If you’re anything like me, you are prone to despair. If you’re anything like me, the sky seems to be falling at any given moment and it seems like the world is against you most of the time. If you’re anything like me, you get discouraged easily.
I really think that the large part of this is that we forget.
We forget what lies in the past and what is ahead. We forget it because the now seems so pressing and painful and well, so NOW…up in your face.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when life just presses its proverbial thumb on you and grinds you into the dust.
I realized this morning that the reason I keep doing that, the reason I continually respond that way is because I forget. Allow me to explain…
As I’ve talked about ad nauseam recently, there have been some hard times for me and my family. I won’t belabor those points; you are welcome to go back and read former blog posts. But it happened again this week. I got turned down for three jobs, among other things that happened this week.
The hits just keep on coming. It’s like ground and pound.
The world, our flesh and Satan just absolutely pound us. And it’s not getting better and it’s not going to get better until Jesus returns.
This morning I got up and I was tired. I was physically tired because I hadn’t slept much. Stress and working at night and worry and stuff like that will do that. So I was tired. And I needed to hear from God. I needed to spend time with Him, to know things were going to be okay, that we were going to be okay, that I wasn’t going to lose my mind or my faith.
So I stumbled out of bed tired. I made some coffee and was just bleary. You know that feeling where you know you’re awake but everything feels fuzzy and weird like you’re actually dreaming? That was me. And man, I needed that coffee.
I poured my first cup of coffee and walked back to my office so that I could spend time in the Word and prayer. And my youngest daughter was standing in the hall to greet me. It wasn’t even daylight and she was already up. I was like…well, I won’t tell you what I said under my breath ‘cause it wasn’t repeatable.
Anyways, I changed her diaper and got her some milk and she sat down on the couch. I turned some cartoons on for her and thought, “Great, my morning is shot.” But then…and I can only think it was the Holy Spirit…I felt prompted to pray and read anyway. So I sat in the living room. Now, I practice daily Bible reading and prayer according to the Daily Office of the Anglican Church. I read whatever is in the lectionary reading for that day for my Scripture reading. So I prayed the opening prayer of confession along with the Pascha Nostrum (you’ll have to look it up). I opened to the prayer book to see what the lectionary reading was. The first reading was Psalm 103.
Remember, I had asked God to meet me in my need this morning. I needed a “word” from the LORD. Here is what I read. I’ll just put in the first five verses.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all our iniquities,
Who heals all our diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” (NASB, emphasis mine)
Oh, how I needed to hear this today! Remember…there’s that word again. Remember that I have no control over the lectionary. I had no idea what I was going to be reading, only that I needed a touch of Abba’s hand. I needed encouragement.
Read that text again. Actually, read the entire psalm. But look at the first fiver verses again. Maybe you need to hear this today also. Maybe you’re going through something and you need a word.
You have forgotten.
Remember, my friend.
Forget none of His benefits.
And what are those benefits? Well, the Psalmist happily lists them for us.
1. He pardons our iniquities.
2. He heals all our diseases.
3. He redeems our life from the pit.
4. He crowns us with lovingkindness and compassion.
5. He satisfies our years with good things.
I mean, what else do you need?!
If you’re like me, you can look at this and think, yeah but things are rough right now..how is that satisfying my years with good things? That’s a fair question. I think the answer is one of perspective. I’ll explain.
I had a friend who used to say that some people were “so heavenly minded, they were no earthly good.” While I understand what was meant by this, I think perspective means the precise opposite of this. If we keep in mind, if we remember, if we have the proper perspective, it is precisely because we are so heavenly minded that we are any earthly good.
Don’t be like me. Don’t forget.
Remember what God has done for us in Christ.
Remember what He is doing in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Remember what He will do for us in eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Grace is a tricky word.
In the Church, grace has often been used to mean something it does not in fact mean. It’s like that line from “The Princess Bride” when Vizzinni keeps saying “Inconceivable!” Inigo stops and looks at Vizzinni and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
It’s a classic movie line.
