Grace is a Gift We Pay Forward

giftsContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a story about how I extended grace to a woman who works for a Christian organization who made a mistake. The reason I extended grace was not because she deserved it – she didn’t. And I didn’t do it because her mistake wasn’t costly – it caused inconvenience for the people in my organization. I extended her grace because of the grace that God has extended to me.

In contrast, I had a situation where a Christian woman did not extend grace to me when, due to a miscommunication, she believed she had been wronged. Even though I don’t think I did anything wrong in this particular situation, I nevertheless apologized to her, but even my apology did not placate her. I spent the next few weeks praying blessings over her to help me avoid sowing seeds of bitterness over this unpleasant experience. As I chose to forgive this woman for the way she treated me as well as others, God enlightened me to a truth I otherwise would have missed: This woman likely did not extend me grace because she, herself, has received little grace.

Of course, as a Christian, she has, in fact, been extended an enormous amount of grace through Jesus’ sacrifice for her, as is true for all of us. However, Jesus extending us grace is only half of the equation: we must also receive the grace that he extends to us. Until we do, we will continue to live as if grace has been withheld, even though that really isn’t the case. How heartbreaking it must be for God to have extended grace at such a high cost but have children who never receive that grace!

Giving a gift does not guarantee that the gift will be received. God offers the free gift of grace to all, but we must choose to believe Him and receive the gift before it will do us any good. How heartbreaking that so many people never do receive His gift of grace, even many who represent themselves as being Christians! And until we receive God’s generous gift of grace ourselves, we are unable to pay it forward.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a large stack of presents. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Grace Cannot Be Earned

paydayContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared the story of my failure to read a 250-page book at age 8 in the allotted time. I was not met with grace in that situation, but I shared what the outcome might have been if that’s how my story had ended. I wouldn’t have deserved a positive outcome. After all, I didn’t complete the assignment within the time I had been allotted. If I had, then no grace would have been needed. I knew I had failed, and there was nothing I could do about it as the clock kept moving toward the deadline I could no longer meet. And yet what a huge difference it would have made in my life had I received grace instead of punishment … not because I deserved it but because it’s what I needed.

I still need grace – lots and lots of grace – but we live in a world that frequently fails to extend grace. Sadly, I even see this in Christian circles: someone makes a mistake and apologizes, but the other Christian fails to extend grace. I recently had the experience of a Christian making a mistake, and I reacted by extending grace. Her over-the-top level of gratitude communicated volumes: she was not used to receiving grace when making a mistake in her line of work, even though she works for a Christian organization and knew that I was representing one as well. How sad for grace being extended from one Christian to another to be viewed as an anomaly!

To be clear, this woman did not deserve grace. Her mistake caused an inconvenience to the people in my Christian organization, and we had to make adjustments to compensate for her mistake. I didn’t extend her grace because she deserved it. I did it because God has extended grace to me. This woman did not intend to make the mistake and was clearly upset with herself for doing so. She took responsibility and apologized for her mistake. However, none of this “earned” her grace. Grace is always a gift that is extended to someone who doesn’t deserve it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being showered with money under the words, “Pay Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Beauty of Grace

beautifulI’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately … probably because I’m in such need of it! Grace is one of those words that I have only recently grown to understand the meaning of. I grew up hearing the song Amazing Grace, but I didn’t really get it.

I think my problem is, at least in part, that I was shown so little grace throughout much of my life. Always fearing making any sort of mistake, I tried so hard to be “perfect,” which, of course, is not possible in this mortal body. As an abused child, my abusers would often set me up to “fail” and then abuse me as purported “discipline,” so I learned at a young age that it wasn’t OK to make mistakes.

