"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." ~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

The King’s Gift

Once there lived a wise and good king. Many kinds of animals lived in his kingdom. The songbirds were his favorites. Each songbird sang a special melody that made the king very happy. The king told everyone that he would pay a high price to get more songbirds for his kingdom.

One day, some strangers traveling through the kingdom told the king about a beautiful bird. The bird has brilliant red and blue feathers. She sang the most beautiful melodies ever heard. But this bird lived far away. And she was imprisoned in a delicate golden cage. A bad government official owned the bid. When this man was angry, he would beat the bird’s cage with a stick. The bird became frightened and confused. As a result, it only sang at night.

The king became very angry when he heard this story. So he was determined to rescue the helpless bird. He told a trusted servant to find the bird and buy it. The servant gathered food and clothing for the long trip. He also filled a large sack with gold coins, for he was willing to pay a high price. So the servant left, riding on a strong horse.

Many weeks passed. Finally, on a warm spring day, the king’s servant returned. He was holding the golden cage! He had a big smile on his face. He was glad to be home, because the journey had been difficult. And the government official had demanded a very, very high price.

Then the king took the golden cage to his lush garden, where he spent many hours enjoying the songs of the other birds that lived there. He carefully hung the cage on a branch of a tree, looking with great love and compassion at the frightened bird in the cage.

Then he did something strange. He opened the golden cage’s tiny door. Then he walked away, because the bird was frightened. She was hitting her little body against the sides of the cage again and again.

When summer came, the beautiful bird was no longer afraid. This garden was a place of peace. The cage door was still open, but no one harmed her. No one beat her on her cage anymore.

Every day she watched the gentle king as he walked in his garden. He spoke to the other birds, who were free, and didn’t live in cages. He would pet them, too. Then the birds would sing back to the king.

All of these birds seemed so happy! Some of them were beautiful, and some were plain. Some were young, and some were old. But the king loved them all. He didn’t notice their differences.

One day, a cheerful canary went to visit the bird in the golden cage. She flew through the open door, and sat down on the swing. Soon the two birds were friends. They talked about everything. The canary admired the fancy feeding dish and mirror. She had never seen such luxury! But the canary said there was something better: eating grain from the king’s own hand. Sadly, the beautiful bird chose to eat alone in her cage.

They talked a lot about the open door. The bird in the cage explained to the canary that she had no desire to leave the cage, even though she was curious about the life in the garden. Besides, all her relatives had been born and raised in cages. To her, they seemed happy.

The canary then patiently explained that the king was offering a wonderful gift. It was an invitation to fly! And she would even eat the best grain from the king’s own hand. The canary also reminded her friend that the king had paid a very high price to bring her to his garden.

Every day, the king held out his hand by the cage’s door. He yearned for the little bird to come to him. But she was still afraid. The king had perfect manners. He would never force her to leave the cage. He had simply opened the door of the cage. He patiently waited for her to fly out by herself. With all his heart, the king wanted the bird to experience the love, joy, and peace that only he could give.

Several years passed. The happy canary still visited her friend often. But the imprisoned bird only sat in her cage. She seemed satisfied to watch the king through the bars of her cage. And the small golden door remained open.