Blur your lines—Giver or receiver?

Givers. Receivers.

We often divide these up into two camps. As good Christian boys and girls, we know which side of the line belongs to us: Be a giver. It’s the right thing to do.

Until it’s not.

When we only give and refuse to receive, are we doing wrong?

When Kay and I roll our cart of prepared dinners up and down the eight floors of the apartment building to give meals to the disabled, it looks like we’re the givers.

  • We bring the food (although we don’t cook it—don’t think highly of us).
  • We offer the prayers.
  • We write down needs to pass along.

But if we refuse to receive anything in return, are we being close-fisted with grace?

When Patty was going to have surgery, we prayed for her. So one Wednesday before I was going to have a procedure done, I asked Patty to pray for me. She was more than delighted to. She gave me advice on what helps her: Remember that you go with the Lord—and you’ll come back with the Lord. I took her advice.


And the next Wednesday when I reported that God had faithfully answered her prayers in a positive way, and that I wanted her prayers more often!, she was excited.

She was giving.
I was receiving.

We left her apartment to deliver a meal to W, another man in the apartment complex we’ve gotten to know. He was telling us stories about his guns and how he wants to teach all his granddaughters to shoot so they could protect themselves.

When he said he really was a scary man, Kay and I could smile about it and say he wasn’t scary to us. Because we knew this: he’d be scary for us, but not against us. He told us he would always have our back. He was on our side, and we believed him.

He was giving.
We were receiving.

We ran into James a few minutes later. He was carrying a medicine bottle half-full of moonshine. He said he had a cold, but by morning, it would be gone, thanks to that.

He offered the same to us; if we ever needed any, he’d share. We told him we were healthy so far, but thanked him for the offer just the same.

He was giving.
We were receiving.

In David Z. Nowell’s book Dirty Faith, he says that “giving to others can be spiritual poison” when it doesn’t go both directions.

When we identify ourselves only as the givers, we can easily fall into spiritual temptation.

“For the wealthy—and that’s all of us—serving others can reinforce our intuition that we are where we are because we deserve to be here.  Giving forgives any debt of grace we have incurred. The ‘feel good’ aspect of Christian charity work can be intoxicating, and it plays to all our base instincts.”
– David Z. Nowell

When we remember that the only true one-way giver is God himself, we can better participate in the two-way giving and receiving that comes with being human.

When we identify as givers only, Nowell says that it . . .

“points to the gulf between us: I have the power and position, and you do not. I have Jesus; you don’t. But, unfortunately, I think it is precisely the perspective we often bring to our interaction with the poor, not just in spiritual matters, but in all things. The giver operates from a position of power and privilege. The recipient, by definition, is the inferior.”

For every giver, there needs to be a receiver. And everyone should be allowed a turn.

When we receive, we’re giving someone else the joy of being a giver.

Let someone else be God’s grace to you.

“For the poor, for the person receiving the gift, our good works can reinforce inferiority and bring increased dependence. In many cases, the impoverished, the disenfranchised, those living on the fringes of society carry deep, very negative images of themselves. Their self-perceived inferiority often paralyzes them into patterns of living that make it impossible for them to break the cycles of poverty and dependence. If we are not careful, a good Christian handout, instead of being a hand up, becomes a hand of oppression, reinforcing the chains of self-image.”

I don’t want to be stingy with giving grace. But I also don’t want to be too proud to receive it.

The givers need to receive.
The receivers need to give.
Until the lines are blurred.

Who’s the giver here?
Who’s the receiver?
We need to be both.

Give what you have.
Receive what others offer.
Praise God for it all.

* * *

Why is it hard to be a receiver? Please share in the comments.

I highly recommend David Nowell’s Dirty Faith not just for his treatment of giving and receiving to/from the poor, but also for his heavy encouragement to stay actively involved in the lives of those who are different from us. David and his (blogging!) wife Susan have many incredible stories of ministry work that will stretch your own heart. He stepped on my toes often and in much-needed ways.

“New Testament faith cannot be practiced in private. Either the faith will destroy the isolation, or the isolation will destroy the faith. Intimacy with God means relationships with others.

. . . We have spent two thousand years building a hierarchy that is internally focused; why don’t we spend the next two thousand years looking beyond our walls?”
– David Nowell


36 thoughts on “Blur your lines—Giver or receiver?

  1. Mary Dolan Flaherty

    What a great post, Lisa! It really made me think about how giving is also receiving. Yesterday, someone commented on my earrings. In fun, she said, “They match my ring.” And they did! So, I took them off and gave them to her (and I really liked them too!). She said, “Oh, no, I can’t do that!” But I said, “You know when God asks you to do something, and you have to obey?” She got that. She took them. She was a good receiver. She thanked me, her daughter thought it was so cool, and I thanked her for receiving the gift. We all need to learn to both give AND receive well, and we need to find the gift of receiving while giving. Great inspiring post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful example, Mary! Thanks for sharing about your earrings. That’s very good of you. I have a story from the opposite angle: I let a friend borrow a necklace for a gala she was attending over Christmas. When she returned the necklace the following Sunday, she gave me the earrings she had bought to go with the necklace! I didn’t know whether or not to accept, but she was insistent so I took them. 🙂 It made us both happy. We do need to learn both to give and receive.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Exactly, Michele. When we “give,” we almost always get something of equal or greater worth in return, even if it’s just a good “feeling” that the Lord plants in our hearts. We can never outgive God.

