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First post in a new series: Receptivity and offering

Lynne Baab • Friday December 17 2021

First post in a new series: Receptivity and offering

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what exactly we offer to God. After all, so much of our relationship with God involves us receiving gifts from God: life, breath, relationships, love, strength, comfort, forgiveness, intimacy with God, and much more. Obviously we are called to offer thanks for all that, but what else do we offer? Our very lives? Yes, of course. However, it is often hard to figure out exactly what that looks like in real life. Maybe the way to do it is to offer parts of ourselves to God at different times. Or maybe we offer our whole selves to God over and over. I’m not sure about this. But I want to explore this question over the weeks to come.

God is the initiator. God acts, we respond. We do not initiate any action that brings us into God’s presence or makes it possible for us to receive God’s love. Before we can offer any part of ourselves to God, we have to be aware that we are receiving so much from God.

For the past decade, the word “receptivity” has been a really big deal for me, a key word, a “word for the year” for several years in a row. In my 2012 book, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation, I wrote a whole chapter about receptivity, and in The Power of Listening (2014) I wrote a section about receptivity.  I thought it would be good to dig out that chapter and that section to lay the groundwork for this series of blog posts, so I did. I also did a search for “receptive” and “receptivity” in all my books and Bible study guides.

To my surprise, as far back at 2005, in Sabbath Keeping, I mentioned receptivity.  Here’s what I wrote then:

“Many people find that experiencing God’s creation is an important part of a restful Sabbath, whether that involves gardening, walking, riding a bike, or just sitting in a park. Feeling the fresh air and seeing the sky and clouds and landscape clears away the clutter of our lives. Being in God’s creation often slows us down, which enables us to notice the beauty of the world around us, which in turn creates thankfulness and an attitude of receptivity. Being in nature often helps us listen to God more easily, particularly when the outside activity enables us to let our mind drift a little bit.”

Many important themes of receptivity can be identified in that paragraph:

  • we can chose to go to places where we tend to hear God more easily
  • being open to hearing God is a part of receptivity
  • slowing down is often necessary for receptivity to God
  • nature and beauty help us to adopt a receptive posture

I was equally surprised to find the notion of receptivity in my 2009 book on congregational communication. I wrote a bit of a tirade about the limitations of both church mission statements and the use of screens and data projectors. I wrote that both of them can make us feel that we have solved the problem of our church’s mission and the challenge of communicating that mission, so we get lazy and stop listening to God. Here’s what I wrote: “I worry that both of them can be impediments to engaging with the living God in a posture of reverence and receptivity.” That statement reflects my passion that one of the responsibilities and callings of church leadership is to remain in a posture of reverence and receptivity, rather than shifting into overconfidence about plans and programs.

In 2010, I mentioned receptivity in my Bible Study guide, Prayers of the Old Testament, in a study about Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2. Hannah goes into the temple of the Lord at Shiloh to pray. In one of the reflection questions I wrote about that prayer, I asked: “Are there places in your life where you are more receptive to God’s truth or more likely to hear God’s voice speaking to you?” This mirrors the comments about getting out into nature in Sabbath Keeping. In addition, I hoped readers would think about church, the Bible, small group discussions, conversations with friends and mentors, and other options, as well as nature, as places where we hear God and where we would benefit from consciously putting ourselves in a receptive stance.

I’m repeating these quotations about receptivity as groundwork for thinking about offering ourselves to God. As I begin this new series, I invite you to ponder these questions:

  • When you think of being receptive to God’s presence and God’s voice, what comes to mind?
  • Where/when/how have you experienced moments of being receptive to what God is doing in your life?
  • What do you think Christians are called to offer to God?
  • What do you think God might be calling you to offer right now?

(Next week: more on receptivity and offering. Illustration by Dave Baab: Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula, New Zealand. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Last month I gave a seminar at my church on holding grief and gratitude in two hands. The video recording is here.

Previous posts related to receptivity:

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