In the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century, it’s pretty easy – even for Christians – to forget how well God treats us, even when we don’t treat Him very well. Moses reminded Israel, as they were about to enter the promised land of Canaan:
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. – Deuteronomy 8.7-10
Passages like this – and the OT story of Israel’s trek to Canaan as a type of the Christian’s journey to heaven – remind us that everything is a gift from God. Yes, we may work at some task, apply some talent we have. But everything is a gift from God, because God gave us hands, talents, time, health, etc. We just aren’t very good at appreciating things, even though we often acknowledge that we ought to be.
In a recent poll more than 90 percent of respondents agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives, and are more likely to have friends. More than 95 percent said that it is at least somewhat important for parents to teach their children gratitude. Only 1 percent said they did not think gratitude was a necessary human trait. So why is it we seem to ungrateful – especially for the eternal blessings that God offers?
Why is it so hard for us to receive things with gratitude? One reason is that we have a distorted view of what the Bible says about servanthood. We think being a servant is all about “doing things for others.” And we point to passages where even Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But this misses the proper motivation for discipleship, and we do this all the time.
Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5.18…
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And he wrote in Ephesians 5.20…
Giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do we hear that: “in all circumstances” and “always… for everything“? It seems to say that when we’re not thankful, there’s something we’re not seeing. It is a life of thanksgiving – and that’s something hard for us to grasp because we find words like those in Philippians 4.6 difficult:
Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And that brings us to a second reason this is so hard for us… because we’re more comfortable giving than receiving. And after all, didn’t Jesus say, “It is more blessed to give than to receive“? Fact is, dependency makes us feel vulnerable. And that weakness is at the heart of so many of our spiritual struggles. We don’t like it when we are dependent on another. We read a passage like Philippians 2.12:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
And we see that this passage seems to say there is something we must do – a personal responsibility connected to our salvation. And there is. But we take that as a sign that somehow if we do whatever it is we are supposed to do, then God must do something in return. Nothing could be further from the truth – God has already done what he is going to do (that which we could not do). The only question is whether we will accept his gift. And there’s the rub.
We believe depending on another is a sign of failure or weakness, but the Bible tells us we must depend on God. Seeking his aid in our spiritual quest is the only path to being saved, because we can do absolutely nothing to pay the price for our sins. And so it would seem that God’s grace would be a great teacher to us of the importance of being better receivers of gifts.
Being a Better Receiver
This is essential, first, so that we do not minimize God’s grace. It is the greatest gift ever afforded mankind – nothing else comes close. Paul wrote this in Romans 5.6,10…
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… for while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
We have a hard time with a passage like this, because we want to believe that our efforts at discipleship have something to do with our salvation – that what we do in service is what sets us apart, makes us better, makes us worthy of God’s grace. We cannot be worthy of grace – that is a contradiction in terms. Clearly man’s faithful response to God’s grace is the secret to accepting this gift (Ephesians 2.8-9, James 2.14-26), but let’s be clear: the real work, the “heavy lifting” of salvation – the paying of the price for sin – is something we had nothing to do with. We merely have the opportunity to accept it, and by God’s grace and mercy, and our faith, for him to justify us and make us right.
Second, being better receivers allows us to let others serve. Peter writes in 1 Peter 4.10…
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
Gifts of God’s grace come in all sorts of manifestations, as opportunities to encourage, uplift, and assist. Will we refuse to allow others to serve us because of pride? And thus deny others the opportunity as stewards of God’s grace to be a blessing? If we cannot allow ourselves to be served, we run the risk of not allowing God to serve us, and we deny other well-meaning Christians the opportunity to serve God, by serving us.
Thirdly, being a better receiver helps us learn to use the blessings we receive in the right way. When we can open our arms and thankfully receive blessings from another, it better serves us by focusing on what we know and have, not on what we don’t know, and don’t have. God told Abram that He was going to bless him, so that he (Abram) could be a blessing to others (Genesis 12.2).
As receivers of blessings, we learn how to use those things God gives through the hands of his servants. And it helps us have the right motives for “paying forward” (as the saying goes). James wrote in James 4.3…
You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
We must have the right attitude and motive in what we receive as blessings – then we are able to be a blessing to someone else.
Finally, this helps us rise above a sense of pride and self-sufficiency through a true thankfulness for what we receive – especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and in so doing, encouraging and honoring those who are serving us. Proper gratitude changes us. It makes us more receptive to God’s gifts, less dependent and confident on self, and lets us be a spiritual blessing that God can use to encourage others.
May grace reign through righteousness in your life.
– Bo Couchman