It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive? Really?

giving flowers

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ 

Acts 20:35

Meg’ll like that, I thought, tucking in a gift card with the note. Meg is my friend’s daughter. She was turning 10.

But as I sealed the envelope, the old unfair bee stung. Even if she never remembers us on our birthdays.

The Word For Weary Givers

Don’t grow weary in doing good. For at the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9

Why am I always the giver, the initiator, the one who remembers? I love to give, but why does it feel like I give more than I get?

It might be partly a love language thing. Words and gifts might be more my native tongue than, say, service or touch. When I start begrudging giving, that might play a wee little part. But language isn’t the main thing.

I know that because almost instantly the living, dividing Word moved in. It shoved me off the dark horse racing off to Self-Pity Land. I’ll tell you what God said.

Shut Your Mouth, Girl. And Open Your Eyes.

I am unworthy- how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. -Job 40:4

Abigail, stop. Halt den Mund! What do you have that you did not receive? Start seeing your gifts, my girl!

See the health and peace you’ve had all these COVID-19 days. See the family who loves on your sons. Give thanks that you and Jim have jobs. Remember your friends. Rejoice at the rhododendrons and rhubarb.

God didn’t audibly say those words, but through his Word he called to me. Give thanks, my Girl. Open your eyes. I’ve given you so many gifts.

Because we’re all givers and takers.

We’re All Givers And Takers

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Paraphrased: We are receivers so that we can be givers. God gives us gifts- financial, spiritual, uncanny memories for birthdays and anniversaries-so that we can channel those gifts to others. But there’s more.

Christians are given grace and give grace so that God will get thanked. God made us to get and then give, so that he will be praised. What’s deadly is to let his love flow into your life without finding an outlet in love for others. Receiving is not bad. It’s not- getting is also a blessing. It’s just that Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Jesus, who came to earth to give his life (Mark 10:45) and told his disciples, Freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8).

Which brings me to a big reason giving is more blessed.

Why Giving Is More Blessed

From his abundance we have all received one blessing after another. -John 1:16

Giving reminds me that I live by the grace of a giving God. The God who so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. When we give we are blessed because it we are becoming more like our giving God.

Talk about perspective. Selfish me says, Why put yourself out for them? Why initiate and spend your time on them? They don’t bother with you.

That’s sin talking. Sin does something terrible to me. Sin turns me in on myself, Paul Tripp says. It makes me obsessed with my wants, my needs, my feelings. I want, I want, I want, I want, I want. Sin turns me inside out. Focusing on how much we give and how little we get is a sin (1 Thess. 5:18, Phil. 2:14).

When you give- forget, when you receive- remember. That’s a truth.

And the truth of a giving God’s turns us right-side out again. It did last week after I sent Meg’s birthday card. So next time giving feels more like sting than blessing, let’s remember God’s truth.

It really is more blessed to give.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7

Be Freed From Perfectionism

Sign with perfectionism crossed off.

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” 

G.K. Chesterton

Perfectionism Paralysis

Perfectionism paralyzes. For perfectionists, the perfect is the enemy of the good. According to productivity gurus, it’s also the enemy of the done

Because perfectionism is crippling. When the project looked great on Pinterest, but then the drive to make it match the pin made you freeze? Like when I a blog post and feel so overwhelmed by the thought of knocking it out of the park that I grab a bowl of popcorn and pour a cup of tea and dust those cobwebs in the corner and grab another snack and… well- the post never gets started, much less done.

We’ve all been there. In fact, I just left my last stop there about an hour ago. Now I’m soaking in the wisdom of just doing something. Namely, of imperfectly writing this.

Because when it comes right down to it, I agree with G.K. Chesterton that, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” And, honestly, as D.L. Moody once told a critic, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” 

Or as I often remark, “Something is better than nothing.”

Perfectionism Stifles Growth

But we’d best define terms. I’ll borrow Jon Bloom’s definitions of both perfectionism and excellence. They’re not the same.

What we call perfectionism is not the same as the pursuit of excellence, though sometimes the lines can blur. When we pursue excellence, we’re determined to do something as well as possible within a given set of talent, resource, and time limits. But perfectionism is a pride- or fear-based compulsion that either fuels our obsessive fixation on doing something perfectly or paralyzes us from acting at all — both of which often result in the harmful neglect of other necessary or good things.

His clarification is important. Children of the King are called to excellence, to working “wholeheartedly, as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). The focus is God. But that is entirely different from a self-focused orientation that insists on flawless, likely motivated by fear or pride to win others’ approval.

