Grace. It’s a word we hear often. In fact, I attend an institution that is so named. And at Grace, we often use our name as a joke in class: “I fell asleep trying to finish all the reading for today’s class. Can’t you show me a little grace, professor?”
But what does that actually mean? Several times throughout my life, I’ve pondered the meaning and the deeper meanings of grace. I’ve memorized verses and definitions (and quickly forgotten them), I’ve been through various Bible studies, and I’ve had several “Eureka!” moments when all was made clear to me, like a veil being lifted from my eyes.
I have been wrong on every occasion.
Recently, I began reading (again) The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (this time, I hope to get farther than the 2nd chapter). In the very first chapter, Manning begins to discuss this abstract and elusive concept of grace. Here are a few lines:
“Though the Scriptures insist on God’s initiative in the work of salvation-that by grace we are saved, that the Tremendous Lover has taken to the chase-our spirituality often starts with self, not God. Personal responsibility has replaced personal response.“
“Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than on what God is doing.“
“Our huffing and puffing to impress God, our scrambling for brownie points, our thrashing about trying to fix ourselves while hiding our pettiness and wallowing in guilt are nauseating to God and are a flat denial of the gospel of grace.”
I cannot count the number of times I have thought that if I just fix a few of my many flaws, then God will be ready to use me, then I will be ready to minister to the people of God. If only I start reading my Bible more, praying more, serving more, then I will be good enough to worship God with a clean conscience. I have spent much of my relationship with God focussing on what I’m doing rather than on what God is doing. Why am I always trying to “work on” things? Where in the Bible does it say “God wants you to make a spiritual checklist of goals and habits He would like you to accomplish in the next 5 years”? How did this become ingrained into my mind and my spirituality?
Even as I am coming to this realization that my relationship with God is not about what I’m doing, my mind is straining to wrap itself around this concept. It is so foreign to me. Especially having grown up in this American culture that is all about working hard to make the most out of your situation and opportunities. I am struggling so hard to just let God do the work. Which is so silly when you think about it, because for Him, these things that I feel are so impossible are just small details. It is uncomfortable to think about doing nothing in my relationship with God. Shouldn’t I be doing something? Anything, it’s the least I can do in light of the salvation that He’s given me. But that’s not grace. Grace isn’t about earning achievements. The thing that makes grace grace is that it requires nothing from the recipient. It is totally undeserved and given for no reason at all.
So what does this mean for my life, my ministry, my relationship with my God?
It means, I do nothing, and God does everything.
Doesn’t that just sound wrong? It almost makes me cringe.
But that’s grace.
Obviously, this is a concept I am going to struggle to understand for a very very long time. (Probably the rest of my life.) But that’s okay. It’s okay to wrestle with the great things of God.