Have you ever accidentally seen a surprise gift meant for you ahead of time? It happened to me when I was 8 years old. I was talking with my mom in her bedroom and noticed a large box in her closet. The name on the box said “Atari.” I screamed, “Mom, is that my Christmas present?” She quickly clarified, “No, that is for your older brother.” I was very disappointed.
As Christmas approached, I saw the large box wrapped next to the Christmas tree with no name tag on it. I wisely assumed that my parents had not put my brother’s name on the box to prevent him from guessing its contents. But on Christmas morning, my mom grabbed the box and placed it on my lap! I shouted, “No, this is my brother’s gift!” She explained, “Actually, this is your gift.”
I couldn’t believe it. No, literally. I couldn’t believe it. I began to argue with my mother that the gift was not mine, but indeed my brother’s. For weeks I had prepared myself for a mediocre Christmas, and to watch my brother enjoy the gift rather than me. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how the gift was actually for me!
We often fall into this same trap with our hand-me-down Christian faith. For many of us, our faith was passed down to us from a parent, grandparent, Pastor, or neighbor. And how thankful we are for that! God intends His believers to share the Good News with others.
But sometimes we are slow to take true possession and ownership of our faith. We might rest upon King David’s faith, or our grandma’s faith, and fail to realize that God is big enough to have a personal and individual relationship with each of us. When we live off another person’s faith, our walk with the Lord can understandably become stale and feel like a chore. We are not living out the plan He has set for us.
The apostle Paul instructs us to work out our own salvation, and it is God who works in us. How beautiful is that! God does the work in us! Our job is to work it out with Him! Not someone else’s faith, but our own. After my mom had clarified that Christmas morning the purpose of her little white lie, I quickly enjoyed the video game that was meant for me. I was quick to share with others the gift I had received.
As believers, we should be quick to share with others the amazing gift of salvation and abundant life we have received. When we live off someone else’s faith, or when we fail to engage with God working in us, our excitement can turn into a mediocre faith. God’s gift of salvation is always available to everyone, but it is the most powerful when you truly receive it for yourself.
This is perhaps one of the most counterproductive statements a parent or student leader could make. Have you ever said it? Most of us have. And the reason is simple. We are not Jesus. We certainly try to imitate Him the best we can, but even our best efforts do not always line up with our convictions…or our instructions to others.
One of my favorite convictions is “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is absolutely unacceptable.” Punctuality is certainly influenced much by culture and is not an absolute for everyone, but showing respect for others is a common standard. During my 15 years of being a Christian school administrator, I have always had the privilege to be in the classroom with students. Currently, I teach advanced mathematics to our senior students. I love spending consistent time with our oldest students before they transition to their next season. Some of them I have known for well over a decade!
But here is the problem. This 2nd-period class happens to occur 1st period on Wednesdays, which I often fail to remember. Multiple times this year I have had to eat humble pie (not my favorite) due to my own tardiness to my Wednesday math class. Just this week, I almost fainted during our Pledge of Allegiance as I had just huffed it up the stairs after carline and barely made it.
In Philippians, Paul encourages us to “work out our own salvation,” as it is God “who works in you.” I like that. My part is to release God to do all the parts in me. In 2 Corinthians Paul proclaims that God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. So perhaps “Do what I say, not as I do” should be replaced with “Let God do in you what you can’t on your own.” Not as catchy, or grammatically correct, but certainly more powerful!