exchange with a friend? What happens when we trade our gift? Or shove it aside to grab someone else’s?

In the Body of Christ, we all lose when we swap weeping for sweeping, rebuking for encouraging, preaching for teaching. Prayers for sermons, lessons for kindness, grace for truth. Or vice versa.  

A spiritual gift swap not only teases our covetous hearts, it feeds the jealous competitiveness the Evil One tries so hard to promote. Divide-and-conquer remains one of his most effective strategies.

The master in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25) was disappointed when one of his servants failed to accept and use the gift he’d received. Snatching at the gifts of others is equally presumptuous.

We don’t have to struggle in an attempt to seize someone else’s gift. It’s futile to claim all the talents when I can share my own, while appreciating the diverse skills and expertise of many others. The effectiveness of the Body depends on this.

Lose It

At one crazy party I attended, it came down to steal-or-be-stolen-from. Some people didn’t care. Others didn’t have the passion—or gumption—to defend their gift.

Maybe they felt the lovely gift was never really meant for them in the first place. Much too fancy for me. Not modest or easy enough.

As a Christian writer and Bible teacher, I’m kind of like that. How do I so often find myself on center stage when I prefer to work in the background? It’s far from where I’d naturally gravitate.

But then, the Holy Spirit can touch and light afire the simplest abilities. He can hone and empower them, so that a natural gift, yielded to Him, can blaze into a valuable spiritual gift.

Don’t miss the unique wonder of what God has purposed to give you. He’s generous and personal (perhaps unlike at the gift exchange). He knows us—and the best choice for us. And He never intended to turn us into carbon copies of each other.

“God doesn’t want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.” –2 Tim. 1:7 (MSG)

A biblical “talent” was a monetary unit worth a lifetime salary. So the master of the parable basically invested more than a million dollars in each of his servants. All I can say is, Wow. It’s hard to imagine that kind of worth—or that kind of responsibility.

True, few gifts show up in full flower. They bud and grow before reaching their mature beauty and potential. Gifts left in their bags bless no one. Maybe all those teacher wannabes just hadn’t worked on developing their gifts yet.

Droplet Gift #22: I choose to invest my gift. That means, I exert myself and exercise my gift. Train it. Put it out there. Put it to use.  

Keep It and Hide It

Eventually, we take something home from a gift exchange. But we don’t always like it. Maybe not even a little bit. It’s not me, not my style, not my preference.

We might as well bury it, like the unprofitable servant in the parable. The first two got busy and invested. The last one refused to take any risks or move out of his comfort zone. He made what Max Lucado calls “the most tragic and common mistake of giftedness”—he played it safe, covered his back, and never honored the master’s lavish bounty by benefiting from the talent he’d been entrusted with.

The only real mistake is failing to make any. We so often end up with nothing to show for our pursuit of perfection.

One of David’s mighty men had a strange name, Josheb-basshebeth, meaning “he who sits in his seat.” I take it that he occupied his place. He stayed where he was supposed to be and did his job.

Every one of us has her seat, her place, in the kingdom of God. We all possess unique talents which God does match to our tastes and tasks. But how many invest their gifts to fulfill God’s purpose and profit the Master and His church?

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” –I Peter 4:10

Be careful about misusing that million-dollar present. Don’t stick it on a shelf or hide it under the bed. It’s meant to be unwrapped and shared. No more excuses.

If no one teaches, we’re in trouble. But if everyone’s a teacher, no wonder bathrooms don’t get cleaned, teens slouch in dejection, and visitors sidle out our church doors unwelcomed by even one person. Where are the leaders, the helpers, the encouragers? The nurturers, the servers, the counselors? The organizers, the givers, and the pray-ers?

Keep It, Then Toss It

Others don’t even bury their unwanted gift in the back of the closet. We all know some Marie Kondo types who get rid of whatever doesn’t “spark joy,” no matter who gave it to them. I’ll never use this. I’m just not into it.

But for most, our relationship with the giver of the gift means everything, changes our perspective of its importance. What a difference it makes when we understand God’s loving heart.

The one-talent servant not only wasted his gift but completely misread the master’s motives. Maybe he worked for a boss, but he couldn’t have really known him. The master had bestowed a fortune on him…and the servant calls him a “hard man”? Doesn’t sound quite accurate.

What if the servant had only spent the money or given it to the needy? While we don’t know the master’s reaction, but I can’t help but feel he’d have approved the smallest use of his investment.

The bottom line isn’t just profit. It’s faith—trust in God’s goodness—and faithfulness—trustworthy commitment to His assignments. If you’re indifferent, if you fear the Master, you’ll dismiss His gifts. Dread Him, and despise the talent. Throw it away.

Love Him, believe in His desire to cherish and reward, and you’ll mine the deepest potential of His gifts. Allow them to enrich you, then pass them on. Talk about sparking joy.

Keep It and Use It

In a best-case scenario, we go home from the gift exchange with an item we love. What a thoughtful gesture. I know just what to do with this.

If in some situations we hope no one ever asks, here we’ll delight to let our friends know how much we’re enjoying their gift. How it’s enhanced our lives and overflowed to bless others.

“Now you have every grace and blessing; every spiritual gift and power for doing his will are yours…” (I Cor. 1:7)

Someday you and I will encounter the Master face-to-face, and He’ll surely inquire about His gift (or gifts)! He wants us to take advantage of what He gave so graciously. He wants to accomplish so much through us and—believe it or not—He desires to hand out prizes to those who serve His purposes. “From everyone who has been given much, much is expected” (Lk. 12:48).

Fast forward to the end of the history. Maybe your parents never praised you. Maybe you didn’t celebrate top marks in school. Whether we’re famous, flashy, productive, or prosperous…whether we’ve got big accounts or bestsellers to our name… we can still hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

May we all experience the joy of the Master as He affirms and cheers us each on in our own special gifting. What an awards banquet we have to look forward to. An astonishing gift exchange—my grain of sand for a crown.

Lord, don’t take me home untilI’ve claimed your gift and capitalized it to bring you glory.


    1. 🙂 I feel like I’ve said this so many times, but I keep preaching it–to myself and anybody who will listen!

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