I recently read a really challenging book called Accidental Pharisees.
In the chapter entitled “Chocolate-Covered Arrogance: The Dark Side of Gift Projection”, Larry Osborne seeks to make us aware of our tendency towards ‘gift projection’.
What is Gift Projection?
Essentially, it is trying to force everyone into your God created mold. It’s the effort to try and push your gift mix on everyone else and make them feel like sub-standard Christians because they’re not as good at xyz as you are. It is a sin unique to those who see themselves among the zealous and the highly committed Christ followers.
The more full-blown our gift projection becomes, the more likely we are to think that God is especially pleased with us and ticked off at everyone else, when nothing could be farther from the truth.
To illustrate how gift projection plays out, Osborne shares a few letters he’s received. The letters share a similar theme where people feel guilty that they haven’t sold everything and moved into a hut. It’s people who struggle with the appropriateness of all their extra hobbies and activities that cost money. As I read the letters, I wondered if I’m part of the problem. Have I been inadvertently projecting my gift on others? In the end, I concluded that it is possible, but that ultimately has never been my intent.
How Do We Avoid the Dangers of Gift Projection
I think gift projection is very real. It’s something I force myself to intentionally evaluate in myself.
Truth is that God created me to live a simple and frugal life. I honestly believe that it’s in my DNA. I actually experience more joy in living on less so I can have more for others. I guess you could say that I have the gift of giving (but that doesn’t always make it easy). It shouldn’t be too surprising that a person with my gift mix would write about blog about simple, debt free living and generous giving.
How do we avoid the dangers?
1. Recognize the unique ways we’ve been created.
I have a friend who’s adopted two kids from Ethiopia. I’ve adopted zero. I have another friend who lived with his family in a downtown major US city as an inner city minister. I live in the suburbs. In each of these situations, I’ve expressed to my friends that I don’t think I could ever do what they did – adopt a child or live in an inner city. Guess what? Both of them said they could never do what we did – move overseas.
I don’t think the question to ask is who is a more spiritual person? There is no question to ask. Instead, we all recognize that God has created us in very unique ways.
2. Never underestimate the power of education and experiences.
I am who I am because of what I’ve learned and done.
As such, I think it would be completely inappropriate to judge someone by my conclusions if they’ve never had the education or experiences I’ve had. Everything I’ve learned is because someone taught it to me. What a blessing. If someone has never been taught that same lesson, can I really expect them to know something differently than they currently know?
My wife and I are very open about how our time in Papua New Guinea shaped us. We cannot expect people who have not had that experience to be shaped by it.
3. Embrace the truth of the church as a body.
God needs us to be different for the sake of his Kingdom. He needs you to be gifted in certain areas. He needs her to be gifted in other areas. He needs them to be gifted in other areas. God never wanted a church full of merely eyes or ears. He wanted diversity so that the body could function as it should. This means we joyfully embrace our differences. I’m glad that there are some who want to make all they can while honoring God. God didn’t wire me that way. I’m glad that there are some people who visit random strangers. God didn’t wire me that way.
4. Teach based on your strengths and learn based on the strengths of others.
While I’ll likely never adopt a child from Africa, my friends who have done this have helped me grow. I’m more aware of the needs of children internationally. I’m more aware of the struggles families encounter raising adopted children. Now, with that awareness and experience, I can humbly ask God to teach me how to be more sensitive and helpful to people in a similar situation. I’ve been able to learn through their areas of strength. I doesn’t mean we expect people to be something God didn’t make them, but we do think that through education and experience we can all grow in maturity.
How do you think we ought to avoid the dangers of gift projection?