When I told my non-Christian father my plans to be a missionary, he laughed in disbelief. “How are you going to have enough money to live? Is God going to just ‘provide money’?”

“Yes, that’s kind of the plan.” I told him sheepishly.

But even to my ears, it felt foolish. Money doesn’t just fall out of the sky. I’d been taught to ask is to beg. Growing up stretching paychecks to make ends meet, I couldn’t imagine people just had “extra money” lying around. And bringing up money seemed about as charged as saying, “So… Donald Trump?”

It took everything in me to even ask people to give. Sometimes, my worst nightmares would come true. People would accuse me of begging or question whether the work I did was valid. I lost friends when some began avoiding my calls because it was easier than just saying they weren’t interested.  

But I also saw the Church at work. People were more generous than I’d ever imagined. People who didn’t even know me would send words of encouragement, asking how to give to what I was doing. I received care packages, prayers, and strength that made the harder seasons and long days possible.

And even then, I struggled to receive. I still do. I can tell from the questions I ask each week of whether I’d worked hard enough to deserve the financial gifts I’ve received, or whether or not ministry was fruitful enough to justify people giving. I can tell from the shame I feel when I can’t think of something encouraging to report, and the pride that swells up in me when I feel like I’ve earned my paycheck.

It’s ugly, but it’s true. I still don’t know how to simply receive.

Our world is so dominated by scarcity—the fear of not having enough. But an equally significant problem — and not nearly as discussed — is the pride that prevents us from receiving.

It is pride that makes us feel entitled to what we have, upset when we lose it, angry when it is given to someone else.

It is pride that makes us say no to offers of help, makes us think that people will not be generous or selfless with their resources, makes us look for ways to “pay back” kind gestures.

Feeling unworthy and feeling entitled are two sides of the same merit-based coin. One says, “I don’t deserve this, so I don’t want it.” The other says, “I deserve this, so I should have it.”

And neither can simply receive.

We accuse others of being selfish and lazy, not giving enough or serving enough. This becomes particularly dangerous in the church setting. But more often than not, the problem does not start with people being bad at giving. The root is that people are bad at receiving.

Perhaps if we were better at receiving, we would be better at giving.

Before Jesus gave, He received.

Christ gave His life, and He served. But in His humility He also received — He had His diaper changed, was dependent on Joseph and Mary, was baptized by John, entertained by tax collectors, fed by sinners, and anointed by prostitutes..

On Thursday, Jesus washed the feet of His friends. But the night before, Jesus entered into the home of another as a guest. And, unbidden, a woman poured a year’s worth of perfume over His feet in worship.

Those at the dinner were indignant. How could Jesus allow this woman to perform such an extravagant act? How could Jesus allow such a woman to anoint Him?

They were indignant because they knew what Jesus knew: In receiving her offering, Jesus was accepting an offer of relationship.

In receiving, we accept an offer of relationship.

When He went to wash His disciples’ feet the following night, Peter refused the offer. He could not receive such a thing from his rabbi. And Jesus reminded him: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” (John 13:8). In receiving, there was relationship.

Judas accepted the silver for betraying Jesus, the bag of coins in his hands a reminder of where his allegiance lay. He chose to take what he had earned, through his ability and influence and wit, rather than receiving what he was helpless to demand.

This is why Christianity is so offensive to many — it offers to pay for what we try to earn ourselves. Jesus knew if Peter was unable to accept the gift of foot washing, he would never be able to receive the gift about to be poured out on the cross.

Jesus offers to pay, and we wave away the grace. That’s okay, Jesus. I don’t want it.

Are we able to receive? What strings do we attach to what we’ve been given?

Are you willing to receive? What prevents you from asking—whether it is for help or prayer or presence—from others?