In one area or another we all have an inner drive to excel. Whether running a faster mile, proofreading before sending, or becoming a better listener- we strive to do well.

Making good resolves is a healthy way to grow.

Perfectionism Or Healthy Striving? 

But perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. Those who strive for excellence- and, dare I say for *perfection?– in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards.

I do this when I strive to make a batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies or teach a lesson that drives a point home or write in a compelling way that makes you want to read it. I enjoy this sort of striving. But perfectionism does not promote joy. Instead, it leads to discouragement, self-pity, and fear.

Though not overtly “Christian,” this article is insightful on the distinctions between paralyzing perfectionism and healthy striving. 

Perfectionism

  • Never being satisfied by anything less than perfection
  • Becoming depressed when faced with failure or disappointment
  • Being preoccupied with fears of failure and disapproval
  • Seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness
  • Becoming overly defensive when criticized

Healthy Striving

  • Enjoying process as well as outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Reacting positively to helpful criticism

Do you see the difference? Are you more of a perfectionist or a healthy striver? Your focus probably determines your answer.

Focusing on Christ leads to freedom. Fixation on self enslaves. 

Be Freed From Perfectionism

I struggle to rest in God’s grace when I am so aware of my failure, a friend confided. I can relate. I suspect every Christian who struggles with perfectionism can.

Can you rest in the grace of God when you miss the mark? In other words, can you know God’s love when your life is an imperfect mess? 

The answer is a resounding YES!  But only if our focus is right. Jon Bloom again, 

God has something far better for us to strive toward than our idealized imaginations of perfection, which only end up enslaving us.

Perfectionism’s subtle, but great danger is its self-orientation. Since it is a fear- or pride-fueled effort to win approval for the self, its primary focus is de facto on self, not God or others. In other words, perfectionism, even in the battle against sin, is not motivated by love or faith. And “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).

But God wants us to be free — free from the tyranny of pride and fear. He wants us to live in the freedom of knowing that he has our past, present, and future perfection issues completely covered.

Do you want to be freed from perfectionism?

Look For Growth

In our ongoing battles with failure and sin, we must know that God is not looking for perfect, externally performed behavior. He is looking for us to look to Him. He is looking for faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) and for us to trust in his love (Psalm 147:11).

God is not concerned with our never falling, but at our getting up again (Prov. 24:16a). Our heavenly Father wants to see us grow (2 Peter 3:18, Ephesians 4:15, 1 Timothy 4:15).

Remember, growth implies we haven’t arrived. If we were already perfect, there wouldn’t be room for growth. But God’s call for us to grow also means we shouldn’t be not stagnant and stuck. Or paralyzed by perfectionism.

Because when God commands a thing, he also enables it. The God who calls us to grow, gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7). And that God calls us to grow also means he knows that there’s room for growth. He knows. 

Can you rest there? 

There’s Grace For That

A friend and I tag that on a lot when we talk, and confess our sins to each other. “There’s grace for that,” we say. For my being late, again; for her overeating, again; for my hasty words that cut, again. 

That’s why He died. That is the gospel, my friends. If we were already perfect, Christ wouldn’t have died for us. He loved us and gave himself for us when we were dead in our sins. Perfectly dead.

That truth knocks the perfectionist breath right out of me. 

Because Scripture is clear: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:4-5).  This is true.

This truth has power to demolish the lie that you can only please God and know his love if you are perfect. It is both humbling and exalting.

Because, as Timothy Keller so poignantly put it, 

We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. 

Maybe we recovering perfectionists ought to write that out and tape it to our bathroom mirrors. Then maybe we should to take a tour through the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11.

Commended for Faith, not Perfection

I did that with my Sunday school class yesterday. And it was so refreshing to see the very imperfect saints on the walls in there.

There’s Rahab the prostitute and Samson the proud who loved a prostitute, Jephthah the reckless and Abraham the liar, there’s Noah the drunk, David the adulterer, and Moses the murderer– just to name a few.

And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised (Hebrews 11:39). Do you see? These were not commended for being perfect. They were commended for their faith.

But perfection will come. In fact, the very next verse tells us when perfection will come. It will for the ancient saints when it comes for us (Heb. 11:40). We will be made perfect together in glory, when we see see Jesus face to face.

Until then, we press on in faith and love. But we do so with our gaze on the God who loves us so and has already made us his own.

And with Him in focus, and his grace, we can be freed from perfectionism.

Not that I’ve already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3:12

Reroute: Do you trust the GPS Girl more than God?

