Thursday, December 19, 2013

What Gift Are You Bringing?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem(E) in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
- Matthew 2:1-12

Christmas gifting can be next to impossible sometimes. Have you noticed? 

I'm the kind of person who starts Christmas shopping in July, and yet still, I found myself on Amazon Prime today, trying to figure out what last-minute Christmas presents I can ship in time for Christmas. 

Sorry, husband-- the camo Snuggie was all they had left, I swear. 

No, no, not to worry. Matt's not really getting that. He made a handy wish list to take the guesswork out. My dad is another story...

Have you ever paid attention to some of the gift displays set up in stores like Target and TJ Maxx? Superman cape socks, LED finger lights, and a mustache corkscrew? Who is buying this stuff? (Yes, all that stuff is actually being sold at Target.) Want to now what's really bad? I actually bought my husband one of those forehead flashlights last year! 

In all the stress of finding the perfect gift, we often lose sight of the deeper reason we're shopping in the first place. And why is it that we give gifts, really? When it comes down to it, we want to offer a gesture that says, "You matter to me."

So, back to the story of the wise men. Why were they journeying with their gifts? Because they saw a rising star for the king of the Jews, and they "came to worship him."Their gifts, you see, were a form of worship.

Let me ask, then, a question. What gifts are we bringing the baby born that day in a manger? And are our gifts a form of worship, as the wise men's were? Do they show He matters to us?

So often, we often think of writing in terms of accomplishment. In one month, we want to finish the story, land an agent, sign with a publisher. We think if we could finally meet our favorite author or finally sign that contract or finally gain a readership, maybe then we would have something of merit to offer back to God. But I want to challenge you to turn that way of thinking around. What if the product isn't the form of worship, but rather, the writing itself?

Several months ago, one of my writing mentors challenged me to think of writing as a process whereby God wants to spend time with us. Yes, He wants to use authors' words to encourage others. And yes, we probably all write with the hope of publication. But what is governing that process and desire? The hope of seeing your name in print, or the hope of precious moments with Him?

Notice that the wise men don't give Jesus just anything. They give Him their treasures. And what does Matthew 6:21 say about your treasure? The New Living Translation says it this way: "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." So if you are a teacher, teach from the depths of your heart. If you are a mother, mother from your heart. If you are a wife, love your husband from your heart. And if you are a writer, write from the depths of your heart. To do so is to worship.

I want to encourage you to perhaps take on a radical new perspective about writing. What if your gift is your gift? In other words, what if your heart's story and the time you spend writing it is in and of itself the thing you ought to offer God? What if He wants you and your writing not because of your accomplishment, but because He loves you right where you are?

Whose star are you following?

This Christmas season, I want to say a big thank you to all the readers and friends of the Alley and tell you how much you mean to me (and all of us here at the Alley!). Be encouraged as you celebrate Christ's birth, and keep your focus on the star that is rising-- He will show you were to go as you bring your gifts to Him.

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Rachelle O'Neil said...

Thank you so much for this post! It's so easy to get caught up in wanting to be published and have my writing loved, but you're right. Writing is an act of worship for me, and I need to remember that it's important regardless of whether anyone sees it.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

So beautiful, Ashley! God has given you a real gift of insight and teaching. Always love what you have to say.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Here Here! or is that Hear Hear! Maybe an Amen would work much better!

Your words ring truth, Ashley, and you have worshiped Him well today. Thank you...very timely!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Blessed by your devotional thoughts as always, Ashley.

I love the thought of writing as spending time with Jesus. I've thought of it that way in theory but not as much when I'm actually doing it. I think viewing it this way would also help me to be more gentle on myself in my growth as a writer (yet also being diligent to do my best).

Jill Weatherholt said...

This is beautiful, Ashley. Your words are indeed a treasure to all of us.

Pepper said...

Oh Ash, this is absolutely beautiful! This quote spoke to me in particular:
" think of writing as a process whereby God wants to spend time with us"
Wow - that really changes the perspective doesn't it? It takes out so much of the pressure we put on ourselves and helps us enjoy the fellowship but also the sheer pleasure of living within our giftedness.

