As a child, I always got excited when mom and dad told me that we were getting together with relatives. I loved hanging out with family, and I was blessed with fantastic grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I liked them all, especially my cousins, with whom I have fond memories of tearing up many-a-basement at family gatherings. But of all of my adult relatives, Uncle Bob was my favorite.

I didn’t get to see Uncle Bob very often, but every time I did, it was a thrilling experience. I think what set him apart was the way he would get down on my level and play with me. I was a rambunctious child, and it was wonderfully validating that this super-fun adult seemed to get a kick out of me, and wanted to spend time with me. It didn’t hurt that he had a dog either.

One year, shortly before Christmas, Uncle Bob sparked excitement in my heart when he said, “Tim, I was thinking of getting you a train set for Christmas.” My face lit up with anticipation. I had always wanted a train set! With a teasing twinkle in his eye, my uncle quickly followed up with, “…but it’s the thought that counts.” As Uncle Bob roared out his signature ‘hyuk, hyuk, hyuk’ laughter, my face scrunched into a look of betrayed disapproval. I was not impressed.

I can be a lot like my uncle, and I’m not just talking about the way I engage with—and tease—my nieces and nephews (though that would also be a fair comparison). My life is filled with good ‘thoughts that count.’ I like to reflect on the people in my life and think about how I could bless their lives. I contemplate what it is they are lacking and think about how I could be involved in making their dreams come true. Even more, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what gifts I could give to Jesus. I think I have a pretty good idea of what I could offer that would light up His face with joy. The problem is that too often my thoughts don’t translate into action. My intentions result in beautifully wrapped packages that contain nothing but hot air.

It is not the thought that counts. Value is only added through sacrifice. Love is not genuine without demonstration. Faith in God is only proven through faithfulness. It is follow-through that counts.

It didn’t take me long to forgive my uncle for his bait-and-switch. We were soon playing together again, and I was a little wiser in watching out for his eye-twinkling mischief. What I think is pretty cool—though neither of us realized it at the time—is what Uncle Bob was teaching me with his illusory train set: Pleasing thoughts may warm the heart for a while, but without action they ultimately end in heartache.

I have no interest in offering up heartache to my friends, my family, or my Lord. My desire is to contribute in a meaningful way that brings tangible blessing. For that to happen, my colorfully-wrapped gifts must be full… of follow-through.

Thanks Uncle Bob.

Proverbs 13:12; James 2:14-26

Tim Knapp is the creator of the Desert of Ziph website.

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