About three weeks ago I had to be at our office in Flower Mound for an early meeting. It finished before 9, so I opted for breakfast. I popped into a friend’s office and he went with me to Chik-Fil-A. He went ahead and ordered, and then we did the awkward thing of “and whatever he wants, it’s together.” He bought my breakfast, and I had asked him to run with me – just thinking we’d each pay our own. He blessed me with a great biscuit sandwich and a bad coffee – but I got stuck on how I needed to buy the next meal, or 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 being beholden to 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 action in my heart was a different matter.
Receiving is difficult. Being given something stirs us differently than doing the giving. Being given something is harder than earning it, especially for really driven people. It’s an insult to our pride, our learned desire to be self-reliant. It throws off this identity of being self-sovereign and self-sustaining, so we have to reconcile it by repaying the debt or promising to give an equal (or better) gift, rather than trusting the goodness of the gift and the giver. You see receiving is difficult for the Christian because it is continuous, it takes humility, and it requires imagination.
In saying it is continuous, what I mean is that for the Christian to receive the kingdom of God, there is a lifelong receiving of God’s gift and the implied realities of the need for the gift. It’s not a momentary acceptance and then eternal joy, but daily temptations 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 your own, and our daily temptations, struggles and sin mean that this is a continuous process.
In saying that receiving takes humility, it means that only if 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 here. Christian humility is not merely self-deprecating or self-effacing – it is actually embracing the true nature of the self (depraved, limited, and in need) and living in light of our need (and acceptance of his provision to us). If we don’t see ourselves as needy, the gift of the Gospel won’t be a treasure to us.
And in saying that receiving takes imagination – I mean that 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 that 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, of his beauty. It’s here were the childlike sense of wonder is regained. Where we see the beauty of Christ and when he stands in front of us we run to him instead of asking how to please him.
But without this grace of God in our lives, the act of receiving remains too difficult. We are unable to be humble. We can’t taste God’s goodness; we are bound to earning, self-generating purpose and identity, striving in our pride. In this we are just like the rich man: offered life at the expense of our identity, and would rather protect what we’ve built than trust what we’re offered – even when we know that its not working out for us. It’s impossible for us to receive, to enter the kingdom because we’re treasuring our gifts, when it’s the Giver that calls us to himself.