Jordans, Pro Wings, and the Gifts of God

This father doesn’t hand out Payless Quantum Force kicks to his children.

Jason Thompson / 9.18.23

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt 7:9-11)

When I was a kid, I had a pair of “knock off” Jordan’s that I didn’t even know were imitation kicks. At age seven (and not being much of a sports fan), I didn’t know what real Jordan’s were. The other kids at school knew, though, and swiftly informed me I was wrong for having the Payless version of America’s most iconic and classic shoe. To paraphrase Paul in Romans 7, “I didn’t know I had the wrong shoes until the law told me, Thou Shalt not wear generic Jordans.”

Years later, when I understood their profundity, my parents made it clear they would never be shelling out $100 for shoes, especially since kids were getting robbed at gunpoint for them at the time (I still remember the news story about the unfortunate young man who had to walk home from the mall in the snow, in his socks, after getting ganked for his J’s). The best I could hope for was a step down, Nike Airs, which, once again, my fellow peers quickly let me know didn’t make the grade. As one of my peers graciously reminded me, “…maaaan, your Quantum Force look like they took a Quantum Leap…”. I didn’t laugh at the time, but it was a funny dig.

Nearly every kid may be familiar with the experience of begging their parents for name brand shoes, name brand clothes, name brand toys, only to receive a generic alternative (much to your dismay). As the Fresh Prince noted in his 1988 classic “Parents Just Don’t Understand”: “I asked for Adidas and they got me Zips!”

Jesus tells us that the Heavenly Father’s generosity far exceeds that of our parents. This father doesn’t hand out Payless Quantum Force kicks to his children. He freely gives us the equivalent of name brand quality gifts. But the irony or ironies is that we so often invert the dynamic. We don’t ask God for bread or fish, but ask for stones and snakes. We seek the generic knock off version of the fullness we have in Christ. We don’t want the real thing, but cheap alternatives in all kinds of things “under the sun.” We don’t want the peace of God, but a larger house. Instead of asking God to comfort us in our affliction, we ask for the speedy demise of our enemies. We look to God for gifts that bolster our own agency. When life seems unmanageable and the levy of our willpower is leaking, we want a divine sandbag to restore us to normal. We don’t really want a gift, we want the help of a gift card to use as we see fit. God gives us real Jordan’s, but we beg Him for Pro Wings and Keds instead!

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray, the words he gave them called for the arrival of God’s kingdom and will on earth as it is in heaven. These words are said by many every Sunday morning. But the will of God and his kingdom is far different — far better — than what we would choose. When the Holy Spirit called Saul in the midst of his praying and seeking God’s will, he led him to a mission field where he would be stoned and left for dead. Hmmm, on second thought, I think I’ll take those Pro Wing blessings, Lord, I think I’m good with Your ‘permissive will’ for my life. Though there is always a mismatch between what we want and what God wills, the latter always outstrips our limitations. The grace of God may sometimes appear as its opposite, but it also never fails, never disappoints. The bread he gives will feed you for a lifetime. 

The reality is that the Christian life is one in which we have received an immense gift from God (namely the righteousness of Christ) and we spend the rest of the days here, unpacking, unwrapping the gift a little more each day. Salvation is like that family heirloom you had no appreciation for as a kid, but that later, as you grew in maturity, you recognized its value. Its intrinsic value or quality never changed, but your apprehension of it did over time. This is the essence of sanctification and spiritual growth: not attaining other things per se and adding to salvation, but getting more and more of what we already have. Or rather Whom we already have — or better, Who already has us. Thank God salvation isn’t dependent on how deeply we value Christ, but rests solely on how deeply God cherishes you in his son —  through whom he gives all things for life and godliness.

And if the Lord is so inclined however, I’ll take an actual pair of J’s. 

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