But the truth is that we in the Church have thrown around the word grace and the way we use it is often different depending on the situation. For example, we have said so much that God gives grace that we frankly don’t even know what it means anymore.
And so grace becomes a euphemism for freedom to do whatever I want or licentiousness, to use a fancy shmancy word.
But what I’m learning is that grace is so much more than I had ever dreamed. Specifically, God’s grace is so much more than I had known but had always dreamed it was.
Let me explain.
I was raised in a religious culture that was entirely works based. Before I go further, please do not read this as some sort of indictment on the character of my parents. They were and are good and godly people who did their best with what they knew and with the wild kid I was. I’m not talking about my parents specifically; I’m talking about the religious culture.
So let me go back. I was raised in a religious culture that was entirely works based. It was all about what you did to find your way to God, what you did to choose to believe and how you acted once you made that choice.
Does anyone but me see a problem with this? Look back at that sentence. The name of God was used once but the word ‘you’ was used four times. I did that on purpose to prove a point. The religious culture I was raised in was all about you at its most basic level. You had to earn God’s love.
Oh, no one dared say that. But it was implied in everything that was done. You made the decision to follow Jesus; you made a public profession of faith; you stopped drinking and cussing; you stopped sleeping around; you, you, you.
There was no space given for those who failed. There was no space for those who were sinners. There was no space for God. There was no grace. I can look back at that now and see the damage it caused me spiritually. God was not a loving Abba. He was not gracious. He was a taskmaster that wanted to take all my fun away and would send me screaming straight to hell if I stepped out of line or watched an rated R movie.
This is completely antithetical to the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is that you don’t have to clean up. You come to Jesus just as you are, helpless and messy with a hangover and a cigarette dangling from your mouth, still smelling like the club you just left. You throw yourself on his chest sobbing and scream out, “I can’t do this anymore!” And He washes you off and holds you tight and wipes your tears and says, “I know you can’t. Let me.”
This is the gospel.
This is grace.
When we were at our worst, when we ARE, right now, at our worst, Jesus loves us. He wants you in all your mess to come to Him. Read the gospel accounts. How many people who “had their shit together” did Jesus go out of His way to show love to?! He blasted those guys, calling them white washed tombs, vipers and sons of hell!
The beauty of God’s grace is that it takes literally no effort whatsoever from you. You get it, as a gift in Jesus! Let me say that another way if you didn’t hear me. It’s free!! God’s grace to you costs you nothing; it is freely given in Jesus.
I’ve just finished an astonishing book. I literally have been weeping at times reading this book at the staggering love and grace of God portrayed so beautifully by the author Brennan Manning. It has given me new hope! The Spirit has used this book to again press into my heart what His Word already says, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever would believe should have everlasting life!
Did you see that?! You don’t need to clean up. You don’t need to be perfect. Jesus is already perfect; just trust in Him! Here’s an excerpt from Manning’s book, “The Ragamuffin Gospel.”
“Perhaps the supreme achievement of the Holy Spirit in the life of ragamuffins is the miraculous movement from self-rejection to self-acceptance. It is not based on therapy or the power of positive thinking; it is anchored in their personal experience of the acceptance of Jesus Christ. They are not saints, but they seek spiritual growth. They accept counsel and constructive criticism with ease. They stumble often, but they do not spend endless hours in self-recrimination. They quickly repent, offering the broken moments to the Lord. Their past has been crucified with Christ and no longer exists, except in the deep recesses of eternity. Immersed in the sinful human condition, the ragamuffin struggles to be faithful to Jesus. Taking up the cross of his wounded self each day, he battles with fatigue, loneliness, failure, depression, rejection, and the sting of discovering untrustworthiness in the person he thought most trustworthy. The ragamuffin road always leads to Calvary.” (Italics mine)
Read that again. And again.
Now read Jesus’ words from St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 11:28-30,
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, 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.” (NASB)
Is this the Jesus you know, friends? Is He, in your mind and heart, gentle and humble? Does He offer Himself to you freely? If not, it may be that you don’t know the actual Jesus.
Abba’s grace is so much more than you can imagine. Look to Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!