Prayer, Creativity & Faith

The meaning and miracle of grace

I shared this reflection at my church’s Mid-Summer Peace and Renewal Service. The text is below, or you can click the YouTube graphic to go to the starting point of my message.  

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30, NRSV

(an additional translation from the Message, which I like because it usually gives me a slightly different perspective on a verse I’ve heard many times before)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

One day in a Bible study led by a dear friend, we talked about grace. My thoughts: Grace is all I will ever need to know—and so much more than I can understand. I’ll always err on the side of grace. But my friend talked about being careful with grace, about how it can’t be offered too freely because of the ways people abuse, misunderstand, and take advantage of it. The ways people cheapen grace.

And I was like, huh. I had never thought of grace as something that was finite. Or only dished out under certain conditions.

So I remember going home, sitting on my porch swing, and mentally arguing with God about it. I think grace is one of those words we throw around in the church but don’t always analyze. Grace has been defined as unmerited favor, and it’s true that our merits don’t qualify us to receive it.

And yet, I can’t help but think—how much must God love us to give it to us anyway? And if we are so beloved, the chosen recipients of such a glorious gift, then don’t you think perhaps it’s misleading to characterize it as unmerited? Isn’t this offer God’s way of declaring that we are indeed worthy? Loved beyond measure?

God’s very love for us gives us merit.

All of my ponderings that day—and every day since—lead me to the same conviction. I will always err on the side of ‘too much’ grace. But here’s the thing: of course grace, by its very definition, is ‘too much’. How could it be otherwise? It’s more than we deserve, more than we’ve earned, unending, and completely beyond our control.

So yes, it’s too much.

And it’s also exactly enough.

I know what my friend meant. We can’t begin to think that we are entitled, that we deserve only good things, and we can’t justify doing bad things simply because we already know that we’ll be forgiven.

But grace means that God loves us no matter what. God calls to us, woos us, pursues us, transforms us. There is nothing else we could do to make God love us more than He already does right this second.

It also means there is nothing we can ever do to make God love us less. God’s love is unstoppable and never-ending. Nothing is held back from us—God Almighty’s arms are fully extended, hands wide open.

Think about this: You are not loved any more after that really powerful quiet time than you were before you decided to spend time with God.

No matter what we do, or don’t do, God’s love remains. God’s grace covers us.

When grief topples and faith wobbles
and addiction beckons
and overspending prevails
and children rebel
and bodies die too soon
and terrorists destroy
and marriages combust.

When anger consumes and lust ignites
when our brains work for us and when they turn against us
When white-hot jealousy and righteous indignation bloom, even then, we are swimming in oceans of grace.

God’s love remains when families crumble
and teenagers fumble
and consequences loom and purpose is thwarted and bank accounts dwindle and temptations seduce and wounds break wide open and despair devastates and malignancies lurk and darkness holds our secrets and when light reveals them.

Even when hope is but a teensy spark, an ember about to extinguish itself, how great are the depths and height and width of the love God has for us.

And you know what else? God’s love transforms and colors our lives when things are fine, too. When we’re bored but steady, when we’re lonely but not alone, when we’re serving the least of these with fervor and compassion, when we’re leaning on the Almighty for strength and sheltered in the wings of God’s fierce love.

When we abide in the extremes, and when we linger in the middle. When we frequent places we don’t belong and behave in ways that aren’t like us at all. And when we behave in ways that are too much like us, and change feels impossible.

When we wonder how we could ever stand before God with our heads held high, and when we fall on our faces in fear and trembling and awe.

Whether we’re unforgiving and stubborn
or gracious and yielding
When we believe we deserve what God offers, and when we understand how much we do not.
When we love God back, and when we push God away.

Even then, especially then, God’s love prevails.

And that is the meaning—and miracle—of grace.

Thanks be to God.

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