It may be true that “it is better to give than to receive,” but in my experience, it is often harder to receive than to give. A few months ago, I asked a coworker to join me for breakfast. At the restaurant he went ahead and ordered, following with that awkward moment of “and whatever he wants; it’s together.” He bought my breakfast even though I had asked him to go with me—thinking we’d each pay for our own. He blessed me with a biscuit sandwich and a coffee, but I began fixating on how I needed to buy the next meal, wondering if what I ordered was too expensive. I felt a weird sense of shame or inadequacy because I wanted to provide for myself and didn’t like owing someone else. I had a hard time receiving the blessing from my brother. I didn’t have a hard time eating it, but reconciling the gift in my heart was a different matter.
Receiving is difficult. Being given something affects us differently than being the giver. Receiving something is harder than earning it, especially for driven people. It’s an insult to our pride and to our ingrained desire to be self-reliant. It picks at our identity of being self-sovereign and self-sustaining, so we try to reconcile the tension by repaying the debt or promising to give an equal (or better) gift, rather than trusting the goodness of the gift and the giver. Receiving is difficult for us because it requires trust, humility and imagination.
Receiving Requires Trust
For the Christian to receive the kingdom of God, there must be a lifelong receiving of God’s gift and a lifelong awareness of the need for that gift. It’s not a momentary acceptance and then eternal joy, but a daily refusal to trade one kingdom for another—to devalue, distrust or disbelieve the goodness of Christ. The call to receive the kingdom is the call to trust His provision over our own. Because we daily battle temptation and sin, trusting in the sufficiency of the Giver and the gift is a continuous process.
Receiving Requires Humility
Humility means having a right estimation of our worth in relation to God’s. Only as we see ourselves rightly can we depend rightly upon God as the Giver. Andrew Murray’s classic work, Humility, was an eye-opener for me. Christian humility is not merely self-deprecating or self-effacing—it actually embraces the true nature of the self (depraved, limited and in need) and lives in light of our need and acceptance of His provision. If we don’t see ourselves as needy, the gift of the gospel won’t be a treasure to us (Matt. 5:3).
Receiving Requires Imagination
To receive rightly takes the God-given, Spirit-driven, Christ-exalting gift of the imagination—not to create a reality, but to discover the reality of the gospel. Apart from the work of the Spirit in our hearts, we would never know on our own. It’s this work of the Spirit that Calvin, Edwards and many others have called the “sense of the heart”—this taste of God’s goodness and of His beauty. When the Holy Spirit breathes color and life into our imagination, He helps us trust that God is as good as He says He is. He kindles childlike belief in a good outside of our experience, that the good Father gives good gifts to His children. The sanctified imagination believes beyond what it can see and receives the gift of God.
But without trust, humility and imagination, the act of receiving remains difficult. We can’t taste God’s goodness; we are bound to self-sufficiency, striving in our pride. In this we are just like the rich man: Offered life at the expense of our identity, we would rather protect what we’ve built than trust what we’re offered—even when we know that what we’ve built is not working out for us. It’s impossible for us to receive the kingdom because we’re treasuring our self-granted gifts, rather than the Giver who calls us to Himself.
And sometimes the simplest of gifts can remind us of our unwillingness to receive. Sometimes a biscuit sandwich and a coffee can reveal the self-reliance still lingering in our hearts. Is it hard for you to receive? Are you unwilling to let another provide for you? What do you have in Christ that has not been given to you by another? Self-sufficiency at heart level is a rejection of God’s provision.
Trust that the Father gives all that is needed and all that is good. Humble yourself before Him and acknowledge your need of His provision. Trust and labor to imagine that He is good personified, and He is for you in Jesus.