“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.” – Prov 18:16
I used to hate gift exchanges. Well, I still don’t like them. But at least I understand it a little better. My take on all gift and card exchanges was: “Wouldn’t it be great if, as a society, we all gave each other the collective gift of not having to get gifts and cards for each other?” Imagine how much freer our relationships would feel? How much less burdened, and weighed with obligation, guilt, and anxiety would we all be?
As it turns out, gifts weave a specific thread of our social fabric that cannot be replaced. Also, maybe I’m just really bad at giving them. A gift cannot (or at least should not) be reduced to a marketplace exchange, as if one of many goods and services. A gift is something different. The weird, and sometimes maddening truth about gifts is that some of their inherent value is the inconvenience itself. The gift took time. It took thoughtfulness. It took sacrifice. A remarkable gift goes beyond supplying a flat need. A remarkable gift considers well the recipient and expresses accurate personal knowledge – what will be pleasing to this person at this time?
A gift makes room for you to come into the presence of the great, not necessarily because you’ve bribed that great person with an enormous sum, but because the gift acknowledges the person. A gift is a way of saying that you value this great person’s time, energy, and attention. And if it is an effective gift, it is because the gift has shown personal knowledge. It softens the great person’s heart because, instead of presuming upon them, or pestering them merely because they occupy a position of power, you have sought to establish a relationship. A relationship is marked by mutual sacrifice, which can be expressed in the exchanging of gifts. In fact, if we define “gifts” broadly enough, a real friendship is nothing but an ongoing exchange of gifts.
When we come before the greatest being in the universe, God, it seems only natural, on those occasions, that we should bring a gift. But the Bible tells us that life, and breath, and the fullness of the earth belongs to the Lord. (Ps 24:1) So what’s a person to do? What’s left to bring that we didn’t receive? The Bible tells us we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1), but even the offering of ourselves, without a prerequisite gift, is like bringing so many dirty tissues. (Is 64:6).
The one gift we have, the one gift we need to bring, and can bring every single time, that never gets old, is Jesus. We’re re-gifting the only thing that makes a friendly relationship with God possible. Or more accurately, we’re gifting our dependence on His gift. It’s like the first time you met God, He gave you a jacket. Then, every other time you’re going to meet Him, you put on this jacket, as if to say: “See how much I still like this? See how valuable this is to me?”
Our gift to God is recognizing what makes the relationship possible. When we remember Jesus, and hold Jesus out in front of us, we are acknowledging who God is, and who we are. We move the relationship beyond a disparity in power dynamics to also being a personal one. We continually sacrifice self sufficiency so that we can receive God sacrificing Himself for us. That’s why we close every prayer with “in Jesus’ name.” Jesus is the unchanging, infinite gift that makes room for us to receive every other gift God wants to give us.