Angie Dicken said...

I just spoke at our women's group about how God calls me to abide and worship Him through writing...and I used your butterfly analogy from this summer! Still can't believe that I saw all those butterflies on the beach.
Writing as worship is something I have to remind myself every I get so caught up in the "what if" of taking this thing further according to worldly means. It's such...A GIFT to do this thing that we love and God use it for His glory! Our worship brings Him glory, and He's so creative to allow us different avenues of worshiping Him that are uniquely crafted within us. Love our God! Great reminders here, Ashley, and great tie to the Christmas story.

Angie Dicken said...

Love what you said about pressure on ourselves...he he...I feel like a pressure cooker so often! I think Tamela said something over on the Steve Laube blog, about self-imposed deadlines, and that we should be careful to not rush into submitting, etc. because of the pressure we put on ourselves.
One of these days, it will all sink in deeper for me!

Pepper said...

I think we all put pressure on ourselves at some point or other. There's loads of emotion riding on our dreams :-) And add the hours and hours we put into the writing process? Gee whiz, it's a Christmas miracle we dont' have exploding writers all over the place :-)

Praise God for his undergirding of love and a sound mind in those times we're reaching our breaking point, though- with a good friend - or a good post like this one to keep us grounded.
It's GOD'S gift in us. Not ours. God's...and He's using it to work His way in and through us.
Good to know! :-)

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you for stopping by today, Bluebelle! What's really cool is that when we begin to see writing as worship to God, we stop worrying so much about achievement because that's a natural output of the process. We end up much happier in the end. Merry Christmas!

Ashley Clark said...

Karen, you're so sweet! Thank you!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Sherrinda! :) Hugs!

Ashley Clark said...

Yes!!! I am the same way-- especially when brainstorming, I am too harsh on myself! But I don't think that's the way God ever intended it to be. Thanks for sharing, Julia!

Ashley Clark said...

Jill, you are so sweet! Thank you for being a faithful friend here at the Alley!

Ashley Clark said...

Absolutely, Pep! Such a perspective shift!

Ashley Clark said...

Indeed it is such a gift! I think it's so easy to lose sight of how creative God really is, and writing gives us that realization. Love you!

Angie Dicken said...

Oh Pepper, I must pray for a sound mind EVERY day! Like I've said before, I want a vacation from my brain-- To not overthink and try to overproduce when something needs to gel in God's timing and by His plan, not the puny one I think up! HAHA!

Julia said...

What a cool thought about God's creativity. I know it (head) but how much do I meditate on that or think about it through scripture.

Oh, man, Angie. I can relate to that needing a vacation from my brain and from overthinking. In fact, God has pulled me out of a few things this December to shift my priorities.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Welcome back, Ashley. I missed chatting with you! I loved this post!

Pepper mentioned putting too much pressure on ourselves..that can be a nasty fellow poking his head in at terrible times even aside from writing.

Today, my daughter and I sat in living room wrapping gifts when the tree fell on its on accord. Water splashed on the gifts. Oh! We had worked so hard to get the right gifts and wrap them. We ripped the soaked paper off and set the gifts aside to dry.

This evening I finally had a few minutes to read this great post. Well, I am finally soothed enough to say, the recipient will probably be glad for the gift even if some water landed on it.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

What a perfect and timely post, Ash! I think we can become our own worst enemy. Yes, we want to set goals, and have dreams... but when those aspirations start to crowd in on our joy we know our priorities have strayed off course. I agree, the gift of writing is as much for us as it is an act of worship. What a beautiful time to commune with God, to have him speak through the unique talents he's given each one of us... often times trying to clue us into to something he is speaking to OUR hearts than for us writers to convey our own message.

This is the perfect time of year to bring our gifts before our savior, offer them up, knowing full well they may just be in their infancy... and let our gift be a true and selfless act of worship to our king!

Missed you big!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ang and Pep, I think all moms must pray for that sound mind daily. :) How else would we stay sane???

Angie Dicken said...

Absolutely, Amy! It so changes the day if I pray first! My kiddos are thankful too! HA!