As I sat through service Sunday, I was moved by the tender spirit I felt. The song “Hosanna, Hosanna…to the Lamb that was slain…” just put me right over the edge. I won’t deny it, I am an “easy cry,” but there was something almost palpable behind my tears last week. I felt my salvation in a way that I haven’t really before. I thought about how I could say I was strong, and rich, and able to see because of what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. I’ve never had a problem with the faith side of things…I believe God is who he says he is, and does what he says he’ll do. It’s the grace that freaks me right out. "What do you mean I can do nothing to deserve it?" I really like the notion of working for what I get.
I carried in my heart the stories from service the week before…Pedro, Laura, and Jason…all unlikely choices for the kingdom of God...a radical communist, a Wiccan priestess, and a teenage drug dealer. How wide is God’s grace! And I thought of myself, probably a very likely candidate for the kingdom by all accounts. Then I realized with my heart that I am just as unworthy and as needy as any of the lost out there. I know that answer as the “Sunday School answer,” but I had not experienced the pure grace of God in such a way in a long, long time. It was spilling down my cheeks with abandon!
We were looking at the story of the Prodigal Son, who insults and disgraces his father, leaves home, falls flat on his face...then comes sheepishly back, hoping for a servant's job in his father's estate. The Father welcomes the son home with open arms, offering him a fine coat and a big party.
As the service progressed, I was swimming in the goodness of the Lord, who leaps off the porch to welcome home sons and daughters who have no right to approach Him. And I thought of myself, someone who has never wandered off His land, but still greets Him many times with a limp, uninterested hug in response to His vigorous, loving one.
I have lived my life against the sharp edges of rules, measuring myself and sometimes cutting myself on them and then being pleased when I could follow them. Pleased with my own ability to “follow the Lord” outwardly. But I have always hesitated to take the free fall into the cloudy cushion of grace…because there is so much less definition there. How does one live out each day in light of grace? I am slowly realizing and trying to fight off the truth that following the Lord has nearly nothing to do with rules and appearances and checklists.
I am so black-and-white that grace scares me. It is unnavigable without God…and yet I can see clearly that it is the only way to live a life free from constant judgment and full of compassion and love for others. But I have to take that free fall, knowing that God will catch me and teach me. He will give me a moment-by-moment map that will rarely give sure answers, but more often give better questions and the knowing that comes from faith. So, while some are able to wallow in grace, I am a little afraid of where grace will lead. And feeling like I’m driving something other than a car or walking with something other than my own legs. And God just nods, “Yes, Shelley, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to feel like.”
Philip Yancey writes: “Aware of our inbuilt resistance to grace, Jesus talked about it often. He described a world suffused with God's grace: where the sun shines and rain falls on people good and bad; where birds gather seeds gratis, neither plowing nor harvesting to earn them; where untended wildflowers burst into life on the hillsides. Like a visitor from a foreign country who notices what the natives overlook, Jesus saw grace everywhere. Yet he never analyzed or defined grace, and he almost never used the word. Instead, he communicated grace through stories we know as parables—which I will take the liberty of transposing into a modern setting.” (he goes on with a series of modern-day stories about grace…)
‘…The gospel is not at all what we would come up with on our own. I, for one, would expect to honor the virtuous over the profligate. I would expect to have to clean up my act before even applying for an audience with a Holy God. But Jesus told of God ignoring a fancy religious teacher and turning instead to an ordinary sinner who pleads, "God, have mercy." Throughout the Bible, in fact, God shows a marked preference for "real" people over "good" people. In Jesus' own words, "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
From “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” 1997
What is so amazing about grace? It's free. It's available...and it can be a way of life. Now if I could just make a list of how to do go about all this...