Last year (2013), Mark and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. We had wanted to go back to Bali, but as the time approached, we realized that was too far, too expensive and we had been there, done that. We wanted someplace new. The Caribbean was our answer. Tropics, familiar flora, ocean, papaya, snorkeling – heaven! So we ended up spending ten glorious days in St. Lucia. What a wonderful gift to receive from the Lord!
Waking up early the first morning to sit on the porch and gaze out at the blue sea, I opened my devotional, Jesus Calling. These words blew me away: “Sometimes My children hesitate to receive My good gifts with open hands. Feelings of false guilt creep in, telling them they don’t deserve to be so richly blessed. This is nonsense-thinking, because no one deserves anything from Me. My kingdom is not about earning and deserving; it’s about believing and receiving. When a child of mine balks at accepting my gifts, I am deeply grieved. When you receive my abundant blessings with a grateful heart, I rejoice. My pleasure in giving and your pleasure in receiving flow together in joyous harmony.” (Sarah Young)
Acts 20:35 says It is more blessed to give than to receive. I think this verse has made Christians afraid to receive, afraid to accept help, afraid to appear too blessed or too wealthy or better than someone else.
Let me illustrate: Pretend I have a gift in my hand right now. I want to give it to you. I saw it in a shop and I think that it is perfect for you and I want to bless you with this little special something. And so I hand it to you. Now what do you have to do? You have to take it, accept it—receive it. This may be a bit awkward. Why might you not want to receive my gift? Maybe, it’s not your birthday, you don’t deserve it, you don’t want to be in debt to me, you didn’t earn it, it seems unfair that no one else gets a gift, you don’t want to be singled out or the gift is too expensive.
Now, we all have already received tons of gifts. A quick perusal of scripture reveals that we have received forgiveness of sin, grace, mercy, a reward, an inheritance, a crown of life, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, answered prayer, salvation, family, friends, good things.*
We have also received things that are unique to us. On a personal level, this year I have received a new ministry, a chance to use my gifts, to work with my husband, my sweet spot—that perfect ministry. But in receiving these good things, I have also received some other things that I have struggled to see as good. I have had to begin support raising, move to Texas, be separated from my sons, sell my dream house, endure a shoulder injury from the move, wait for my own home and loose some friends. I have to receive these things too along with the “good” things.
Let’s look at some people in Scripture who received from Jesus.
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receiveyour sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:35-43)
The parallel account in Mark 10:46-52 reveals that this man’s name was Bartimaeus and we learn in Matthew 20:34 that God gave him his sight because he had compassion on him. But what intrigues me most about this story is that Bartimaeus answered Jesus honestly. He told him exactly what he wanted—to see! He could have given the right, spiritual answer (the one I usually give), “I want to have spiritual sight. I want to acceptmy blindness. I want to learn all I can from my blindness.” No, he didn’t spiritualize this. He was gut level honest. And he could be, because Jesus was compassionate! I also love that Jesus simply granted what Bartimaeus asked for, quickly and directly. And Bartimaeus received! Again, he didn’t say, “Oh, no, I don’t deserve to see. I haven’t earned it. What about the other beggars? They will hate me and I’m no better than they are. This gift is too rich, too much. Just give me spiritual sight and the ability to accept my blindness.” He received his gift with praise and proved it by following Jesus.
Now, consider the parable of the landowner who hired workers at intervals during the day – 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm and 5 pm – to work in his vineyard. He told them he would pay them whatever is right. Then at the end of the day, he gave everyone the same pay, no matter when they had started to work.
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ ” (Matt 20:9-15)
I can relate to these workers. Jesus has said to me, “I will give you what is right” but I complain about what I receive. This story reveals more attitudes toward receiving. We expect to receive more or we don’t want to take what is given. Jesus is telling us, “Take what is yours and go” and “God can do what he wants with what belongs to him.”
When my sons were small, I noticed a pattern similar to these vineyard workers. Whenever I started to dish out dessert to one child, the other one would quickly interrupt, “Where’s my piece? I want one too!”. Without even giving me time to get to it, the one “without” would assume that he wasn’t going to get any. It amazed me because I had never given them cause to believe they would not be served a piece of dessert. I always gave a portion to both children. I never withhold what was good for them. Why then did they doubt or beg or whine to not be passed over?
Matthew 7:11 says “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!“ And Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” God is a loving and compassionate Father. He will give what is good for us. Sometimes, blessings are good, anniversary trips are good. Sometimes, discipline is what is good, waiting is good, withheld answers are good. Let him decide what is good. Because our Father is compassionate and loves us, we can receive whatever he gives.
I am learning to put myself in a posture to receive. I sit at the Lord’s feet (like Mary did), silently, listening, taking time and creating a space to receive. Stephen Macchia says that “When we press the pause button and stop long enough to enter and enjoy his presence, we receive more and more of God.”
What do you want God to do for you? Tell him honestly and openly. Then receive what he gives—without guilt and without complaint.
I want to receive whatever you give, Lord, good or bad, joyful or painful. To receive the good without guilt. To receive assistance or infirmity or pain or money or gifts or grandchildren—whatever. I want to open up, to not grasp or control, but rather to release and receive. I want to be satisfied with much or with little, to trust that you are all good, compassionate and loving.
*Acts 26:18, Rom 5:17, Heb 4:16, 1 Cor 3:14, Col 3:24, Jam 1:12, John 20:22, Matt 19:29, Matt 21:22, Matt 7:11