This line from poet Nancy Spiegelberg may be the most indicting summary of my misunderstanding of grace for decades.
Lord I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better I’d have come running with a bucket.
One of the most compelling illustrations of God’s extravagant grace is the story of the Prodigal Son. The son rebelled, sinned, and suffered the horrible consequences of his actions. The son realized his sin and in humble desperation decides to throw himself on the mercy of his father, believing he had lost all his privileges of being a son.
But nothing had changed for his father. It reads like a Hollywood story of tear-jerking redemption. A child who is lost and hopeless. A father who never quits believing in and loving his son. The son trudging toward an uncertain homecoming with eyes downcast. Hearing a commotion down the path that sounds like distant shouts of joy. Is it a party at the home that was once his? Then the sound of sandals pounding on dirt causes the lost son to look up. What he saw was one of the most remarkable grace stories in history.
And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
The father placed the finest robe on his wayward son, most probably his own. The robe that was worn on the most special of occasions. The custom would have been for the son to bathe, don clean clothes, and then put on the robe. But in a stunning gesture of compassion, the father placed his robe over his son’s filthy garments. What a gift of unconditional acceptance. Brokenness and all hope of self-salvation stripped away. We all fall on grace when we are completely honest with our hearts.
The story is the same today. The Father ran to forgive me when I acknowledged my sin and need. While I was still dirty and clothed in filthy garments I was forgiven, accepted, justified, and wrapped in the robe of righteousness. I was no longer condemned. Satan would have me forget that the robe of righteousness is wrapped lovingly around me. The author of lies reminds me (constantly) that I still wear dirty clothing. He suggests that I don’t deserve to wear the robe until I clean myself up. That is the power of this story. The robe of righteousness is never earned. It is a gift of grace. On my worst day the Father wraps me up in this precious garment because of His Son Jesus.
How differently I would live if I remembered that truth every day. I am a saint. I am wrapped in the robe of righteousness. I am a new creature who is forgiven, accepted, and wrapped in this incomprehensible gift of grace. Even in my failure Jesus loves me anyway and just as much.
Life gives me sadness, loss, and loneliness, but when I trust Jesus I have hope in the darkest storm. It is hard to live in a community of grace. Legalism is so much easier than grace because it allows me to assess the situation and apply a verse or assign a task. If that person rejects that biblical admonition or task, then legalism allows me to withdraw because he or she is disobedient. Grace does not give me that option. Grace demands that I move toward the struggle of my brother or sister and not away in judgment. No wonder grace is a tough sell!
Grace wears me out and lifts me up. Grace is frustrating and exhilarating. My old nature screams that people who make bad decisions over and over get what they “deserve.” They don’t “deserve” to be pursued and loved and restored. They made their bed—now let them lie in it. But there is a small quiet voice in my heart that tells me that they have value. That they are loved by their Creator. And that voice asks who am I to decide who “deserves” anything?
Would you open the outrageous gift of grace and accept it as a mind blowing outpouring of love from a Father who delights in you? Whenever you feel sad, unworthy, stressed, angry, frustrated, or unloved, return to that open gift of inexhaustible grace. And bring a bucket this time.
Taken from Waking Up Slowly by Dave Burchett copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.