A little girl goes to the pottery studio to fashion a bowl for her mother. She forms it with her little hands, and then paints it with childish artistry. After it is fired, she brings it home, wraps it, and presents it as a gift to her mother.
What is the mother to make of this crooked dish, a little bit gaudy and quite a bit ugly? You can be sure that the mother will have a far different view than a brother.
First, she sees not so much the bowl, but the girl. This is her little girl. The mother gave birth to this child. She taught her most of what she knows. The daughter's eye for shapes and colors are gifts that came largely from and through her. One might think that this is a moment to be critical of a dish. Rather, it is a moment rich with appreciation for a daughter.
Second, the mother evaluates the dish not so much for its utility, but for its token or symbolic value. "This is a gift from my daughter. I will keep it so long as I live." Other bowls fill the cupboards. They are used, cracked, and discarded. This bowl will have a far different life, put in a special spot to be handled with care whenever the mother feels the need of a smile.
Third, Mom can say, "it is beautiful" without lying. The beauty of the bowl consists not in its form or function. The beauty consists in that it is a gift, freely and gladly given to a mother, not because she needed it, but because the little girl wanted to respond in a relationship that was initiated and founded, not by the daughter, but by the mother. The gift shows that this is indeed, a real relationship.
And so, when you and I offer our acts of devotion or service to our God, His eye rests not so much on our works, but on us, His children. We are his children solely by virtue of His grace, and He is gladdened by our clumsy participation in a relationship which He Himself has formed.