Monthly Archives: July 2011

$30 Billion in Gifts Unused!

Americans currently possess about $30 billion in unused gift cards. Recent studies gathered information on the gap between gift cards sold and the value of cards never redeemed or only partially used. The value of the unredeemed gifts has increased by around $5 billion each year for the past several years. In a Time magazine survey in 2009, 27% of people reported that they had an unused gift card because: 1) they didn’t have time to shop; 2) they couldn’t find anything they liked or wanted at the store that issued the card; 3) they forgot that they had the card.

Concern over the ballooning balance on the unredeemed cards has fueled the rise of gift card exchanges. Websites such as,, and others will pay up to 92% of the value remaining on a gift card. The exchange will then resell the gift card at a discounted rate, as much as 35% off the gift’s face value. (I’m not sure how they get that math to work out!)

$30 billion is a staggering amount of unused potential languishing on the unredeemed cards. Is a gift truly a gift if it is never utilized as the giver intended? The genuine value of a gift depends on the grace of the giver and the enjoyment and fulfillment the recipient experiences by using and sharing the gift with others.

Nobody can put a dollar value on the gifts God has given us that remain unused. God’s good gifts of the creation too often are overused and abused. But God goes beyond those corporate gifts to give each of us personal gifts to enrich our lives. Wise words attributed to Solomon recognize the individual care, hope and love God offers in every gift he gives to us: “God wants all people to eat and drink and be happy in their work, which are gifts from God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13 NCV) God is the ultimate gift giver, always giving exactly what we need and can use. As Jesus’ brother, James points out, “every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator of the heavenly lights, who does not change or cause darkness by turning. (James 1:17 GNB)

God’s gifts are perfect. The problem is that far too many of God’s gifts sit like unredeemed gift cards, full of potential but benefitting no one. Followers of Jesus read often of spiritual gifts given to every believer. Both Peter and Paul – each drawing on his own personal recognition that he would have been sunk without the gifts God gave them – assured other believers that God has given us spiritual gifts, too. “Each of you has received a gift to use to serve others. Be good servants of God’s various gifts of grace.” (1 Peter 4:10 NCV) “Christ gave gifts to people.. {12} Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger.” (Ephesians 4:11a, 12 NCV) God’s gifts are never one-size-fits-all. Our spiritual gifts are very personal, but they are intended to fit together as a miraculous representation of Jesus in the world today. As Jesus came to demonstrate God’s love to redeem the entire world, we are to function with spiritual gifts to benefit everyone: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. {5} There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. {6} There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. {7} Now to each one the [gift] of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, TNIV)

Our spiritual gifts fit us perfectly, they combine with others to enrich worship of God, service in the church, and the spread of God’s love throughout the world . but where have they all gone? We find far too little evidence of people actually using the spiritual gifts God has given us. Far too much potential for living out God’s love is “left in the drawer,” like so many unredeemed gift cards. Are the reasons for not using God’s gifts the same as for not using the gift cards? Not enough time . don’t find a gift we especially like or want . we forgot that we have a gift to use.

Here’s a project for part of your remaining summer reading schedule. The Center for Informed Faith hosts material online that can help you to identify and put into use your spiritual gift. It is similar to many other “spiritual gifts inventory” instruments. On this one, you rate your responses to 90 brief statements, then complete a simple scoring sheet. The inventory scores will suggest which spiritual gifts are most prominent in your life. Additional pages will help to interpret what each of the 18 spiritual gifts identified on the website from scripture entails and how you might employ your gifts. The inventory is available at:

If you have never taken a spiritual gifts inventory, I urge you to take this opportunity to do so. If you have taken a similar evaluation, I suggest that you take this one as a refresher. You may discover insight that can transform your following of Jesus and living with others. You may find reassurance to do something you have felt God nudging you to do. You may find new appreciation for how God loves you and has given you just the right gifts to share with others to make the worlds a better place through God’s grace.

Whenever you finish rummaging through your drawers looking for unused gift cards you have forgotten about, check out the spiritual gifts inventory. If you have questions about your inventory results, consult with your friendly local minister, or e-mail me. I would love to explore the wonderful gifts you have been given by God with you.

– J. Edward Culpepper

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