One particular experience has stuck with me all these years. When I was in third grade (only 8 years old!), I begged the teacher to let me read a real novel for a book report. Sure enough, reading a book with over 200 pages at age 8 in the short period of time allotted proved to be too much for my little brain. By the night before the book report was due, I still had 50 more pages left to read, and my little brain couldn’t handle it. Instead of receiving grace, I received punishment and shame, with my abusers using my “failure” to complete my assignment as an excuse to inflict more abuse, telling me it was all my fault.

To this day, playing “beat the clock against” a deadline triggers my post-traumatic stress because of that experience, so I always work ahead and strive to complete tasks early. I know I cannot stay focused once the post-traumatic stress kicks in. What I learned from that experience is that it doesn’t matter whether I have completed five times as much work as everyone else. If I do not complete the task given me perfectly, I’m going to suffer.

I have prayed over what grace might have looked like in this situation. What if my parents had said, “I’m so proud of you for reading 200 page at age eight. Let’s cuddle together, and I’ll read you the rest of the book?” What if the focus was not on what I didn’t do (finish reading 50 more pages) and instead celebrated what I had done (reading far more than is typically expected of an eight-year-old child)? Yes, I missed the deadline. No, I didn’t do the assignment perfectly. But what if I was given the message that I was loved whether or not I completed the assignment perfectly? That’s grace.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the word, “Beautiful.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Discomfort as an Invitation to Spiritual Growth

healthy_livingContinued from here.

As part of my ponderings over this very uncomfortable topic (pun intended again), God led me to a different perspective: discomfort is actually God’s invitation to spiritual growth. Whenever I experience discomfort, whether it’s simply annoying to severely painful, God is inviting me to grow in my dependency upon Him. He’s inviting me to move away from where I have been comfortable and into a new place of deeper intimacy with him. Perhaps this is how Paul was able to say:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor. 12:10).

We only delight in weakness when we recognize that it drives us to deeper dependency upon God, who can be fully trusted. We must give up the illusion of being in control over anything and rest knowing that God will empower us to be strong in our weakness.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

Lewis goes on to say:

We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for God’s sake, unless the material of the action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination.”

To put this in simpler terms, restoration to a relationship with God requires us to let Him define what’s “good” rather than our own inclinations. To accomplish this, God must repeatedly place us in situations in which our inclinations differ from God’s will. It’s only when we choose His way over our own – when we forgive those who hurt us, for example – that we are restored to the place of restoration with God. My will must surrender to God’s will, even when it hurts. In this way, the discomfort I experience in my day-to-day life becomes an invitation to breaking my self-will, surrendering to God, and developing deeper dependence upon Him. As I do this, intimate relationship is restored between the Creator and the created.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace eating a salad over the words, “Healthy Living.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Role of Discomfort

Continued from here.

If God says that discomfort is “good” and should be my expectation, with comfort being an exception provided in the short-term to refresh me, then there must be more to discomfort than I’m seeing. (Not sure I would have received this message well on the tour bus after my fourth hour of nausea!) What positive role might discomfort serve in our lives?

I’m very comfortable in my bed at night. After a busy day of work, I relish curling up under my quilt and burrowing myself in my pillows. Left to my own devices, I would never leave the comfort of my bed in the morning. Why do I leave it? Because of the discomfort of my full bladder. The discomfort in my bladder when I awaken in the morning motivates me to leave the comfort of my bed. In other words, comfort lulls me to stay where I am whereas discomfort motivates me to move.

When I sin, I generally enjoy the immediate, selfish “benefits.” What motivates me to repent? The discomfort of conviction. If God let me remain comfortable in my sin, I would continue to do it because, quite frankly, it takes no effort to do whatever I feel like doing in the moment. However, it requires considerable effort (at least at first) to make countercultural and counterintuitive choices, such as blessing someone who wrongs me, obeying laws I don’t agree with (such as the speed limit), or humbling myself when everything within me wants to assert my rights.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lews said,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it…pain insists on being attended to … it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

In other words, discomfort is the cattle prod God uses to drive me toward spiritual growth. If God removes the cattle prod, I’m inclined to stay comfortably where I am … and as I am. Since God’s will for me is spiritual growth (transformation into Christlikeness), He must keep me uncomfortable to keep me motivated to change. Thus, discomfort is actually GOOD for me. (Again, I don’t like this message any more than you do!)