Google Map Re-route

We’re closing in on Sanibel. Of 1,408 miles from home, only 148 remain. Twenty hours down, two to go. Unless traffic suddenly comes to a dead stop on I-75 en route to Florida for spring break as it’s liable to do.

Unless that happens and I don’t take the reroute.

Reviewing

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. That’s how the writer of the book of Hebrews describes faith in chapter 11. Faith means trusting God when we can’t see the road ahead.

It’s been two years since we walked these beaches and soaked in this island sun and two years since that little stop off the causeway got me wondering if others can see how much we’ve grown.

I don’t know if others can. But in this one way, I think I’ve grown: I’m learning to embrace life’s reroutes faster.

I’m getting better at accepting changes in my plans. I mean, I’m learning to accept them gratefully like the reroutes that suddenly pop up on my screen.

If you use GPS or Google Maps, you know just what I mean.

Rerouting

Just shy of Chattanooga last night, that calm female voice broke in to say, “There is a delay on I-24 two miles ahead. Exit on state road 11 and save 37 minutes. Press yes to accept this reroute.”

I did. In a heartbeat I did. I gladly accepted that reroute.

Because I trust that the GPS Girl knows best. I trust Google’s eagle eye view of the roads. So I trust her completely with the way our van takes.

But sometimes I question whether God’s got my best route figured out. Sometimes I get thinking that interruptions in my time and deviations from my plans are beyond His view.

As if they could halt his plan. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me, Psalm 138:8 says. As if accidents and wrong turns and lost jobs ever catch God by surprise.

As if.

Reassuring

After 24 years with the same employer, my husband’s job ends next month. After giving thousands of eye exams, the optical is in bankruptcy and this job is over. Paycheck ends, insurance ends, this stability ends.

We don’t know what’s next. The road ahead is unknown.

We all like stability. We like to know the route, the plan. It’s the uncertainty that’s killing me, we say as we await a lab result or a call back. It’s this not knowing what’s ahead that’s hard.

[A]nd he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge, the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure. That’s the comfort the prophet Isaiah provides God’s afflicted children (33:6).

Here’s where my relationship the GPS Girl helps me trust God. When make a wrong turn or the road gets blocked ahead, the GPS Girl doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t yell at me or go silent. She provides stability.

If we have ears to hear, we’ll hear her say in that same calm, composed way: Recalculating.

Recalculating

In her steady, calm way, she reassures, It’ll take a little longer, but I’ll get you there. Wrong turn, missed exit, accident- no matter, I’ll still get you there.

But the analogy between the GPS Girl and God breaks down here, because God never has to recalculate. He knew your days before you were born.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. That’s where Asaph lands at the end of Psalm 73, after he envied the prosperity of the wicked. Like when I envied the drivers that zipped along on the right shoulder while we waited at a dead stop north of Nashville.

Nevertheless. I love that nevertheless. Because I make wrong turns and because other people’s accidents affect my travel. They change my plans and slow me down.

Nevertheless…I guide you. Like the GPS Girl. She doesn’t get mad at me when wrong turns and accidents happen. She doesn’t give up either. We hear her say,Re-calculating.

And we hear God say: Trust me. I’ll guide you. There is another way.

Re-route map

That’s why Corrie ten Boom’s words makes sense, Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Because He sees the road ahead. Because reroutes don’t come by chance, but from God’s loving and wise fatherly hand.

Resting

Faith is relying on God’s love and resting in him when we face reroutes. Faith is seeing God’s hand. Growing in faith is seeing his hand more and faster, more and more cheerfully

Author and theologian, Joel Beeke explains,

Faith sees God’s hand everywhere, unbelief sees God’s hand nowhere; not in big things or in small, everyday things.

If we see God’s hand we realize that we are dependent on him. This is maturity- to realize we need him.


I believe and help my unbelief. Because, truth be told, sometimes I trust the GPS Girl more than the Almighty God. I wonder about the route to Jim’s next job. But instantly I press accept and off we go on a scenic detour of Lookout Mountain outside Chattanooga.

I want to trust God like this, because he sees the road ahead better, and he’s got my best interest in heart. We cannot always trace God’s hand,Spurgeon said, but we can always trust God’s heart. I want to rest in that.

Because He knows the way I take. And he knows all the roads in front of me more than the GPS Girl.

So how could I trust him less?

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 

Psalm 32:8

When It Hurts To Keep Your Word

Promise

Mom, do I have to go? he cried. I really want to see my cousin play.

You do, Gabe- you have to go. You gave your word.

When “Something Better” Comes Along

And so the way to the town hall was a trail of tears. Because we had previous commitments that night.