  2. Laura

    Spiritual poison! Wow, that gives pause, doesn’t it? But this is oh, so true, Lusa, and thanks for making me consider the ways I am both giving and receiving today.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know: that term ‘spiritual poison’ really grabs us, yes? 🙁 But I can see it. I know people who HAVE to be the giver every time, and it really can be excruciating being around them because they never accept what you want to give in return.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m still learning too, Mari-Anna. I didn’t feel good this past weekend and had to receive from my husband–I’m not even very good at receiving from him at times. 🙁 But I do know that life goes better when I learn to be a gracious receiver as much as a gracious giver. God’s still working on us, thankfully! Blessings to you too.

  3. Nancy Sturm

    Oh, I find it so much easier to give than to receive. I suppose it’s that independent streak in me and an unwillingness to be vulnerable. I’m working on it. Thanks for your insights and for the information on the Dirty Faith book. I will have to check that out.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That “independent streak” can be poison in me too, Nancy. 🙁 I can be as bad as the littles ones, ‘I do it myself.” But even if we CAN do it ourselves, sometimes I still need to let others do it for me, or at a bare minimum, with me. So much to learn still!

  4. Sharon

    Lisa, such good thoughts here!! I remember telling a good friend of mine to please let me help her. She had spent so many hours listening to me in the aftermath of my father’s death. And when she was going through some trials of her own, she told me she didn’t want to bother me. I explained that there is great joy in also extending a listening ear and emotional support to someone else.

    I think it’s hard to be on the receiving end because it requires admitting that we need something. In some ways, refusing to receive indicates pride, a stubbornness that states we’re able to handle it all on our own. There’s a certain humbleness we must admit in order to receive from someone else. And if we refuse, we just might be thwarting a way that GOD is using someone to extend His grace towards us.


    It’s all good…


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re hitting the nail on the head, Sharon. We don’t like to admit we need anything–which, yes, can be pride and stubbornness. I know because I deal with both of these. Humility is such an overlooked but incredible quality that we all need, if we’re going to be more like Christ. Thanks for sharing these important words. Grace, Lord!

  5. Linda Stoll

    I just love this mutuality in relationship, Lisa! I really believe we’re all called to mentor … and be mentored as well.

    There’s plenty of room for give and take along the journey …

    Thanks for all the ways you’ve spoken into my life, sharpening what was getting dull, spurring me on to the next rung on the ladder.

    So grateful we travel together …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m grateful we travel together too, Linda. It is a blessing to give and take all along our journey, from each other, from strangers, from family. The Lord knew what he was doing when he designed the body to both give and receive among each other. If we’ll just cooperate. 🙂

  6. ~ linda

    This is wonderful, Lisa! Sometimes, I forget that I must be willing to receive in order for the other person to give. I struggle with that and do not want to. God gives and He receives. Why should I be different and think I should not allow this other person to give to me?
    Much to ponder and pray about.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your words remind me of what my friend Louise always says: “Don’t block the blessing.” When we don’t receive from others, we’re robbing them of their joy in giving. It’s so easy to say, “Oh no thank you! I don’t need help,” but we often forget how disappointing that might be to the one who WANTED to help. Thanks for adding your insights to the conversation here, Linda. Always welcomed and valued.

  7. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I have been thinking about a blog post topic that falls right into your theme today. (Great minds, right?) If we are all ‘givers’ then who would be there to receive? So many of us want to be givers, and when we are in a situation where we can receive, we push it aside. “Oh no. I’d rather be the giver.” And where is the grace in that exchange?

    I like the quote from the author talking about power positions. Maybe that’s the issue. I’m not quite sure. I still need to do some thinking about this. But I love seeing a post like this that can help me process my thoughts. Thank you for sharing this!

    PS. Your photo with the woman in the gold shirt is just beautiful. You just shine in it, you look so happy. You are truly passing along your Spirit in a great way.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Can’t wait to read what you write about this, Ceil! I know it will be insightful. You’re right on target, I believe: we can’t all be givers; who would be left to give to? Sometimes we have to humble ourselves and be the receivers, even if we don’t think we “need” the gift. Thanks for your encouragement here.

  8. Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours

    Acts 20:35—”…It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I learned that verse as a young child. Only as an adult did I come to understand that giving so I could (subconsciously) stay in that position of “more blessed” was prideful. In all honesty, my attitude caused me to miss many blessings—and prohibited those around me from being blessed.

