The children handed out the gifts until we all had a small pile in front of us. We began to open the presents in turn, pausing to exclaim over each one, to tell why it had been selected, or to simply express appreciation to the giver. One of the serendipities was watching the anticipation of both the giver and the receiver of each gift.
On this particular Christmas, our nine year old daughter, Jocelyn, had taken extreme care in selecting and wrapping her gifts for the family. When I reached down to pick up a small box from my pile, with more tape than wrapping paper on it, I heard her suck in her breath with excitement.
I hurriedly opened it to find a clear plastic box containing a ring with shiny, red and white stones. "Do you like it, Mother?" she asked.
"Oh, Jocelyn," I exclaimed, "it's a ruby and diamond ring!"
"I know," she replied, "and it's adjustable!"
Later Jocelyn would tell me how much the ring had cost ($1.75 seemed extravagant to her). She shared how she had carefully saved her money and how absolutely gorgeous she thought it looked.
I wear it often and it has truly become a treasure to me. Every time I look at that ring, I see those brown eyes shining with love and admiration. I hear that sweet voice exclaiming, "... and it's adjustable!"
But more than the present itself, Jocelyn gave me something of more infinite value that morning. She showed me how freely and extravagantly and lovingly to give a gift to another. As the parent who received her gift, I was truly blessed because I learned from her how to be a child.
And that's what God wants from us.
As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he describes how God has chosen us. He wants each of us to be his child and to give him the gift of our praise freely, extravagantly, and lovingly from the heart.
He destined us in love to be his children through Jesus Christ ... to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:7 NIV, emphasis added).
We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also ... were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit ... to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12-13, emphasis added).
When Thanksgiving and Christmas are here, many of us feel a need to express our love and gratitude to the Father who has given us life, both physical and spiritual. But these expressions should not end when the holidays are over.
As children of God we should be active participants in giving him gifts of our praise. Let me suggest several ways that we might grow in our ability to praise God.
Praise God for nature. Take a long walk or sit quietly in a favorite outdoor spot. Absorb the beauty of God's creation and spend time praising him for all that he has done in making our world and sustaining it.
Focus on how God has revealed himself in relationship to us as Father, Brother, Friend, Counselor. Praise him for each one.
Praise God for answered prayers. Think back to recent events or people that you have prayed for and how God has responded to those prayers. Focus on prayers of the past that God has answered in ways you expected and ways that you didn't. Praise God for caring enough to hear our prayers and respond.
Praise God for his character. Concentrate on attributes of God that are especially meaningful to you — his grace, mercy, justice, steadfastness, etc. Meditate on how God has shown himself in scripture, in his church, in your life, and in others. Pour out your love and adoration to him.
Praise God for blessings and struggles. Look for ways that God has blessed you with health, strength, courage, faith, etc. Then focus on how he has caused you to struggle in life. Praise him for both and for his presence in every circumstance.
Find praise passages from the scripture. Commit to reading these over a period of time — the Psalms are an excellent place to begin. Memorize several passages and include them as part of your daily study and meditation.
Learn some songs of praise. Sing these at public gatherings and at private moments. Hum to yourself at work or when you exercise. Practice a life of continual praise.
Finally, share your praise with others. Become a person whose heart is overflowing with praise for God in all aspects of life. Let your praise be known in all types of settings. Share a personal testimony of praise whenever possible — eagerly anticipate each opportunity.
Like my "ruby and diamond ring," a gift of praise becomes a great treasure to our heavenly Father—he wears it with love, joy and pride. But the true recipient of the gift of praise is the child who learns to give it.