When Taking Is Giving: A Lesson on Food and Love

child giving yellow flowers
Image by lassensurf from Pixabay

What Do I Even Take From You?

That dagger was thrust at me by someone I love very much. Someone close who declines invitations for meals. Someone who doesn’t realize that sometimes to receive is to give—that sometimes not to take is to take.

Honestly, before this week I hadn’t realized it either. I had never thought about giving and taking this way. Not until I learned a new word.

Enter lambano. It’s a Greek word occurs about 260 times in the New Testament. About half the time, lambano is translated “receive,” as in Matthew 7:8, “Whoever asks, receives,” and Matthew 20:10, “He received a denarius.”

Nothing to write home about. But there’s more. Lambano is also translated “take,” as in Matthew 5:50, “If anyone wants to take your tunic,” and Matthew 10:38, “Take up your cross.”

Yes, and? Why does lambano deserve its own post? And what even does it have to do with my dagger wound?

What you don’t take is what you take.

Picture a chubby little palm holding out dandelions, or yellow forsythia blossoms. Not to receive them would be cruel.

What did you even take?

I answered the one I love with tears first. Then this.

You took my joy. By not taking, by not eating with me, you deprive me the pleasure of giving.

Because sometimes the best gift we can give is lambano—to take and to receive. Conversely, sometimes the most heartless thing we can do is not to take a thing.

Which reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo. I read it 20 years ago, but that scene is etched. Near the end of the book, the Count attends a banquet at his enemy’s home. He will not eat a bite of the rich food offered to him.

Why? Because to eat his food would be a sign of friendship. To not take was to take. Not to eat was a dagger.

God is eager to help.

God wants to feed his children. “Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 89:10b) God himself told the Israelites. He wants us to take food and help, to receive life and health from him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Our Father “hears prayer” (Psalm 65:2), and listens to our pleas (Psalm 66:19).

He wants us to call to him because he wants to give us his help. Our cries for help don’t bother God.

The Psalms in particular celebrate God’s eagerness to hear and help his people in their “day of distress” and “time of trouble.” David testified that God had been to him “a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Psalm 59:16, also 9:9; 37:39; 41:1).

David Mathis, “God will Answer in Your Crisis

If God calls us to call upon Him and He is eager to give us help, then it’s not a big stretch to think that not receiving his help might actually grieve him (Ephesians 4:30). I’ve written before how “grieve is a love word.” You can’t grieve people who don’t love you.

Which brings me to the dagger.

Taking is giving.

Meals, time, love—this is what I want to give. My dear, when you don’t receive these from me you take.

This little dagger wound and grief is a gift in that it helps me love God more. The perfect Father knows infinitely better than I could ever imagine what it is to have dear ones refuse to receivefrom him. (See Isaiah 30:1-22.)

At their peril they refuse to to take his food, his drink, himself.

All day long, he held out his hands to a rebellious people (Isaiah 65:2). All the while he offers food that will satisfy and water that will quench to the the end (John 6:35, 4:14).

But his people won’t all receive.

What then?

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

Isaiah 30:18a, NIV

Our generous God wants to give. So our good Father longs to give, and in godlike fashion, he exalts himself to show us compassion.

And he waits for us to take.

God wants to give, so take.

The world’s religion are summed up in the idea that you must give something to appease the gods. But the essence of Christianity is the exactly the opposite. We are invited not to give, but lambano, to take.

We can’t bring anything to save or commend ourselves to God, but we can take the salvation He offers.

One of the very last sentences in the Bible includes lambano, take.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

What an invite! C.H. Spurgeon notes, “All the prophets of the Bible, all the apostles of the Bible, all the threatenings of the Bible, all the promises of the Bible, gather themselves up, and focus themselves into this one burning ray, ‘Come to Jesus. Come, and take the water of life freely.’”

Who could imagine such grace?

So come, take, eat.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said,

“Take, eat; this is my body.”

Matthew 26:26, ESV

Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Till Sin Be Bitter: A 1-Sentence Prayer For Rebels We Love

Steak tastes sweet

“Till sin be bitter; Christ will not be sweet.” Thomas Watson, the Puritan, said that. I agree.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

I texted that to girlfriends who love rebellious teens with me. We don’t always know how to pray. But that one sentence I pray often.

