Manger, crown of thorns, and Bible
November 27, 2023

Receiving the Gift - Week Two: It’s Not What I Need!

Reformed Worship offers these daily meditations by Rebecca Tellinghuisen, that worship planners and pastors can distribute to their congregations or engage with personally as a touch point during a very busy liturgical season. Advent 2023 will feel shorter this year because the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 24, the day before Christmas. Because of this tight schedule, the editors recommend using Week 1 readings beginning November 27 as a preparation for Advent. Each week we will publish another set of readings.

If you are a subscriber to the print or digital journal you may notice that these devotions correspond with Rebecca Tellinghuisen’s Christmas Eve service, “The Unexpected Gift” found on page 43 of Reformed Worship 149, but the service and devotions can be used independently from each other. 

Whether you use this devotional series or make use of some other resource, may you find time to rest and receive God’s gift to you. 

WEEK 2: It’s not what I need!

Have you ever given something to someone and suspected that they already had one? Even if the recipient offers heartfelt thanks, you might just catch that look or quiver in the mouth that says, “How can I convince my friend I love this gift when I already have it?” Of course, sometimes a duplicate gift might be desired, useful, even necessary. (Thank you so much! I have one of these lamps and I was hoping for one to match it because one doesn’t give me enough light in my room!) 

If you’ve worked in a post-Christmas customer service returns department, you’ve heard it all. And, before we accuse others of being a poor gift-receiver, let’s acknowledge that yes, not every piece of clothing fits. And yes, a purple towel might not match the yellow ones you have in your bathroom. Is it so bad to return or give away something you don’t need and don’t envision using? 

Of course, quite often gift-giving isn’t about need. If my best friend gives me a gift, I’m going to love her for it even if I don’t need it. But I’ll be honest. I might not keep that gift. Because I might not have room in my kitchen cupboard for one more travel mug, even one that has a panda (my favorite) on it. 

And we all need to be honest that much of the gift-giving “industry” isn’t at all about actual need. Walk through any home décor store and you’ll see plenty of items that no one really needs. Thankfully there are organizations that draw attention to real needs here in our city and around our world—making sure people have enough food, adequate shelter, and essential resources. And thankfully these organizations do so all year long, not just during the cultural gift-giving “season.” 

While many gifts aren’t truly needed, we do have needs, though we might feel uncomfortable admitting that. From a biblical perspective, we all have a need. In fact, it’s the same need. But we might struggle to admit that as well. Do I really need a savior? Surely, I’m not that bad? 

Every year at Advent, we are asked to make room for our Savior. Whether we welcome him or not is a matter of recognizing our need. 

What does Scripture tell us about the fallenness, frailty, and fickleness of human beings? Don’t just read these truths as about other people. They are talking about us all, which means you! That’s nothing to fear, however. You rested in God’s love last week. His perfect love which casts out fear. So we need not fear the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and what God thinks of us. This week, let God’s gift to you be clarity, honesty, and confession. Our need does not leave us helpless. Quite the opposite. There’s a great gift just waiting if we only reach out to take it. 

Sunday: Focus this week on our great need for a great gift. (Romans 3:23)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 

Yes, “all” means each and every one of us as individuals. But let’s bring this back to a wider, corporate perspective. “All” means all. Which means you are not alone in your need. It’s not that some need God’s saving love and some don’t. The only distinction here is that some people recognize it and some, either through pride or ignorance, don’t. Take this moment to acknowledge your need and give thanks—for even being able to see it is a gift from God! 

Monday: We need, because we are human (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12) 

It doesn’t seem fair. It wasn’t us in that garden. But before we start thinking that we might have done things differently, let’s be honest about who we are and what we do. We know how easy it is to want our own way. We know how easy it is to turn from God, to hide from God. We couldn’t have done it either. Not on our own. (And Genesis 3:15 gives us a hint about that.) 

Tuesday: We need because we are self-focused, self-centered, and selfish (Genesis 4:1–16; James 3:16; Philippians 2:1–4) 

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain’s terse and flippant response tells us everything about where humanity is headed at this moment. And it’s not good. Spend some time reflecting on where your focus might be too much on self and not enough on the other or God. Ask God to show you your need and also how you might adjust your focus. 

Wednesday: We need because we are tired and weary (Genesis 3:17–19; 1 Kings 19; Matthew 11:28–29) 

Life is hard, “sweat of your brow” hard. An old gospel hymn asks, “Are you weak and heavy laden?” It certainly must be a rhetorical question, for all must answer yes. At least at some point. The question for us, then, is will we take it to God in prayer? And will we wait to see what the Lord will do? Elijah’s “I’ve had enough” moment is followed by a really big God moment! What things are you carrying that need to be handed over to God? 

Thursday: We need because we are anxious and afraid (Exodus 3:1-12; Philippians 4:6–7) 

A burning bush would be hard to ignore. Surely the God capable of that could give Moses all that was needed to go to the pharaoh? But we can understand the fear, can’t we? The fear that takes us from “Here I am” to “Who am I?” The world can be a scary place. We don’t know what’s out there and how it will treat us. But we do know what God told Moses: “I will be with you.” See how many other people in the Bible you can name who were also scared and afraid. How did God respond? What makes you anxious and afraid? What is God saying to you today? 

Friday: We need because we are distracted by many voices, many temptations (Judges 16; Romans 12:2) 

Sampson was “born for greatness” as much as anyone could be. Dedicated to the service of the Lord before he was even born, Sampson fell to distraction and almost destruction. “Almost” because he finally remembered God and asked to be remembered by God. What voices and temptations are getting in the way of your relationship with God and being able to discern God’s will for you? 

Saturday: We need because we are helpless—especially when we fight against ourselves (Psalm 38) 

Oh, if we could all be as honest as David in the Psalms. Can you imagine sharing your deepest, darkest fears and failures, your “loathsome wounds” and “sinful folly” with generations of people to come? But aren’t you glad he did? David’s story is his own, of course. But if we read the psalm with as much honesty as it was written, we will find ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder with this great king of Israel. We all need the Lord’s help. If you were to write such a Psalm what would it say? What would you like to say to God today?

Rebecca Tellinghuisen works at Trinitas Classical School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she serves as a Latin teacher, communications assistant, and resident readers theater scriptwriter, having developed a love for turning classic works of children’s literature into twenty-minute plays. She also writes prayers and meditations for her church, Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.