I’ve got a message for you today. You’re not going to like it. It’s about grace.
I was feeling really crappy last week. I mean, really. On the verge of hysterical screams, in fact. My stress level was out of control, and I just couldn’t seem to pull it together. So I did something to put my pain into perspective. I found a picture of the crucified Jesus on the Internet (see right), made a little motivational poster out of it and hung it up in my cubicle at work. It said, “Even Jesus had bad days.” And below that, 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”
There was something terribly poignant about that verse and that image coming together. Two hours later, I wanted to tear the poster off the wall.
You see, it told me something about grace that I hadn’t realized before. It’s very likely Jesus heard the words “My grace is sufficient for you” as he was sweating blood in Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. God’s grace enabled Christ to endure the cross.
I’ll check back in a minute to see if you’ve resumed breathing. I know it took me about that long.
The modern dictionary defines “grace” as “God’s unmerited favor.” I think that’s a marvelous definition. Open your Bible to Romans or Corinthians or Galatians and replace every instance of “grace” with “God’s unmerited favor” and get your socks blown off. Seriously. But even then, most of us fail to see the power contained within grace. I think if you were to ask most ministers, they’d put God’s unmerited favor right up there with sunshine and pixie dust – nice when you can get it, but don’t expect too much. I mean, how is God’s unmerited favor supposed to give me the strength to withstand undue stress, or spiritual warfare, or psychological torture?
I’m on route to an answer.
A few weeks ago, I met a man named Steve Scheffler. I haven’t been able to get him out of my head since. Steve is a Christian musician who has experienced, and is experiencing, some of the most challenging situations imaginable. He is currently bipolar and lives in near-constant crippling pain due to a rare genetic illness – one that will eventually render him a bed-fast quadriplegic. Years ago, he lost his first wife in a horrific car accident in which she was decapitated and could only be identified by her severed head. Steve recently had to give up playing guitar because his hands had become too painful to continue. He’d probably be tossed out of most conservative churches due to his odd mannerisms and mental illness. Yet Steve possesses a profoundly deep faith in Christ. One unlike any other. If anyone understands the sustaining power of God’s unmerited favor, it’s Steve.
I saw Steve at the office today. We had an interesting chat. I think he could tell I was struggling, so he spoke of understanding my victory in Christ.
I said, “I know. But I want to feel like I’m winning.”
A knowing look crossed his face. “Yes, well that’s another thing altogether. What you have to understand is that God isn’t going to fix this” – and he gestured to my head and body. “The transformation that He’s doing is spiritual. If the mind and body is weak and broken, it’s going to stay that way. He made it that way. He’s going to use it just as it is. It’s dying, and it’s supposed to die. It doesn’t get in up there [heaven]. He’s making something new for that. If you want to feel the victory, you have to take your joy in the new creature you are becoming and stop expecting Him to fix all of this.”
Ah. Yes. Of course.
See, grace functions better in our lives when we’re cracked and flawed and (here’s the key part) recognize ourselves as such. In this light, I think we’ve done grace a great disservice over the years. We’ve called it a liberal tinker toy, a namby-pamby, wishy-washy idea, when, in fact, it is the all-powerful, all-sustaining, life-transforming favor of God itself. It was God’s grace that allowed Job to endure the loss of ten children, God’s grace that brought Israel through slavery and exile, God’s grace that set redemption on the world, and grace that will see us through to the end of days.
Samantha over at Defeating the Dragons is writing this week about her stance on the pro-life debate. What she has written represents some of the most intelligent, rational, thought-provoking, profound, uncomfortable, horrifying and balanced material I have read on the subject in a long time (probably ever). Many people have lots to say about abortion. At the moment, I have just one word – a word too many in the church have forgotten: grace.
You know, grace for the woman who was raped. Or for the one who was abandoned. Or for the one who had to choose between a merciful death for her baby and a lifetime of pain and disability.
You know. There but by the grace of God go you. Ahem.
You know. Because Jesus will ask, “What did you do for the least of these?” not “How many protests did you attend?”
I told you that you wouldn’t like it.
But God’s grace isn’t threatened by our weakness or our sin or our confusion. In fact, it’s made stronger, more evident, and more prevalent by all of these things. The Bible says so (Romans 5:20). That doesn’t mean we continue in sin so that grace may abound (as Paul wrote in Romans 6), but it does mean that His Spirit becomes preeminent in us as we yield our weaknesses to His strength. In this, only a complete and utter surrender will do. And you’ll need His grace to do it, because it comes with all the pain and humiliation of the cross. His grace is sufficient for the job, I promise. Still, good luck with that.