I decided this was a good time to write about grace. Why? Because I needed it desperately this weekend. I wrote a lovely little piece last week about the happiest day of the year. I wrote that I thought picking a day based on circumstances and formulas is silly. I noted smugly that we should choose to focus on the Lord and our joy should come from Him. I wrote that I was going to choose joy that day. What was I thinking? Those who are honest about this journey know that when we determine to be more obedient we are often given pop quizzes. I hate the spiritual pop quizzes as much as I did the academic ones. But they are just as revealing about how I am doing. My pop quiz consisted of work situations that frustrated me and other people conspiring (I thought) to divert my focus and steal my joy. How did I do? I failed the test miserably. I was grumpy. I was discouraged. My joy meter barely moved. Then I remembered my little blog.
Later I regrouped and talked to the Teacher. That is when I remembered again what grace means to me. Yes, I failed miserably. Yes, I was disappointed in myself. Yes, I was a little embarrassed that I had written so boldly and flopped so easily. But here is what poured over my soul from the Holy Spirit.
You are my child.
I love you.
Grace always takes me by surprise. I am not conditioned by this world to expect love and acceptance when I have failed. I am conditioned to expect condemnation, shame, and rejection. But there was the Father God patiently and lovingly dealing with me. Mark McMinn, a professor at Wheaton College, wrote these words in an article in Christianity Today.
“Seeing our sin occurs over a lifetime of pursuing God. Our vision is seldom restored in a single burst of light but with countless rays streaming into our darkened eyes over many years—and always in the midst of amazing grace.”
That is the power of grace in my life. In His infinite mercy God does not reveal the ugliness of my heart in one gigantic and loveless revelation that would destroy me. He chooses instead to gently chip away at the rough edges of pride, selfishness, and disobedience. The famous artist Michelangelo would often select a block of marble that others thought unsalvageable and then go to work on that ugly hunk of rock. He once remarked, “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” That is what God’s grace means to me. He sees the beauty in the piece of rock that is me. And He sees the beauty that no one else sees. He lovingly and gently carves away the ugliness until a little beauty begins to come through. But He never gets angry and gives up if another strata of ugly crops up.
That is what grace means to me. Even on the days that I fail miserably I know that I am loved. I am accepted. There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more and nothing I can do to make Him love me less. This is one place where the spiritual hall monitors are apt to jump in and complain about “cheap grace” in the church. Cheap grace means you don’t understand grace. Because grace understood would never translate to making such an amazing act of unmerited mercy trivial or unappreciated.
Paul and Barnabas proclaimed to the assembly that, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.” A common acronym for grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This weekend I experienced a new acronym for grace.
Most of us know the story of slave trader John Newton who repented of his sin and wrote a popular little tune called Amazing Grace. When he said wretch he knew what he was talking about. At the end of his life Newton said to his friends, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
He is indeed.
Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. That saves and patiently perfects a wretch like me.