There is no way to give without receiving in the process. No doubt you’ve thought about it. For example, you decide to visit a sick friend or shut-in neighbor. By doing that you’ll be giving your time, care and compassion, strengthening a relationship, and simply by going reminding that person of God’s presence. But when you return from the visit, you realize you have received a lot, as well. Even if the person was less than friendly, you came away with a deeper sense of personal connection and community, and often with the enrichment of his or her stories and appreciation, if not gratitude. Best of all, whether s/he knew it or not, you return with a sense of having gone there not only on your own behalf but also on behalf of God.
In my writing and book notes I have called this process “internal mutuality.” It’s usually not observable on the outside, but is felt in one’s heart. Neither is it a transactional (tit for tat) relationship with either the recipient or with God. It’s a give-and-receive for both parties.
This seems true for all kinds of giving: donating money, offering services, volunteering in the community or on mission trips, forgiving a person, doing something for someone who cannot reciprocate in a pay-back sense.
Here’s one recent personal example. A colleague needed to do some on-site research for his writing project but had no way to get there. I gave him a ride, spent the afternoon, then drove him home. But he gave to me in return: time together to share more of our life stories, lots of things learned from his knowledge and expertise, a closer relationship and now friendship, and mutual appreciation of one another and of God’s direction in our lives. What a gift that day was! The give-and-receive process seems to be a natural human part of life.
That experience reminds me of Paul’s description of the Jerusalem offering, where the Gentile Christian received spiritual blessings (the gift of the Good News itself!) and the Jewish Christians (helping their neighbors in the midst of famine) received material blessings. Likewise, Jesus told us that if we give, it will be given back to us, shaken together and pouring over. I think God for this way God made our life experiences, in a constant, life-giving flow!
Your partner in ministry,