(For those who are breathlessly awaiting the next installment of the victimhood series…it will resume in a couple of days)
God is a great teacher. He is a prof that I cannot bluff. I report to Him that I have read the material. I tell others that I have done my homework. I speak proudly about how I am mastering the course. And then He pops the life quiz to see if I have truly absorbed what I say I have learned. Those who are honest about this journey know that you are in trouble anytime you announce that you are determined to be more (choose from the following partial list: patient, loving, obedient, forgiving, prayerful, serving). God smiles and arranges a test. 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. A recent 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. I bombed the test.
Later I regrouped and had a personal conference with the Teacher (He is really good about that). 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 have written and spoken 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 one thing. 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. Recently I have 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 oh so patiently perfects a wretch like me. Amazing.