Saturday, February 16, 2008
On my computer at work I have a sticky note. It has three simple words that are a powerful reminder to me … “grace under pressure”. It is a reminder to me that no matter how stressed I feel, I need to reflect Jesus to those I walk through life with. I try to model grace under pressure. I often fail abysmally but we (God and I) are working on it! The funny thing about grace is that most of us expect to receive it, but we are not always so good at extending it! It’s easy to extend grace when we are recipients of grace, but is that really grace? Do we extend grace when people are rude to us? Do we extend grace when we are taken for granted? Do we extend grace when someone cuts in line in front of us? Do we extend grace when our trust is broken and we feel betrayed?
The most commonly used word for grace is the greek word Charis. It is defined as good will, loving-kindness, favour, that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm and loveliness. Grace is often defined as undeserved favor. When did you last extend undeserved favor?
I have been mulling over grace the last week or so. Today I thought I would go back and see what sorts of things the Bible has to say about it. We often think that grace is a New Testament concept. Grace is liberally sprinkled throughout both Old and New Testaments. I particularly enjoyed reading in The Message. Have a look at some of the scriptures below …
“God can't stand evil scheming, but he puts words of grace and beauty on display.”
“Oh yes, people of Zion, citizens of Jerusalem, your time of tears is over. Cry for help and you'll find it's grace and more grace. The moment he hears, he'll answer.”
“This is the way God put it: "They found grace out in the desert, these people who survived the killing. Israel, out looking for a place to rest, met God out looking for them!" God told them, "I've never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!” I love that scripture! Have you ever felt like you are dying? Ever felt like you are in the desert? You will survive the killing and you will find grace in the desert!
In Matthew 6:6, Jesus encourages us to get away to a quiet secluded place with the Father. The Message puts this beautifully: "Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace."
A favourite scripture of mine in the Message is Matthew 11:28-30. Again it is Jesus speaking and he says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
I love that … “learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” As a musician I know that you get into a zone with rhythm … you find the groove and then just sit in it. Imagine if we lived like that with grace. Just sat in the groove of grace! Not a forced thing that we try to model as good Christians, but something that just bubbles up from within us and oozes out to the world outside. Wow! It would be life changing.
Paul and the apostles had a great understanding of grace. It flows throughout the New Testament (there are 156 examples in the KJV alone). Many books start and end with it. The apostles had a keen sense of what they had been saved from and so they lived their lives in the shadow of grace. Romans 12:3 gives us an insight into their thinking: “I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” There it is people, undeserved favour that has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with him.
At the moment I am really struggling with some health issues. Last year I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour (on my pituitary gland). Some of the residual effects of my tumour are that I am flat, exhausted, fuzzy thinking, and a bit of an emotional wreck. I find myself acting in ways that are not my normal self … withdrawing, being irritable … struggling to be even keeled and to physically make it through a day. I am not as efficient at work as I normally would be. Last night I expressed some of these struggles to a friend and said that I don’t feel like a very nice person or someone fun to be around at the moment. This morning, as I was reading scriptures on grace, I read 2 Cor 12:9. Paul was grappling with his own issues and sharing about his struggles. While wrestling with God over this, God told him the following: “My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” Paul goes on to say, “Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness.”
This really spoke to me and encouraged me. My friend asked me how do I get through this when I am looking at a minimum of 5 years treatment (hoping things go well). My answer was, “one day at a time.” And that one day, needs to be living under his smile and walking in his grace. When I am pleasant and performing well at work … I am no more deserving of his grace than when I am the person I don’t like to be! That’s the beauty of grace. It’s undeserved favor and nothing I do merits it. Breenan Manning says, “God’s love is based on nothing and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure.” Jimmy Abegg (musician and artist) says, "we are ragamuffins, much loved by God in the midst of all our short comings and failures.” I am used to being strong. Maybe in this season, I need to allow myself to be carried by his grace. God will be more manifest in me. And that’s really our mission isn’t it – to know him and make him known.
My prayer for myself and those of you reading this today, comes from two scriptures:
“Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.”
2 Cor 13:14
May the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, and the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.