That Monday night of his cousin Eli’s game. Of the only game Gabe might ever see in his MVP cousin’s last basketball season. Because Eli lives two hours away and was coming down this one time only, to play a team 20 minutes away.

But Gabe had signed up for his project talk that night, about bluegill fishing down in Honey Lake. Plus I’d promised to give some friends a ride that night. We’d made both these promises before the invite to Eli’s game.

But still- this was it, our last, best hope to see him play.

He Swears To His Own Hurt

So as Gabe bawled, I stewed. I seriously considered ducking out.

But I knew.

God’s children keep their word when it hurts. Sometimes only because their parents make them. But they don’t bow out the second something better comes along.

When Psalm 15 describes the kind of person who “may dwell on God’s holy hill,” one of the marks of that person is that “he swears to his own hurt and does not change.”

I knew the righteous keep their promises. That, even when it’s costly or inconvenient, their word is gold and their yes means yes.

Because They Trust God

I think they can do this because, at the end of the day, they trust that God is as just as involved in the timing of opportunities that came through as they trust that he never lies, that all His Word is truth.

Can we skip 4H? This is my only time to see Eli. Can we please not go, Mom?

But we couldn’t not go. We given our word. We’d promised.

Gabe, tip-off is at 7:00. The meeting is called to order at 7:00. We can’t do both. And Christians keep their promises– here I nearly shouted to hurdle his wails- WHEN IT HURTS!

When the Date Can’t be Changed

That was Monday. Then along comes Thursday, and lo! and behold, it’s me who’s all torn-up and thinking of bailing out.

Because the date of the boys’ annual piano recital- a day that marks an end of hours and dollars and commitment – was announced. And it just so happens it’s the one day this spring that I promised to speak hours away.

So after my sob story to our piano teacher friend, she nudged, I’m sorry the date can’t be changed. It would be good for them to perform.

And by the grace of God, I texted back, I agree.

Do we trust God in the timing?

These might seem so little: missing a piano recital or a basketball game.

But they made me revisit disappointment as His appointment and the truth that my times are in his hand. Which means, by extension, that the timing of the invites that come my way are also in his hand.

The speaking invitation came weeks before I knew the recital date, so I must take it that God didn’t mean for me to be at the recital. And Gabe agreed to give his project talk a month before Eli’s game was changed, so I take it to mean that we weren’t to be at the game.

Can we trust that the order in which the invites reach us isn’t random? That even this sequence was from God? Can we commit our commitments to him and take Psalm 37:5 to heart: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him and he will act”?

Will we bank on that promise when it costs us to keep our word?

Or will FOMO overcome us?

Maybe the root of our temptation to break our promises is FOMO- the fear of missing out? Maybe the reason we break our vows is that we really don’t trust God to work when we keep our word.

And fear, you know, is always at odds with trust.

This FOMO thing reminds me of a quote I recently came across. It describes a person whose faith is vibrant and growing and who is also self-controlled.

The world has no dominion over him: he is master of himself; and being possessor of a far better inheritance…he does not expect or seek on earth perfect happiness which he believes is secured for him in heaven.

John Brown, Commentary on 2 Peter 1

God’s children are not slaves to FOMO. We know we’ll miss out on some things here. We know our bucket list won’t all get checked off. That we’ll miss some great recitals and exciting games.

And that it is okay. Because we know that perfect happiness awaits.

More Concerned With Middles

One last point.

It strikes me that besides a lack of trust and a fear of missing out, there’s another reason it’s so hard to keep our word.

It has to do with beginnings and ends. We remember those best. When we study and practice, brain science says chunk it up so you have more starts and ends, because that’s what you’ll recall. And we emphasize births and graduations, first steps and last games.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that our God might be more concerned with middles. Middles are longer. They’re where we run the race. They’re where character is made.

In-betweens and middles are where we grow. And God cares about growth.

Where Faith Grows

And growth comes from how we live in the middle. From what we do with the “better party” that comes along after we committed to another, the ballgame on project talk night. That’s how character is formed.

Because faith is a like a muscle. Exercise it and it grows. Leave it- break your word, don’t trust God with the timing- and it will atrophy.

Will we be strong people of integrity who let our yes be yes and trust that God is pleased and his children are blessed when they swear to their hurt?

Will we believe his promises? That He is a shield to those who walk in integrity? That no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

And that when we keep our word when it hurts we will abide in His tent and dwell on his holy hill?

O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He …who swears to his own hurt and does not change…

Psalm 15:1,4b