Learning to receive graciously

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

Is there a Scripture telling us to “freely receive”? I can’t think of one.

The giver is in the power position.  While it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), many of God’s children have also found it easier to do so.

A friend suggested an article on “how to receive graciously.”  So, when someone suggests an article, I asked for their back story.  (There is always a reason behind these requests.)  Thank you, Pastor Doug Warren of Brandon, Mississippi.

In 1969 while a student at Mississippi College, I served a church as associate pastor/music. One day the pastor and I were calling on seniors in their homes.  Mr. and Mrs. Thom were an elderly couple, she was an invalid, and they were poor.  As this was the Christmas season when our churches promote the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions,” at one point Mrs. Thom asked her husband to “get my purse.”

She pulled out a $10 bill and handed it to me.  “Take this and see that Miss Lottie Moon gets a new dress.”  (Note for non-Baptists:  Missionary Lottie Moon, namesake of the offering, lived 1840-1912 and was greatly used of God in China and our denomination.) 

After I dried my tears, the pastor and I thanked her, he led in prayer and we left.  In the car, I asked the pastor whether we should have accepted her offering when they so clearly did not have an extra dollar to their name.  

The pastor said, “Son, never deprive someone of the blessing of giving.”  He was quiet a moment, then added, “Doug, learn how to receive.”  

Brother Doug, longtime pastor of the Lord’s churches, added: “I’m still learning how to receive.  And I leave two takeaways to this story.  One. When we receive, we should say a heartfelt thank you and write a note of appreciation later.  Two. We should pay it forward. Don’t let the generosity stop with us.

Why is receiving such a problem for some? 

Is it pride?  I “don’t want to be beholden to anyone,” as the saying goes.  But think of the contradiction in that: I don’t mind people being indebted to me.

Is it, as we said at the start, that the giver is in the power position and the receiver in the weaker position?  And that offends our sensibilities?

Is it our love for others?  Our determination not to let money rule our lives?

I’m remembering that February day in 1954 when our house burned.  Dad was an unemployed coal miner working on our grandmother’s farm, and all six children were in school.  It was a hard time in our lives, and then with the house going up in flames, it just got harder.  Except for one thing….

By nightfall, friends and family from far and wide had arrived bringing with them gifts of money and clothing and things we would need in a new house.  Later that year we moved into a new house–built with the assistance of a hundred friends and family–and life got better and better.  Our family looks back on that day as though it were a death, but then it became one of the best things to ever happen to us.

We were the recipients.  Over the years, we “paid it forward,” as Brother Doug says, but I’m certain we never paid back one-tenth of what people gave to us.

All of this reminds me of a couple of stories…

–Early in his ministry Pastor Jim Henry was serving a church in the Mississippi Delta.  As the church grew, Jim was leading the congregation to construct a new building which would cost a lot of money.  One day when calling on a senior adult lady, she handed him an envelope containing her gift toward the building fund.  As I recall, she had sold eggs or taken in sewing or something to accumulate it.

Thinking he was being gracious, Pastor Jim said, “Now, Miss Elsie, you don’t need to be doing this.  Why don’t you keep this money and let’s let the wealthy people in the church pay for that new building.”

She teared up.  “Pastor,” she said, “do not deprive me of the joy of giving to my Lord!”

Dr. Jim Henry never forgot the lesson, and wrote the story in one of his first books.

Cindy Pelphrey, longtime youth minister in churches in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky (and wife of my friend Tom), tells of a time many years ago when a farmer met her in the hallway at church.  “Ma’am, would you like some turnip greens?”

Cindy said, “Oh no, thank you sir.  I’m afraid we don’t eat turnip greens at my house.”

Immediately she saw she had hurt the man.  His face fell.  He thanked her and walked away.

The pastor’s wife was standing nearby and had overheard this little exchange.  “Cindy,” she said, “don’t ever deprive someone of the joy of giving to you.  You can always pass the gift along to someone else.  But you saw how it hurt him when you turned down his gift.”

