“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11, NIV)!
I don’t know what sort of statement this makes about me, but I’m probably more comfortable feeling like someone is judging me or being critical of me than I am just receiving a compliment from someone. Maybe that’s an indicator of something about the world we live in. Maybe an indicator of something about me. (Probably both.) But for whatever reason, when someone tries to offer some sincere praise to me, it makes me feel a little weird. I feel indebted, or like I at least need to reciprocate and offer a compliment in return if I can. Sometimes I’ll deflect.
There’s just something about receiving goodness from another that makes me feel uncomfortable.
I once read something written by Donald Miller in which he said that everyone likes to give charity, but we aren’t usually fans of being charity. Asking for help or receiving help is a really humbling experience. In my first few years at Suncrest, I lived with several different families from our church, and I got a chance to experience this firsthand. I was raised in a home where we didn’t overstay our welcome, we never imposed on others, and we definitely made sure to always repay others for their kindness (and please hear that I’m not labeling any of those mindsets as bad things). But when you’re an intern making next to nothing, you pretty much are going to end up in the debt of these wonderfully hospitable people no matter what. At first, that made me really uncomfortable until I was able to move to a place where I learned that people love to give and it’s okay for me to receive some grace and goodness from others (that really did take me about a year). God’s blessed them to be a blessing to others, and I just got the privilege of being one of the “others” who was blessed.
Fast-forward to today. I don’t want to get into a ton of specifics, but I just feel like God has been really good to me in this season. There’s actually one particular circumstance in my life where God is just bringing me absolute joy, and it’s been a great ride through the whole process. But yet, in the midst of it, I have noticed that there’s something strange that keeps rising up in my spirit. It’s almost like a feeling of guilt or like I’m out of alignment with God’s will. Yet as I reflect and as I pray, I feel pretty certain that’s not the case. Nothing wrong or sinful’s happening, and I feel like God really led me into this season. In fact, God is actually really blessing the situation. So what’s the deal?
And that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I haven’t learned how to receive from God. Just like my trouble with receiving compliments, hospitality, or anything else, I have trouble receiving blessing from God. I can’t just allow God to be gracious. Good. Loving. Kind. At some point or another in my life, I trained myself to view following Christ in the same way I view the discipline of running; sometimes there’s a tiny bit of joy involved, but more often it’s like a challenge that you undertake. And of course, there’s just a lot of slow plodding.
The problem with that mindset? God is a ridiculously good God to us. A few years ago, a pastor and friend named Roger Hendricks pointed me to a passage in Exodus where God passed by Moses and announced himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a, NIV). Roger’s point in this particular conversation was an observation that God could have chosen to “introduce” himself to Moses anyway he wanted to. What qualities did he lead with that were closest to his heart? Compassion. Grace. Abounding in love and faithfulness. All things that point toward a loving heavenly Father who wants to give good gifts to his children. When I refuse to receive the good gifts God is offering to me, I’m not being holy. I’m being stupid. I’m ignoring things that are absolutely basic to his nature. And I’m missing out on something great in the process.
Maybe this isn’t the blog post for everyone, but I have to imagine others are in the same boat right along with me. As a pastor, it absolutely breaks my heart when I have a conversation with someone who is not yet a Christ follower and the barrier isn’t a belief in Jesus, but belief that Jesus could forgive them. They’re missing out on grace that could be theirs because they are too proud to receive or too doubtful that God actually wants to invite them into his kingdom. Maybe there’s something great that God is preparing for us and we’re just too afraid to step into it because we doubt his goodness toward us. We have this attitude of “Me? Why would God want to bless me?” The answer? Because he is a loving heavenly Father. He invites us to bring our wants, wishes, needs, and desires before him and lay them at his feet. Will he answer “yes” to all those requests? No. (Sometimes he’s saving us for something better.) But will he answer “yes” to some of them? You betcha. I don’t think there are too many things that delight our heavenly Father’s heart than being able to give not just good, but great gifts to his children. Maybe it’s time I quit acting so shocked and surprised (and feeling so guilty and doubting) when they actually come my way.