Over the last few years, I’ve written a good many blog posts. Many of those posts were spiritually oriented, and several of them focused on the subject of Grace. So, when I got copied on a group email from a man who had attended the same Bible College as I did, and he was struggling with a very real feeling of inadequacy before God…a feeling that he had not lived up to what he believed a Christian was supposed to be,… and was subsequently feeling that his salvation was in jeopardy, I directed him to my writings on Grace. He read them. He said they were good, but they were directed toward those just coming to faith… and not to him. He had come to faith and then failed… ”Is there really any Grace for me?” he was in essence asking.
That’s when I realized that within the various bodies of faith organizations, there are those who have so focused on “doing the right things” that they have convinced themselves that unless they achieve perfection, they will be lost. And, it’s not just “doing” the right things…it’s also “believing” the right things. “Thinking” the right things. “Teaching” the right things. On and on.
So many opportunities to fall short.
So many opportunities to feel guilty.
This man asked me to write something for the person who is already a believer and who needs the Grace of God. Sure. No problem, I thought. I can knock that out. No so fast, big boy! I started thinking about it, and I realized that I needed to dig into this a bit. I needed a deeper understanding. A week turned into a month. A month turned into a quarter. Soon, I had drifted off onto other projects, and never completed the response to this man. Eventually, it became a situation of “out of sight, out of mind.” I forgot about it.
Fast forward to New Year’s Day 2013. I opened my email and I had a message from the same guy. He was thanking me for helping him last year, and he was still hoping I could write something more on Grace. Suddenly, I was the one feeling just a bit inadequate. I had let the man down. Geesh. Some help I was. So, I renewed my promise, and I have been digging around this subject ever since…and what you are about to read in this and the upcoming posts in this new series is the progress I’ve made so far. It is still developing; a work in progress.
I don’t think that I will ever say that I fully understand this subject. In fact, I don’t think any of us fully understand Grace. It is a God thing and just a bit above our pay grade. But, I think I have gained a more full understanding than I had before, and I only hope to share what I’ve been able to glean. I will start today with one thought and one scriptural message:
THOUGHT: GRACE is experienced in our lives to the extent that we TRUST in God.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14: 22-33
I think that this story is revealing a message about Grace. It is showing us a quality of Grace.
I asked another man recently about Grace, and among some of the things he said, he described the church’s view of Grace as being like a pendulum. Some swing way over to works and Grace isn’t really much more than a nice concept to them. Others swing way over to Grace, and what you do (if you do anything) doesn’t matter.
The problem with pendulums is that they are constantly swinging. As long as they are working, they never find their middle and stay there. As Christians, we need to jump off the pendulum.
Several years ago, I was giving a devotional talk, and I was raising the concept of Grace. One woman said that we should be careful about talking about Grace too much because when people focus too much on Grace, nothing ever gets done….people stop working. (This was in an organization that is very much performance-based.) I think that perspective misses the whole point. Grace doesn't drown motivation. Grace is the float of motivation in our lives.
Grace is the power of God that gives us the spiritual float in this wicked sea of life. It gives us the lift that allows us to work. It moves us along despite the wind and the waves.
So, here’s the thing. Jesus was God cloaked in a man’s body…a human body. Human bodies CANNOT walk on water. It is an impossibility…short of the power of God. But, in fact, the power of God gave Jesus the lift to stay on top of the waves. It gave him the ability to function and move and advance. Jesus perfectly trusted in the power that was provided to keep him above the water line. His trust led him to act despite the impossibility of the action.
Peter had a different experience.
Peter saw the example of Christ. He wanted to reflect that example. He wanted to get out there and be that man. Jesus invited him to join him, so Peter got out of the boat with his initial enthusiastic trust in the possibilities of God. He walked on water.
Then, reality set in.
The sea spray was hitting him the face. The wind was blowing him around. The waves were lapping at his legs. He was doing the impossible…until he realized that he was doing the impossible.
Suddenly, his mind shifted from what GOD was doing in his life to the fact that it was impossible for him to do what he was doing. And, you know, he was right. It was impossible for PETER to do what he was doing. Only God could do it through him. So, when he shifted from what God was doing through him to what was impossible for himself to do, he began to sink.
When he trusted in the power of God, he could walk in safety.
When he lost that trust, he began to sink.
But even in his lack of trust…his battle with his “little faith,”…Jesus was there to pull him out of the waves and get him safely into the boat.
Every day, men and women make the decision to reflect the life of Christ by becoming a Christian. They accept his invitation, and get out of the boat. But, living the Christian life is impossible. The winds of sin buffet us constantly. The spray of the world hits us in the face every minute of every day. The waves of temptation lap against our stride as we try to make some headway. As long as we trust in the power of God…and not in our own ability…we can stand, we can move, and we can accomplish the impossible. But when we begin to trust only in what we can do within our own ability, we will struggle…we will doubt… and we will sink. Our failure breeds more failure.
However, we aren’t in this thing alone. Jesus is right there in the water with us. Either way.
He will either walk along side us, or he will grab our arms and pull us safely back into the boat until our faith is strong enough to again face the waves of life.