Autumn Joy toddled across the room and stood at the edge of my laptop-centered view. I was in task mode, typing away in my living room recliner. With Shirley Temple curls bouncing around her face, my eighteen-month-old daughter looked up at me. I looked at her. Then she handed me a plastic donut from her kitchen play set.
I looked at the donut and back at her again. She was waiting for a response.
So I put the donut up to my mouth and said with great animation, “Yum, yum…thank you, Autumn! This is soooo goood.”
Then something beautiful happened. Her big brown eyes widened and her lips pushed a giant smile against her puffy cheeks. She stood up on her toes and let out a high-pitched squeal.
After soaking in the experience for a few seconds, she ran back to her kitchen and brought me a little pink spoon. Again, I responded, showing her my approval. This cycle continued a few more times as I began to collect plastic pieces from her kitchen set.
For Autumn, this gift exercise kept bringing her back to Daddy. For me, it kept me looking for my child’s return. I was moved by the exchange. The interaction. The connection. I was so pleased.
The whole experience wasn’t about the donut. If one of her older brothers had brought me a plastic donut, it wouldn’t have been the same. Somehow the gift was exactly right coming from her, even if it was just a toy.
The AHA Moment
At that moment the thought occurred to me, could this be how our giving feels from God’s perspective? Are our gifts to him like plastic donuts?
After all, God does not need our gifts or our money. But like a father moved by a gift from his child, perhaps our gifts really can get his attention. Suddenly, I saw giving from a different perspective.
Gifts of the Past
We learn that as early as Cain and Abel, God was quite interested in the gifts of his children. When God “accepted Abel and his gift,” the original Hebrew text sha'ah suggests that God paid attention to and “gazed upon” Abel’s gift in a special way.
When Noah stumbled off the ark and offered burnt sacrifices, God “smelled the pleasing aroma” and made a covenant to never destroy the earth with water again (Genesis 8:21). The word nikhoakh (pleasing) means soothing, quieting, tranquilizing. Like steaming hot coffee on a cool day, God has his sweet aroma moments too.
For 1,500 years under the law of Moses, the Israelites presented “acceptable offerings” (Leviticus 1:3) to God. Biblically speaking, the word “acceptable” means pleasing. Sure enough, these acceptable gifts resulted in the same delightful aroma-effect God experienced with Noah’s gift (v9).
What about Today?
Of course we don’t offer animal sacrifices today. So what about our gifts of cash and possessions? Do they have the power to get God’s attention in similar ways?
The Apostle Paul describes the monetary gifts from the Philippians as a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). The Amplified Bible shows us the gifts from this perspective: “[They are the] fragrant odor of an offering and sacrifice which God welcomes and in which he delights.”
Throughout biblical history, God has shown great interest in certain gifts from his children. Like plastic donuts to a little girl’s daddy, these gifts to the heavens prompted reactions from God.
Often when we give today, we don’t envision God sitting at his chair in heaven desiring to gaze at us and our gifts. Instead we might be thinking about the church, the poor or the various ministries we support. Because giving is a transactional exercise too, it’s easy to miss the relational experience that goes with it.
The offering plate passes. The appeals hit the mailbox. Everywhere we turn around, needs and requests are there. The need to respond can seem overwhelming at times.
And when we do give, it can be difficult to know if our gifts are really effective. Do our gifts make a difference? They might. But they might not.
But we must not forget the primary recipient of our gifts…God. Meeting needs is secondary. Pleasing God is primary. This should be comforting to us.
My mother tells me that when I was at the plate in little league baseball, before tapping the dirt with the bat, I would glance in the stands to see that mom and dad were watching. My parents were at all my games. I never once doubted they were there. But as a child does, I still wanted to know they were watching.
As God’s children, we should be looking to him in similar ways. After all, he is watching: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)
After Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings to the heavens, God visited him in a dream. As the poor widow presented her two mites at the temple, Jesus was nearby watching. As Cornelius gave gifts to the poor, God was watching him, too.
God sees our gifts. No matter how large or how small, they are like plastic donuts to him.
Freedom and Challenge
The wealthy find this perspective liberating. Stewarding great wealth and giving wisely and effectively can be burdensome. Those entrusted with this responsibility find it comforting to know that their gifts can still be pleasing to God, regardless of whether they immediately solve the complex problems of the world.
Often the poor, and those with less to give, can feel empty about their gifts—“how can my gift possibly make a difference?” they may wonder. They too are greatly comforted to know that God is the primary recipient of our gifts.
Of course, this perspective brings great challenge as well. Approaching God is no small matter. We learn from the gifts of Cain and Abel that not all gifts are the same to God. Some gifts do not get his attention. Sadly, Cain’s gift did not.
King David knew that gifts mattered to God. Someone offered him the materials for a burnt offering for free. But David refused, saying, “I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt sacrifices that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) David knew that when the amount of the gift matters to the giver, it can matter to God also. David wanted his gift to cost him in a meaningful way.
God is also interested in the condition of our hearts. Ananias and Sapphira learned a tragic lesson. Instead of looking up to God with their gifts, they were looking for man’s reactions instead. Although their gift was an abundant one, their heart condition did not please God.
Remember the Perspective
As you continue giving, keep this new perspective in view. Our gifts can do a lot of good. They can feed the hungry, heal the sick, encourage the brokenhearted, and spread the good news. But most importantly, they can please God in heaven, connecting his children to him.
Connecting you and him. Bringing a smile to his face.
This article is excerpted from Plastic Donuts: A Fresh Perspective on Gifts.