Intro to the New Life of Grace Series!
As I write this I am tired, spent from the demands of another long day. I sit down to refuge in the sound and the texture of my .05 G2 as it softly and smoothly scratches its shiny black ink across the page to let some of the pent up thoughts flow, that I might make sense of them. This is my “self-care”. At least, that’s what they tell me. “Writing” gives me my joy, my spark, my strength to carry on.
But, as the evening sun warms my shoulders and with it life and hope return to my soul, I am reminded that true strength never came from anyone’s self-care, no matter how much they enjoy it.
Oh no, my friend, our strength does not come from what we do for ourselves – our strength comes from what He does for us! It comes from beauty, silence, contemplation, and prayer. Ultimately, it comes from GRACE.
What is Grace?
Grace – so mis-defined and misunderstood! It’s not complicated or even that mysterious. It is simply divine STRENGTH.
Based on Ephesians 2:8, “We are saved by grace through faith”, most Christians have taken grace to mean a type of mercy, a boundless forgiveness of our imperfection. Obviously, compassion and mercy are real and incredibly important, but lumping grace in there like it is the same thing diminishes the power of grace as a separate entity.
It is often defined as “pure gift” or “unmerited favor”, and, while that may be true, those definitions are also vague and inconclusive. Favor for what? Is grace just love? Is it mercy? Compassion? Comfort? Vague definitions make it seem like grace is random or haphazard, either like magically everything is perfect for everybody forever already (which we know isn’t true), or like somehow it’s dependent on God’s mood that day, or our “merit” (whatever that is).
Grace is the Strength we need to live the “impossible” life we are called to. Thus, the epitome, the climax, the entire goal of the Christian life, isn’t to “give ourselves grace” (as has become the popular expression) but rather to discover what grace is, to tap into it ever more deeply, and to cooperate with it to the fullest extent possible.
The Christian Life is a Marathon
Since St. Paul, the Christian life has always been described in athletic or militaristic terms.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7
First, because its about the course of a life more than a moment (Hence, Life of Grace). Even if there is a grand “moment” of conversion, as there typically is, you still have to live it out! & second, because there IS a an actual science to it. There is objectivity. It’s not random and nor is the Way to achieve it! (John 14:6)
The Christian life IS a race – a marathon. It is a climb: a narrow path, up a steep mountain, through the eye of a needle.
For man it is impossible, but all things are possible with God. – Matthew 19:26
We are called to the impossible.
That line, “God will never give you more than you can handle” – Yeah – HOGWASH!
A complete LIE!
Be perfect, therefore, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:48
Does that sound possible? Like something you can “handle”?
Lol. I hope not!
God will ALWAYS call you to more than you can handle, because He wants us to rely on Him. This is how He gets our attention. “Impossibility” is actually a sign of His affection for us, of His desiring to draw us to Himself. When we truly NEED Him we begin to seek Him like it matters.
This isn’t about willpower and endurance. Of course, there is an element of that and a place for it, because we must freely choose God (Free Will, after all) but the point is that GRACE makes it possible.
We are called:
- to walk on water (Peter),
- to slay giants (David),
- to leave bondage (though every horse and chariot pursue you to the death),
- to survive in the desert (Moses and Joshua),
- to confront kings (Moses, Esther, David, Judith, John the Baptist),
- to convert nations (Go therefore and preach the gospel to all nations – Matthew 28:19-20),
- to witness and even perform miracles (You will do even greater things than these – John 14:12),
- to forgive (70X7x – Matthew 18:22) and even love enemies (Matthew 5:44),
- to take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23) and even to embrace it,
- to love God to the depths of our soul (Matthew 22:37),
- to be willing to literally, physically and/or spiritually, give up everything, home, family, and even our very lives to follow Him (Luke 14:26).
Enter the Christian Life of Grace
This isn’t for the faint of heart. This is radical. This is intense. This is serious. This is what grace is for!
Grace is how we “drink the cup” we are invited to drink. (Matthew 20:23)
For no servant shall be greater than his master – John 13:16
This is about so much more than being patient with ourselves when we make mistakes. That’s important too, obviously, but we can’t reduce the power of Grace to some kind of self-compassion, some kind of reward for good behavior or poured out indiscriminately with no need for response.
Yes, it is a constant and immense outpouring that covers all at all times but because we have free will we have the power to accept it or reject it, complain about it, disregard it, or use it. More like oxygen than a birthday present, we must learn how to take full advantage.
You are an Athlete
Like it or not, if you are a Christian and you want to be in the race, you are an athlete.
and Athletes MUST learn to BREATHE.
Oxygen is there and everybody breathes, yes, but that is not enough for someone who intends to run a marathon. An athlete needs an awareness of oxygen and how their breathing affects their heart rate. They need to understand the role of their core in motion and how to breathe in rhythm with each step. They need to understand how EVERYTHING, speed, posture, focus, tension, training, and deep, invisible muscles, like the diaphragm, play a role in utilizing that oxygen most effectively.
No, this life isn’t about “giving myself grace”, nor about feeding an addiction to self-care to cope with the demands of the “impossible” Christian life. It’s not about making excuses:
- “Well, God knows this is impossible so He doesn’t really expect me to do it”
- “I am loved though I am weak, so it’s ok if I never grow stronger”
- “Death-to-self just means accepting my intolerable imperfection, weakness, and brokenness as a fact of life and putting up with it in the people that I love too.”
I’m sorry, but our God wasn’t a God of toleration.
He is unchanging, the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), TIMELESS.
He’s still the God of fire and brimstone, of justice, of plagues, of vindication, of calling out hypocrisy (Hello, whores and whitewashed tombs – eek), and overturning tables in the temple.
Yes, He loves sinners but He NEVER invites them to stay in their sin (Go and sin no more – John 8:11 and pretty much every other healing miracle…)
Let’s stop reducing God to the “rewarder of the possible” and remember that He is the God of Miracles.
We MUST stop focusing on how we “can’t”, how the race is impossible, and simply stop trying to run it without tapping into grace. Maybe our ‘posture’ is off. Maybe we need to admit that we don’t know what’s wrong and it’s time to seek help. Maybe we have running injuries from doing it wrong in the past. Maybe we just hate it when our muscles are sore… but, after healing, let’s not fear running. Let’s fear running wrong! Let’s simply adjust our form and not focus on how much the muscles burn, but rather on how much oxygen we are getting to them.
Its time to learn to breathe.
Oh, my God, my God –
My strong tower, my fortress, my deliverer.
Oh my God, my source of strength, my stronghold, my food, my rock, my living water,
Grant that I may Trust Thee, Flee to Thee, Fly to Thee, Hope in Thee, and Love Thee.
With every fiber of my being, every muscle and every bone in my body, every part of me that depends on Thee for life and sustenance,
I implore Thee to fill me with yourself, with your life, that life of grace.
Be my motivation, my courage, and my persistence in this race.
Oh, My God, Be my Strength.
Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. – John 15:4-5
This is the first post in a new series I am working on: the Life of Grace.
A Couple Tentative Upcoming Post titles:
- Tapping into Grace (a practical application) – Sources of the Life of Grace
- The Role of Religion in the Christian Life (Hint: it’s not what you think)
- Is it better to be a rule follower or a rule breaker? – “Rules” and the Christian Life
- “Recovering Perfectionist”? – Leveraging Perfectionism for intimacy with God
I will continue updating it with links to future posts as they are published. Meanwhile to be notified about new posts in this series, and for a Free Gift, enter your info in the form below!