The Awful Grace of God

lightstock_204918_full_grantScripture Reading

If only my ways were committed to keeping Your statutes!Then I would not be ashamed when I think about all Your commands. Psalm 119:5-6

My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One.  He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:1

Prayer

Heavenly Father, my sins are heavy, but You already know that.  I would ask that you would lift the burden that I feel beneath their weight, but You’ve already done that.  Your grace is real, even though I don’t feel it. In fact, Your grace is as real as it gets.  It’s the anchor of my life, the foundation of my eternity.  Still, though I can see the spaces its fills, and the distension of its presence, I don’t really know it.  How hard it is to feel Your grace with my human heart.

Lord, I’ve wrestle with Your grace.  I wrestle with how to exist as a child who is both saved and remains disobedient.  A man who though elect, though touched by You, keeps on sinning.  You’ve given me an eternity I could never earn, and an inheritance I could never imagine.  It’s difficult to receive gifts, knowing all along that I’m undeserving.  It’s harder from You, because You alone are perfect, and love in a way that swallows me completely.  You know all my secrets, all my embarrassments, all my fondling’s with sin.  Maybe that’s what William meant when he referred to the “awful grace of God.”  I’ll have to ask him.

God, Your grace makes me bow my head, harder and further than I imagine a head can bow.  I bow before you, God, reaching as far as I can until my neck strains and my back aches, because I don’t know how to receive Your grace, or how to face tomorrow with sin.  I trick myself to believe that somewhere, down far enough in the contorted, wretched pain of regret, I’ll hear You say, “Stop.  That’s far enough.  I see your regret.”  At least then I could be worthy…but of what?  Certainly, not You.  Certainly, not grace. Your grace cost more than I have in all the hidden purses where I store treasures of regret, or suffering, or self-denial.  And there, on my knees, face down in the dirt, drenched with tears and sorrow, I realize finally, with equal measure of agony and relief that I got nothing.  But you already know that.  I imagine It’s the one thing that’s difficult about following Your ways.  That, and everything else.  You made me in human flesh, which dies a bit more every day.  You gifted me with a heart that feels so much love for You, Your Christ, and Your creation, yet is fickle and distracted by worldly passions—in a big way.  I long for that which kills me, and I love it, if only for a moment or two.

In quiet moments I see Your image reflected in my thoughts, and I can read Your law on my troubled heart.  It remains an echo, still, a whisper of Your divine presence that runs through my humanity.  But I can hear it.  I don’t have to understand, or feel, or even know to believe.  You have now, and always have had my faith.  That’s the surest sign of Your grace every day, I think:  That no matter what happens around me or to me, no matter how great my disobedience, my struggle, my uncertainty, I don’t doubt You.  I trust completely in Your realness, Your love, Your faithfulness.  Who am I not to trust You?  Who am I to imagine anything about You but so much majesty and greatness and beauty?  I need that place of assurance, God, that place where You cast the biggest shadow.  I hide there, in the embrace of your shadow.  And I trust in your promises and in the eternity that You have prepared in Christ, without any skepticism.  Thank you for that, Lord.  Thank you for the wilderness of my heart, where the wild things live and die.  Thank you that it has never been, nor will ever be beyond the boundaries of Your grace.  In the holy and blessed name of Christ Jesus, Amen.

Reflection

“As I walked through the wilderness of this world…”[1]

It sucks here.    And by here, I refer both to that personal space inside my head and skin, and in the world.  Smart and enlightened people have figured that out throughout history.  It’s hard to get along, and I never seem to have enough…anything.  I’m left wanting.  My desire, my urge, my hunger grows, and precious little seems to touch it.  It’s a revelation that God seems intent to remind me each time I turn on the news, or go to work, or reflect on the decay of sin in my life.  It’s a painful reality when I look at the untidy spaces in my heart that I clear for God’s presence, and have to face hard facts: He doesn’t fit there.  And I ask myself that same question that Augustine lamented famously in Confessions: “What room is there within me, where God can come…” (Bk 1, Ch 2).

My answer shakes the foundations of my life, and rattles lose my tenuous grip on self-righteousness:  I make room for things that bring me instant joy.  I stock the shelves and stuff the drawers.  Boxes of momentary gratification, some bought and some stolen clutch the walls of my room.  I’m a hoarder of experiences, sensations and feelings.  Where do I invite God?  Seriously, where does He fit?

Make no mistake, I know God could force His way in.  He is the landlord of this space, and He could reclaim it upon His most mundane desire.  But He is a patient landlord, and besides, God doesn’t work like that.  He waits for me to ask, to invite.  So I’ll do that—I’ll invite God.  But I’ve got to clean first.  Guests never come in when my life looks like this, and after all, this is an important guest.  The most important Guest, who created, sustains and rules eternity.  Quite a resume.

These boxes over here, filled with memories of passion and despair, they gotta go.  I’ll miss those delights; they kept me warm and distracted and…thrilled.  But I’ll miss the despair too:  That bleeding, ejaculating, defining box of moans and groans that I have all bound up with a sturdy twine of self-pity.  That stuff was sure useful—everyone needs to feel important sometimes, but I’m gladly exchange that for attention, or sympathy. Most days I can convince myself that being loved and being pitied are the same thing.

There’s more to do, lots more.  God’s coming and He needs big and tidy place to do His work.  You don’t invite the Master of everything into this.  That closet over there with all the padlocks and no door, that’s where I keep the bad stuff.  Oh, yeah, it’s all stuff I like, if only for an instant.  That’s why I keep those sins around.  I don’t like them but I love them.  But they are not befitting a Christian, a husband, dad, best friend and all around good guy.  They’re gone.  But that could take a bit so I’ll do that later.  It just means God can come tomorrow.

Ok that shelf needs to stay right where it is!  That’s my collection of awards and God will probably want to see those.  I earned one every time I did His will.  I fed the poor, gave money, and passed women with down-turned eyes.  I don’t watch porn, or cheat on my wife.  I read the Bible and prayed (mostly) every day.  I fasted once, and I totally gave up alcohol (not because I have a problem, mind you)!  I probably should have gotten another shelf, because this one’s a bit crowded.  You know what, though, I’m gonna clear one of the shelves.  Don’t want to seem to prideful when God gets here.

And so it goes, until the floor is empty, the shelves and drawers are tidy, and the clutter is gone.  Then I’m finally ready for God.  There’s finally room and a space worthy of The Father.  In all the hasty, industrious preparation, I forgot one thing: I just moved the mess.  Right there!  I can see it out my window.  I still own it, and it still owns me.  And the space I made for God is all filled up again with boxes of pride and justification, and buckets of independence—man, that stuff tastes great!  Now I have twice the stuff, and the same cluttered room.

Then I realize that God never wanted me to clean my room, because that’s what He does.  And I remember that it sucks here.  And I can’t make it better.

[1] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come

“The awful grace of God” comes from a wonderful book by William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace, published 2013 by Atria.  Widely available

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