Because I know from experience that joy comes when we repent. God gives it with forgiveness when we confess. Repent, therefore, that times of refreshing may come.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

I pray that simple prayer so real joy will come to the rebels I love. And if I revert to rebel ways, I hope my loved ones pray it for me. Because it is not healthy or right to think lightly of sin.

Listen to British preacher C.H. Spurgeon,

Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his God, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the man to weep for joy when he is pardoned, to hate evil which has been forgiven him, and to live to the honour of the Redeemer by whose blood he has been cleansed.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

Remember J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance?

Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God.

So why don’t we all just repent? And confess and repent? And confess and repent?

But the Prodigal didn’t repent, he didn’t return, until his sin tasted bitter. Until he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet.

In Luke 15:17-18 we read,

But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.

We know how what happened then. A father runs and kisses and hugs. Servants prepare marbled steaks to celebrate.

But before the son ate the savory steak, the pig scraps tasted bitter.

Dear Heavenly Father, Make sin taste bitter and repentance taste sweet. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Psalm 32:5

Learn to Pray by Praying

Man wearing PRAY cap

I love to hear my friends pray. Hearing them pour out their hearts to God encourages me.

When Prayer Time Is Silent

Conversely, one of the biggest deflators I face as a small group leader is deafening sound of silence. Sometimes it’s like this: I pray. Others are invited to pray. But if the people all prayed, I heard not what they said.

Admittedly, sometimes it might be that I sucked all the air out of the room. I’m working to change that.

But sometimes the silence might have to do with comparing our prayers with others.

Admittedly, my prayers can be profuse, sprawling and verbose. I’m like that in most of my close relationships. I’m seldom terse—with my human friends and my God-man friend. One praise reminds me of a second, a third request of a fourth and it’s off to the races. I’m a mouse with a muffin, if I don’t rein me in.

But I love when my concise friends pray. I love when my casual friends pray and I love when my formal friends pray.

In short, I do love to hear the saints pray. And some of them are models.

Choose Models—But Choose Them Well

Theologian D.A. Carson says there is not one best way to pray. But prayer models can help us pray. In different, good ways.

Most of us can improve our praying by carefully, thoughtfully listening to others pray. This does not mean copying everything we hear. . . Not every good model provides us with exactly the same prescription for good praying, exactly the same balance. All of them pray with great seriousness; all of them use arguments and seek goals that are already portrayed in Scripture. Some of the seem to carry you with them into the very throne room of the Almighty; others are particularly faithful in intercession, despite the most difficult circumstances in life and ministry; still others are noteworthy because of the breadth of their vision. All are characterized by a wonderful mixture of contrition and boldness in prayer.

D.A. Carson, 8 Lessons from the School of Prayer

I am learning to pray. First from Bible pray-ers, then from my friends. Cathe ends prayers with Psalm 19:14, and Jen prays with touching spontaneity; Hannah with God’s character first, and Donna ever with gentle persistence. My friend Sarah prays in earnest for the lost.

But this post is not about how to pray. It’s just a simple call to pray—as only you can.

[Prayer] is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ

–J.I. Packer

No Recipe, Just Pray

Prayer is an active exercise of a personal relationship. Our friendships are dynamic. They change and grow. How I relate to my friend Jen isn’t the exact way my friend Lisa relates to Jen. There is uniqueness, and that is as God means it.

I start with the truism that each Christian’s prayer life, like every good marriage, has in it common factors about which one can generalize and also uniquenesses which not other Christian’s pray life will quite match. You are you, and I am I, and we must each find our own way with God, and there is no recipe for prayer that can work for us like a handyman’s do-it-yourself manual or cookery book, where the claim is that if you follow the instruction you can’t go wrong.

Praying is not like carpentry or cookery. It is the active exercise of a personal relationship, a kind of friendship, with the living God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the way it goes is more under divine control that under ours. Books on praying, like marriage manuals, are not to be treated with slavish superstition, as if perfection of technique is the answer to all difficulties; their purpose, rather, is to suggest things to try.

But as in other close relationships, so in prayer: you have to find out by trial and error what is right for you, and you learn to pray by praying. Some of us talk more, others less; some some are constantly vocal, others cultivate silence before God as their way of adoration. . . Yet we may all be praying as God means us to do. The only rules are, stay within biblical guidelines and within those guidelines, as John Chapman puts it, “pray as you can and don’t try to pray as you can’t.”

J.I. Packer, In My Path of Prayer, ed. David Hanes, p. 57

In a word: pray.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2