Cindy says this is a lesson she never forgot.

On a lighter note, I’m recalling my visit with Evangelist Perry Neal of Montgomery, Alabama. This was perhaps 1980, I was pastoring in Columbus, Mississippi, and we were both big Alabama Crimson Tide fans.  As we sat at lunch that day, I could not help noticing that Brother Perry was wearing an oversize belt-buckle with the red Bama logo and elephant.  Attention-getting doesn’t begin to describe it.  You could see him coming a block away.

Making conversation, I said, “Man, I love your belt buckle!”

To my shock, right there in the Holiday Inn restaurant, Perry stood up, whipped off that belt, unsnapped the buckle, and handed it to me.  I was shocked. I said, “Hey, my friend–thank you, but I don’t want your belt buckle!”  I’ll never forget what he said.

“McKeever, learn to be a gracious receiver!”

I said, “Give me that belt buckle!”

I still have it, in a drawer somewhere around here.  Alas, after living in New Orleans for three decades, I became an LSU fan and no longer have any use for that huge, Crimson Tide buckle. (I take a lot of grief for “going over to the dark side.” Lol.)

Without doubt I have received far more than my share of gifts from God’s people.  A church member once bought me a car, a family bought me a suit (anonymously, they thought) at a local men’s store, a dear lady put me in her will for a small amount, and a doctor friend funded my overnight visit to the Kenneth Cooper Aerobics Clinic in Dallas.

To this day, I receive gifts.  A brother in a distant state occasionally ships me a box of art pens I use in cartooning.  A neighbor brought us over a pound cake just last week.  Another friend who knew I had just come home from the hospital asked what she could do; I asked her to run to the store and buy us some blueberries and strawberries.

Clearly, I no longer have any problem receiving.  Smile, please.

Most of us who serve the Lord live from what is placed in the offering plate.  If that doesn’t humble you, nothing will.  (And as many have noted, some will use that against you, implying that this makes you less than righteous. Scripture has another take altogether on this, which we will look at another time.)

Thank God for those who give generously and yes, thank Him for all who receive graciously.


5 thoughts on “Learning to receive graciously

  1. I loved reading these true stories this morning, Dear Joe. I’m so glad to be reminded of how to receive graciously.
    I remember when Gary was in Seminary in New Orleans (same time you were–though I did not know you, you and Gary were classmates). We drove each Friday afternoon 150 miles to New Zion Church where Gary served as pastor the three years during his study. Wonderful people!!!! During summers, the gardens produced luscious tomatoes, and the people often shared with us. Once when our kitchen counter overflowed with tomatoes, a gentleman came to our door, bearing the prettiest tomatoes possible. I told him, “Thank you very much, Dear Sir, but I have more than enough–there are others who would be glad to have them.” As in the story above, “his face fell,” and in my 21 year-old mind, I felt badly. Later, when Gary was home, I related the incident to him. In a gentle way, Gary told me it the tomatoes’ offering was important to the family–it was what they had to give. Thankfully, I, too, (now in my 80’s) have never forgotten that lesson of “freely giving, freely receiving.”

  2. Thank you for this article, and for kindly including my story. I will always be “working” on receiving graciously. Truths in this article will certainly help. God bless you and Bertha. Thankful for your ministry!!

    • Brother,
      Years ago when we parted company I don’t think either of us was in a spirit of thankfulness. You were a blessing to us in a time of need.
      I’ve grown a great deal since then. Thank you for your generous spirit and all you did for us.
      I’ve attempted to contact you a few times, unsuccessfully.
      Would love to hear from you.

  3. After my husband lost his legs and was USA walker, people would rush to open doors etc., for him. He was so used to doing things for himself and others that it made him uncomfortable! He still had that can do attitude! Noticing his unease, I asked if it made him uncomfortable. He said he didn’t know what to do! I told him to just smile and say thank you. By not allowing others to help, you deprive them of being a blessing! After that he relaxed and graciously accepted the help others offered. It’s in the book SEEING THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS

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