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Problem of Pain. Courtesy Amazon.

 

If God is Good, How Could He Want Me to be Uncomfortable?

fruitContinued from here.

If this topic is making you uncomfortable (pun intended), I’m right there with you. I’m not a natural martyr. I don’t like this concept any more than you do, but God pounded me with it in Ireland, immediately following up this revelation in my quiet time with a full day of motion sickness on the tour bus as we drove the Ring of Kerry for 8 bumpy, windy hours (with lots of photo stops). I did not pass the test. I’m still learning the lesson, which is one reason I am blogging about it.

Why would God want us to stay in a perpetual state of discomfort with only short seasons of comfort provided to refresh us? Isn’t God good? This is how the enemy attacks me. When God’s ways don’t align with what I want, I’m prone to question God’s goodness. I assume that whatever I want (in this case, comfort) is “good,” and since I’m not getting what I want, it must be “bad.” And since God is allowing the “bad,” perhaps He isn’t good after all … which is exactly what the enemy wants me to believe. If I doubt God’s goodness, then I’m more prone to disobey Him.

I have learned through experience that God’s ways are always best, no matter how I feel. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, I am not capable of distinguishing “bad” from “good” because my perspective only considers how I am personally affected. God told Adam that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was bad, but Eve didn’t take His word for it. The enemy lured her into questioning whether God was holding out on her, and she made up her own mind about whether the fruit was good. She saw a tasty piece of fruit that looked good to her and ate it. God had already warned her that the fruit was bad: He saw a broader perspective that Eve could not see. Eve’s comfort in eating one piece of fruit came with the cost of separation from God and Jesus’ sacrifice to restore us.

I am no different from Eve. I call “good” what looks pleasing to me (comfort) and “bad” what doesn’t (discomfort). How do I learn to adopt Paul’s perspective of actually delighting in discomfort?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and leaning against a large peach. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Why Do I Expect to be Comfortable?

cucumbersContinued from here.

Back to my quiet time in Ireland…After God asked why I have the expectation of being comfortable and I replied with, “Huh??,” God led me to examine the role of the Sabbath. God commands us to work for six days and rest for one. He asked what the purpose of the Sabbath is. My response was that it’s to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with Him so I have the energy to dive back into six more days of work. He asked why I don’t have the expectation of resting for six days and only working for one. My response was that he designed me to bear fruit, and that requires work. He led me to see that the Sabbath is a day set aside to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but it’s the exception, not the rule. He designed me for work, not rest. The purpose of rest is to prepare me for more work so that I may bear much fruit.

He then asked why I believe that comfort should be the rule rather than the exception. I again responded with, “Huh??” Comfort is so ingrained in me as part of the American culture that I had a very hard time following where God was seeking to lead me. (God knows that I can be rather hard-headed!) OF COURSE I want to be comfortable! Who in their right mind would choose discomfort?

God then placed on my heart that in addition to bearing much fruit, His will for me is to transform into the image of Christ. Transformation means change or growth. There’s a reason for the term growing pains — growth is painful. Not what I wanted to hear.

I once heard it said that there’s not much growth in a comfort zone or comfort in a growth zone. When I choose to stay comfortable, am I actually impeding my growth? As I seek out ways to be comfortable in how I spend my time, who I choose to associate with, and where to invest my energy in my day-to-day life, am I actually choosing NOT to grow into the image of Christ?

Perhaps comfort, like the Sabbath, is intended to be a brief respite that enables me to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with God before diving back into the next growth spurt. Might my pursuit of comfort actually be stunting my spiritual growth?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a pillow with cucumber slices over her eyes. Courtesy Bitmoji.]