For years, I understood the message of giving and receiving to be predicated upon the idea that in order to receive you must first give. I give out of myself and then I receive back. Reaping and sowing. If I sow good things, I get good things. If I sow not so good things, my harvest is most likely going to be limited or less than I might have hoped. It made sense and so I applied that principle to just about every area of my life.
When I give, it gives me joy. I feel blessed. I feel satisfied and comfortable.
Receiving, however, can be a bit more tricky.
In Acts 20:35, the apostle Paul highlights the dynamic of giving and receiving pointing out that giving is often the part of the equation that “feels” better. ‘It is more blessed [and brings greater joy] to give than to receive.’”
Giving, by nature, simply feels better. It is more comfortable, it is more pleasant, it places us in a more superior position…might I say an even powerful position when we are the giver.
When I give, I am demonstrating that I am willing to sacrifice that which I have in order to supply another. Receiving, on the other hand can be joyous but it can also be very uncomfortable and humbling. It carries an implied level of need or distress. Quite frankly, a good number of people find receiving a very distasteful experience because it can feel as though their lack or need is being emphasized. In short, the blessing of giving carries a more gratuitous orientation.
Have you ever tried to give something to someone who had a very difficult time receiving your generosity? It feels kind of uncomfortable doesn’t it. People who can’t receive can sometimes rob the giver of the joy of giving simply by being unable to receive the gift. Reciprocity is an inherent part of the process. If I give, I experience the joy, gratification and satisfaction of having given, but if I receive, I have to be willing to accept not only the gift but the more dependent and humbling aspects of having my need met by another (kind of the opposite of self-sufficiency).
It’s easy to see how Christians can get the idea that giving and doing for others is the door way through which all good things flow. They come to the conclusion that they must first give and then they will receive. This generally ends up with a lot of effort being directed at the work of doing. Lots and lots of doing. I do so that I can receive.
We even tend to apply that idea to our relationship with God. We think…if I do, God will love me. If I give to others, God will be happy with me. The greater the service, the more pleased God will be with me.
What we tend to miss, however, is that its not the doing, and giving and endless efforts to do all the right things that earns us the love of God. God’s love for us is a gift, it has to be received. God’s love is His gift to us.
We don’t have to earn it, we only have to receive it.
It’s not that loving God, worshiping God, studying the Word, and doing acts of service are not important and valuable parts of the Christian life, its just that we tend to think we have to do these things first in order to be acceptable and loved by God.
What we seem to miss is that when it comes to our relationship with God…we have to first receive, before we can give. You simply can’t give out of an empty cup. Unless we humble ourselves and take the position of the recipient, we can’t truly understand the level of love and unconditional acceptance the Father has for us.
When we receive His unconditional love, when we truly know Him as the giver of life, our sufficiency and the author of all Truth, we just naturally fall even more deeply in love with Him. It is out of that love, out of our abundance and gratitude that we then give out to others. When we receive God’s love, and know unequivocally how much He cares for us, our desire to love others, love ourselves and do good will exponentially grow and expand.
Receiving His love, accepting His love, embracing His unconditional love and coming into abundant relationship with Him, becomes the catalyst for everything else.
God extends his love to us, we receive and then we give it out to others.
If we want to love others well, we must first understand how much we are loved. If we are having trouble loving ourselves or others, its is because we don’t understand how much He loves us. If we are wearing ourselves out trying to be good enough for God…it is because we don’t understand that He already loves us just as we are. His love, forgiveness and provision are always available to us…if we choose to receive it.
Before we can do for God, we must learn to be with God.
We receive and then we give.
When we receive His love we are then able to more fully love Him, love ourselves, love others and do good…in that order. Receive Him, receive His love and then give to others and do good. “We love because He first loved us.” I John 4:19
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