It was the straw that broke the camel's back. I had just heard some frustrating news and it came at the end of 7 months of genuinely testing times. I sat in my car and cried. And then fell asleep for two hours straight.
When I woke up, I was immediately reminded of a picture a friend had given me. The point of the picture was that God was wanting to give me more endurance. More internal robustness. That trials wouldn't just go away. But that He was going to enable me to stand, like a Giant Sequoia amidst them. Amidst fire. Fires wouldn't be absent, but God would thicken my bark so I could endure.
But the million dollar question I had was, how?
How would I actually grow with internal emotional strength amidst so many things I couldn't control that caused me pain? I felt one word running through my head.
Not the polite 'thank you' prayer we sometimes say before eating. But the deep, glorious, profound mega-theme of the Bible. One of the truest and most distinctive aspects of the Christian God, Jesus.
I felt God say that rather than removing the fires, He was going to turn up the volume of my hearing and seeing the Grace of God in my life. This wouldn't be a quick one off thing. This was a major foundational truth that I had never really 'got'.
The Bible from cover to cover declares God to be overwhelming gracious and good:
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, - Exodus 34:6
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. - Psalm 145:17
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. - John 15:11 (Jesus)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. - John 10:11 (Jesus)
So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. - Ephesians 3:17-19
The trouble was, I didn't actually believe it. Not really. Not deep down.
When I heard brilliant thinkers like Dallas Willard claim that the God of the Bible is 'the most joyful being in the universe,' (The Divine Conspiracy page 72), I didn't really believe it. Surely He's not like that really...? Surely, He's pretty demanding really..? And rolls His eyes when I blunder around yet again.
Yes, John 3:16 says "God so loved the World..' but surely that doesn't really mean He actually emotionally loves me? Surely He's deep down much more just focused on Himself and running this Universe?
For whatever reason, I had this moment when I realised that when I thought of who 'God is,' I didn't really deep down believe in His fundamental goodness. His kindness. His mercy. His joy. His pleasure over this creation and certainly not me personally! Again, when I heard comments like 'God doesn't just 'love you, He actually likes you,'(The Divine Conspiracy, page 74), I don't think I truly believed it.
And yet what I've found starting to happen as I dare to believe, despite all the horrors of the twenty first century, that maybe just maybe Jesus really is the most over-flowingly generous, kind, reliable, encouraging, trustworthy being, absolutely every part of my life has started to change!!
I felt God say to me; "Get Grace? You get EVERYTHING!?'
In other words, every desired quality I yearn to have, gloriously and spontaneously starts to appear in my life when I'm living thoroughly and deeply convinced that the God who is nearer to me than anyone else, is immeasurably gracious.
It truly changes everything!
Here's a few personal examples I've seen in my life when I properly 'get grace...'
I am far more generous as I listen to someone & see them as valuable. I draw upon His strength to love them.
I am far more generous financially.
When I get grace, I am not a perfectionist!
I am not as impatient.
I am not over-functioning, nor feel as overly responsible.
I begin to forgive much quicker.
It enables me to cheer others on & be a bringer of blessing.
I am more free from jealousy.
I am more peaceful.
When I get grace, I am more kind and loving.
I laugh far more. Even at myself!
I see mercy and grace upon every page of the bible. Not just challenge.
I can rest so much easier.
I can see glory and wonder in the 'smallest' thing.
I can play and love it.
I can sense God everywhere all day.
I am far more bold missionally, as I am bursting to tell about this God whose goodness and mercy is 1000 times more the Big Headline than your sin (although that is important).
I am more loving and yet more bold in confrontation.
I am much happier to wait.
I am bolder and more fearless to my 'superiors' but more humble and respectful to my 'inferiors'.
Grace frees me to not need to lead.
My last blog entry looked at whether we live in 'joy' in a whole host of different emotions. I suggested a helpful first step is asking 'what do I actually functionally feel and why?'
Today, I guess, connects with that.
That after that first step, I personally am starting to learn to 'bring' those observations of my soul deliberately before God. Not a 'God' who scoffs at our feebleness. But one so kind that we can be vulnerable before Him and not fear His scorn or rebuke!
'His kindness leads us to repentance.' (Rom 2:4). His kindness, not his intimidation or threatening, is what is bringing more joy to my soul in recent days that any blog can do justice to.
Some resources I have found helpful on this subject are:
Martyn Lloyd Jones' sermons on Grace and Romans 7 plus the free app called MLJ Sermons
Delighting in the Sunlit Uplands of Grace by Charles Spurgeon
The Good God and Christ our Life by Michael Reeves
Incomparable by Andrew Wilson
What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey
And for more on this subject from me, you can also watch my sermon on this at Christ the King Church in Brighton: