“We love because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

For many years, so many people poured out love, gifts, food, and extravagant acts of kindness on my family as we battled through Perrin’s cancer. We learned to receive knowing that there was no way we could reciprocate.

As a child, I remember that at the time of the offering at our Episcopalian church, the minister would say, “Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” I guess that was meant to encourage us to give, but it had another effect on me. I heard through his words that giving is superior to receiving. While in many ways that is true, I have learned that I can distort anything. My distortion is to give, but use giving as a power play. When I give to someone, it puts me in the position of power while the other person is beholden to my graciousness. Equally, receiving a gift is humbling. Isn’t this why we so often immediately look “to return the favor?” It evens the scales and we no longer feel indebted. Learning to receive is as important as the willingness to give.

When Jesus went to wash Peter’s feet, Peter resisted at first. Receiving such a gift from Jesus seemed wildly inappropriate. It was more than Peter could bear. Then Jesus chided him saying that unless he received this gift, he had no part with Jesus. Strong words. Receiving is the beginning of true giving. 

I have come to believe that I can only give that which I have first received. I can only love to the degree I have received love from another person or from God. Some people seem incapable of loving. I wonder whether it is because they have never been loved. 

I am compassionate to the degree that I have received compassion. I comfort others only because I have first been comforted. Paul states this clearly when he speaks of God as, “the God of all comforts, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Cor. 1:4) 

We give out of the abundance that we receive. Any other giving is just a power play, or an attempt to even the scales. This means that in order to be genuine generous givers, we need to become willing and grateful receivers. When we receive, then giving becomes the natural response to the gift given us. Love begets love. Forgiveness leads to forgiving. Compassion ripples out from compassion received. Giving is inextricably tied to receiving.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I seek to maintain control by always being the one who is giving?
  • Do I immediately look to “return the favor” as a way of evening the scales?
  • Do I look for and expect an appropriate “thank you” after giving to someone?
  • Am I able to graciously and gratefully receive a gift?

Receiving well is the starting point of giving freely. Gratitude begets graciousness and generosity. The circle goes like this; receive a blessing, then pass that blessing on and be blessed in the giving. 

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • LB says:

    You so eloquently put into words some of the principles that I have been unable to communicate. We had a neighbor who just didn’t seem to like us. (Who? Us?!!) We wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our unchurched neighbors, but this one just seemed too difficult. For years we showed a lot of interest in their lives (they were fun people!), gave baked goods, cared for their pets, engaged in lots of dialog about their children, did the mail and newspaper thing when they were out of town, etc. But they struggled to connect with us. Then one day, I asked if they could help us with something and I saw a different side of them. I realized they perceived us as being in a power position when we did things for them, even though I really don’t feel we saw it that way. When I began sharing needs or asking for more help, they opened up and became our friends. I now realize that they see all forms of giving as a power play, so we are careful to practice gracious receiving, as well!

    • What an amazing story! It shows that even when we give without condition others may interpret it differently. It also illustrates how we often withhold blessings from others when we don’t allow them to give to us. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, then we are blessing others when we gratefully and graciously allow them to serve and give to us.

  • Patrice says:

    Well said Tommy! Culturally, we are programmed to “not receive”, oftentimes because of the subtle messages sent to us as children. “Stand on your own two feet” and a having can-do attitude is a sought-after way of thinking in our society. My own cancer experience put me in a position to be on the receiving end of caring supporter’s generosity. This was a strange and difficult place to be initially. If we are honest with ourselves, pride is at the center of this struggle. As is true in God’s “classroom called life”, when we receive blessings from Him through others, we are transformed in ways that only He can orchestrate. I was taught valuable lessons in humility and trust, and I experienced God’s love in ways I could have never known had I not been in the position to “just receive”!