I found myself puzzling over a question that I thought was a simple one. "What is God's greatest gift to us?"
Of course, the answer that most often pops immediately to mind is Jesus. But I don't think that's the best answer.
As I have considered, one of the first things that comes to mind is grace. Where would we be without grace? Too terrible to think about.
And Jesus is a major manifestation of that grace, of course, and I am profoundly grateful for him.
But there is one thing - too often overlooked - that makes it possible for me to even have a relationship with God. I would be toast without it. It may be that it's an aspect of grace, but I had never thought of it in that way, though I have often thanked God for it.
What is it, this great gift?
God is so amazingly patient. He is always there when, though my ineptness, I make a mess of things. He is always there when, as sometimes happens, I intentionally mess things up, acting out of selfishness.
Where would I be without this patient God? The very thought sends me into a black pit of depression.
This is a very important matter for me.
The character of God matters.
For example, I have heard the claim that Christians and Jews worship the same God as the Allah of Islam. But I don't think that's the case, and one of the reasons is that the God of the Bible and the Allah of Islam are radically different in their character. The God of the Bible is overwhelmingly gracious, freely forgiving, and wonderfully patient.
The God of the Bible goes to great lengths to be known for who he is, seeks to enter into intimate relationships with those who follow him, calls klutzy people like me - who can never measure up or meet the standard - to come and follow him, to enter into an intimate, conversational relationship with him.
The Allah of Islam knows nothing of that.
It seems that God most loves those who just can't get it right. They make mistakes, they sometimes disobey, and in general, their greatest talent is making mistakes. That certainly includes me.
God calls us to himself, into his wonderful, loving, lavish, patient grace, even though he knows better than we do that we are utterly unworthy, and will always be.
I thank God for his patience.
And I pray that his patience with me will be reflected in my patience with myself, as he recreates the character of Jesus in me.