    Lisa, I LOVE your relationship with Patty (and the others). Your willingness to be less than self-sufficient gave her the opportunity to offer you something of value. There was no “us” and “them” emphasis on differences but rather a beautiful leveled field of two-way communication, trust, and friendship. Only in God’s economy would that return a blessing to both of you!

    Thank you for recommending Dirty Faith to your readers. I’m so glad David’s book is ministering to (and challenging!) you. We pray God will use Dirty Faith to encourage and challenge your readers, as well, to be followers, not just believers. He certainly used its writing—and every subsequent reading, speaking opportunity, etc—to hold us accountable, and for that I am grateful. Otherwise, it would be far too easy to become spiritually lazy and retreat to the bad habit (aka sin) of not loving my neighbors—and missing the love and blessing God wants me to receive from them… letting them be God’s grace to me.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      There were so many things I wanted to share from Dirty Faith! I know I’m not doing it justice by sharing just this small portion, but I do hope it helps spread the word about it. It’s such an encouraging (and yes, challenging) book, full of wonderful examples of how to BE the hands and feet of Jesus everywhere we go, not just as we sit inside our church buildings and wait for others to come to us.

      I was also pleasantly surprised when I ran into the section by Alene Snodgrass in the book! I love her dearly. I went to Guatemala with her in September 2014 and was so touched by her love for people and her love for God. Maybe one day you and I will get to meet you in person too, Susan. I know there is much I can learn from you about how to truly love others.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Barbara. I really enjoyed your post today as well. In a way, they go together–the older and younger women need to both give and receive from each other as well. Too often we think of it as a one-way street—the older give to the younger. But the younger have things to teach us as well as learn from us. And we all need to be humble enough to be on both sides of the gift.

  9. Trudy

    Wow, Lisa. I love how you and your friend practice receiving as you give. I’m sure that makes their day even more than the meal does. 🙂 I have a hard time with asking for help or receiving as I always feel like I’d be a bother or I don’t deserve it. I’m trying to be better at it though. It really gives me food for thought to think that being unwilling to receive may mean we are being “close-fisted with grace.” It makes me think that truly God’s grace is behind whatever someone wants to give to us and if we don’t accept it, it’s like we’re saying to Him that we don’t need His grace. Thank you, Lisa, for this insight. Blessings to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yikes–when I think about saying to God, “I don’t need your grace,” it does sound rough. Good insight, Trudy! I definitely need all the grace from him that he’s willing to give. Blessings to you.

  10. Tiffany Parry

    Such a great reminder, Lisa. I love your idea that we all need a turn both to give and receive. I think if we stay in one spot for too long it can really leave us with a deficit. In ministry, I spent a lot of years giving and I enjoyed it, but when God called me out He was very clear that it was time to receive. It feel abnormal to not give out, but when I sat and took in, I saw a entirely different side to my walk with Him – which was certainly more balanced. Love your words and the work you did to give others a chance to give back. Blessed to be your neighbor at #tellhisstory.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      A more balanced walk with him—that’s good, Tiffany. We do need to see what it feels like on both sides in order to grow in our compassion and humility all the way around. Thanks, Tiffany!

  11. Angie

    A great reminder that we should always be so grateful for the many, many gifts people give us. I love this, of looking for those things that others offer us. Gratitude keeps us humble.

  12. floyd

    Excellent post, Lisa. As I was reading what really drove it home for me was “being too proud” to receive. It does take humility, there’s that word again… and we can’t find the heart of our Father without the compass of His humility in us.

    You’re gonna be a constant reminder to me and my word this year, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve got a feeling that God has connected me too with “humility” this year, Floyd, thanks to you. 🙂 We can be reminders to each other. I know I need those reminders often because pride is so insidious.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hear you, Anita. I’ve been down for the count today with some pain and I’m rediscovering how much I can’t stand not being capable on my own to do things. 🙁 But obviously it’s a lesson I need to embrace and welcome and let God teach me anew how to be humble. Oh how he never stops working on us.

  13. Debbie

    I must get a copy of the book you mentioned Lisa. What you say is so true when I really think about it. It does give us a position of power when we constantly give. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. It is humbling to receive. I know I used to love to give surprise gifts to people when I could years ago. When Greg and I lost our material things, it was hard to accept help from others. But I had no choice and I was so grateful for the baskets of food or a gift card for gas for my car. By the way, I loved your comment about rest on Heart Choices. I pray that the results will be good on your scan.

    Blessings and love,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s a really good book and I think you’d love it too, Debbie. It’s filled with real-life stories about encounters with people and with Jesus. Thanks for sharing that you did learn to receive—I’m sure it made the givers so happy to be able to give back to someone who had always given out so much. You’re a blessing, Debbie. Thanks for your prayers for my scan. Hopefully I’ll find out something next week.

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