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What Is The Purpose For Grace?

Hitcher, By Hitch Hiking, Road, Man

Not all quotes can make the cut. This one didn’t quite.

So you won’t hear me share it as I speak at the first annual Empowered Women’s Retreat, but boy, did it speak to my heart. I hope it encourages you too.  

It’s from a chapter called, “These Inward Trials,” in J.I. Packer’s, KNOWING GOD (IVP, 1973). Spacing, bolding and italics mine. 

What is grace?

In the New Testament grace means God’s love in action towards people who merited the opposite of love. Grace means God moving heaven and earth to save sinners who could not lift a finger to save themselves. Grace means God sending His only Son to descend into hell on the cross so that we guilty one might be reconciled to God and received into heaven. “(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What is the purpose of grace?

Primarily, it is to restore man’s relationship with God. When God lays the foundation of this restored relationship, by forgiving our sins as we trust His Son, He does so in order that henceforth we and He may live in fellowship, and what He does in renewing our nature is intended to make us capable of, and actually to lead us into, the exercise of love, trust, delight, hope and obedience Godward- those acts which from our side, made of the reality of fellowship with God, who is constantly making Himself known to us. This is what all the work of grace aims at- an even deeper knowledge of God, and an ever closer fellowship with him. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to himself.

How does grace prosecute [go about] this purpose?

Not by shielding us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from the burdensome and frustrating circumstances, nor by shielding us from the troubles created by our own temperament and psychology; but rather by exposing us to all those things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason, from our standpoint, why God fills our lives with troubles and perplexities of one sort and another- it is to ensure that we shall learn to hold Him fast.

The reason why the Bible spends so much time reiterating that God is a strong rock, a firm defence, and a sure refuge and help for the weak, is that God spends so much of His time bringing to us that we are weak, both mentally and morally, and dare not trust ourselves to find, or to follow, the right road. When we walk along a clear road feeling fine, and someone takes our arm to help us, as likely as not we shall impatiently shake him off; but when we are caught in rough country in the dark, with a storm getting up and our strength spent, and someone takes our arm to help us, we shall thankfully lean on him.

Why is life rough and perplexing? 

And God wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn thankfully to lean on Him. Therefore He takes steps to drive us out of self-confidence to trust in Himself- in the classical biblical phrase for the secret of the godly man’s life, “to wait on the Lord.”

One of the most startling applications of this truth is that God actually uses our sins and mistakes to this end. He employs the educative discipline of failures and mistakes very frequently. It is striking to see how much of the Bible deals with men of God making mistakes, and God chastening them for it. Abraham losing patience and begets Ishmael… Moses killing an Egyptian…David seducing Bathsheba and getting Uriah killed… Jonah running away from God’s call… So we might go on.

But the point to stress is that the human mistake, and the immediate divine displeasure was in no case the end of the story…God can bring good out of the extremes of our folly; God can restore the years that the locust has eaten.

You know what they say about those who never make mistakes? 

They say that those who never make mistakes never make anything; certainly these men made mistakes, but through their mistakes God taught them to know His grace, and to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise. 

Is your trouble a sense of failure? The knowledge of having made some horrible mistake? Go to God, his restoring grace waits for you.

By the way, ladies, if you’re in the Waterford, WI area this weekend, I’d love to meet you at the retreat. It’s about how to count it all joy

And, guess what? It goes right back to knowing our good God.

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.

Psalm 130:3-7

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Fail

When I dropped the ball (and what good came of it.)

The little twist in my gut tightened. As the team talked on, vague unease suddenly turned sure-fire shame. Yup. I did. I dropped the ball. 
Not epic, still big.  
Honestly, I dropped the ball two months ago, but didn’t realize until last week. It wasn’t super huge, nor super heavy. But still, I failed. I forgot. I dropped the ball and didn’t follow-up when I said I would. 
“I totally dropped the ball. I’m so sorry,” I choked to my colleagues around me. 
The ball had left an impression where it fell, there at the long formica-topped table. My lapse would cost the team extra time, more work. My boss would take the force of my fail. 
“Forty lashes,” she quipped, only half-joking. And we began picking up the pieces.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the (humble) Pie 

Surprise gets our attention. Break a pattern and you’ll command attention, write Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made To Stick. Dropped balls, big mistakes, and even little lapses in the patterns of our lives grab our attention. They jolt us out of our routine. The aftershocks keep our attention.
Mistake refocus our vision. We see that our failures don’t fold God’s plans. He restores our souls and redeems our fails. He deals in dropped balls and works in weakness. His power is perfected in weakness. God gives grace to the humble.
We get up and hope on. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8) 

Judge Not

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. It was scrawled in bathroom stall back in college. I forget it. But when I dropped the ball, it came flooding back. 


Was it just 48 hours ago I’d sunk to play smug judge? I hate to admit it was. The nature of my judging matters here, because the best correction always fits the crime

It wasn’t out loud, like the Pharisee’s. But it was there, self-righteous, under my breath: 

Thank you Lord, that I’m not like one of those- those micromanaging, detail-oriented friends who get overwhelmed in minutia. Thank you, Lord, that I sit loose and rest in my broad-minded, don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff, perspective.

should have applied more Dry Idea.


Sweet Truth #1: Our failure reveals sinful layers might might otherwise lay hidden. For me, it was the “some smug judge” layer (I fear there’s still more.). Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10). 


We’ll all stand, big-picture and detail-people alike. So be kind. 


Embrace Weakness

If we never see our failure, one wise man said, we’re either blind or we haven’t taken enough risks.

It’s not as if I had the world on a string. I wasn’t exactly coasting through the last month at work. But maybe a slight saunter, a little too much self-reliance and basking in the glow of modest achievement. A good performance review here, colleague compliments there. 

But weak is where He wants us. Weak means we know we’re deficient and lacking. It means we don’t have what it takes to keep all the balls in the air on our own. I know I can’t say I’d prayed for his strength at work. For friends and family, sure. For missionaries, definitely. But his help at work? Umm. Not so much.

Sweet Truth #2: When the ball falls, we see what was true all along: we’re weak and desperately need a strong God. My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God loves us where we are, but-praise be, way too much to leave us there.

Forgive Others As Yourself.  

I still wince recalling how I dropped the ball. It’s uncomfortable. I wish I hadn’t done it. I dislike-I loathe-the fact that I’d break my word.

So I stop thinking of it. I forgive myself and keep right on going. It’s just like C.S. Lewis said we must do, we for whom forgiveness is a non-negotiable.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Lewis explores how it is that we forgive those who sin against us.

Apparently ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? … In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do…to hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life-namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself… In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery…But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway, possible that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.  (Mere Christianity, “Forgiveness”)

Sweet Truth #3: We must forgive others as God forgives us, and as we forgive ourselves. We fail and feel bad we’re the sort who do those things. But then, we forgive ourselves. Let’s forgive others the same way: Sorry to find that the man should have done it and loving him still. 

Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13).

We all fail and fall down. The righteous get back up. 

Next time you fail and drop the ball- no matter how big or small-just take a breath. Look to Christ and get back in the game. No good thing does he withhold. He disciplines us for our good. Taste and see his goodness. It’s there to be found, even in your failure.

Righteous fall. We all drop the ball. And in God’s good time, we can even be restored, remade, better, more human than before.

“For the righteous falls seven times, and rises again…” 
Proverbs 24:16