Saturday, November 20, 2010

Grace or merit?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often been in the habit a lot of the time that I have to live a certain way, that certain things are inevitable, that there’s a path before me that I can’t change and that no matter what we do, our lives our going down that path. For a long time I’d told myself the lie that my life is destined for failure & rejection. There was a time when I always thought that way, consciously, even when things were good. 

No more. 

Now I know different, I know the truth, I know that all of those things are lies. 

God has been doing some amazing things in my life and changing me in recent years, that has dissipated, almost gone completely from the surface. 

But of course, then something bad or unexpected happens, like the other day with me. Something sudden, unexpected and painful happened which disrupted the momentum I was on, which disrupted the way I’d organised and moved my life on and caused me much stress and frustration, and reminded me of my past which I’d moved on from so well.

It took a bit of time - a day or so - but eventually I succumbed to the old message my heart used to play. That all good things were just a lie and that God was just waiting to ruin my life, to cause me more pain and suffering, that there’s no good thing allowed in my life without me having to suffer at some point for it.

Sounds pathetic doesn’t it? Probably because it is. 

I mean looking back I feel a complete fool for even thinking that or saying that outloud. But the truth is that God knew this was somewhere in me all along and still chose to bless me in all these ways I’ve been blessed - I mean, what an amazing God.

I mean that whole argument I was telling myself makes absolutely no sense. God loves me, Jesus died me, God has blessed me in so many ways in my life, and brought so many good things out of my suffering and grief, and given me so many gifts, so many opportunities and blessings. I am more blessed than a lot of people and have so much to be thankful for. I feel more alive in Jesus than I ever have been, I’m on a journey with Him where I don’t quite know will end, but I am kind of loving it and truly believe that however it turns out, God will use it for good. All that I absolutely believe and know to be true, all the way through to my heart.

But at the very end of my tether, when I had no energy left, no fight left, no mask on, I was totally broken, I realised there was still a very small part of me that simply wouldn’t trust God, that still believed that He has it in for me.

I am really thankful in this situation that I had a very good friend, who sat and listened to me talk about this on Skype for the best part of two hours and get all this out. But I am even more grateful for the next thing they did.

They pointed me to the Bible, to the promises of God. They reminded me of truths I already knew and believed that somehow had got lost in the panic and disruption of the previous day.

That God has good things for me - for us.

That He uses all things for good, no matter what.

That I’m His adopted son, I’m part of His family, and chosen and blessed by Him before time began. Fact.

In my weakness I began to claim these promises again, like it was the first time. Even though at first it was a struggle to believe them, but my friend didn’t give up on me. They kept challenging me ‘Do you really believe them?’ ‘What do they mean for you?’

The more I claimed these promises and started to reflect on them in my life, and interpret these promises for me, the stronger I felt, the more confident I felt that no matter what happened I could overcome this attack of the enemy. I was reminded of things I already knew, I felt I was being renewed, strengthened by the Spirit of God yet again, that yet again God was not giving up on me when things were difficult, that no matter how much a part of me tried to push Him away, He was having none of it.

Ever since then those verses have stuck in my mind, I haven’t forgotten them and I know they are true, no matter what life throws at me. I will always remember those verses and those truths, and that evening. It was a significant moment in my relationship with God. The truths I remembered that night were true, are true and will always be true, for me and for everyone.

And that’s the point.

This applies to us all.

C.S.Lewis once wrote about the idea that once you look at the evidence about Jesus, that you have to conclude that He was either mad, a liar or telling the truth, and once you eliminate the first two then the only conclusion you have left is that He was telling the truth.

One thing that always struck me about that idea and which this situation reminded me of again is that sometimes in our walk with Jesus we aren’t required to necessarily like the fact that He’s true and that the message of the gospel and the cross is true.

But it doesn’t change that it is.

We don’t have to always like the fact Jesus is true, no one has to like it. I don’t like that David Cameron is Prime Minister, for example, but it’s true so I just have to deal with it.  It’s all part of relationship, which is what God really wants with us. There are times when the last thing we want to hear is a scripture quoted to us, and we’re disillusioned with God and doubting Him. 

And we feel guilty for it, like we’ve done something wrong. Or we want God to go away and leave us alone.

But the reality is that this is all part of relationship. God understands that and fortunately for us He’s bigger than that. 

He doesn’t give up on us. He knows this stuff is in our hearts even when we don’t, and He still chooses to bless us and love us. The honest truth is that God knew that I had these subconscious thoughts, that they were deep down there somewhere, even when I didn’t. But He allowed that difficult situation to expose them so that He could open my eyes to them and minister to them, and as I accepted again who He is, and looked again at some of His promises, some of those areas started to be healed and restored, and I developed new coping mechanisms, healthier ones, and was able to begin the process of replacing those old subconscious tapes of lies with new ones of truth - and now I can be more aware of those old tapes there and work with God to remove them.

This is all the process of relationship, it’s what we do in all relationships to a degree, you work through issues together and deal with them, and move forward. This is exactly what we can do with God, and yet again affirms the truth that God isn’t interested in a religious, legalistic faith all about rules, but about a relationship based on certain values.

The best thing of all, for me, is that God still loves us, forgives us, gives us opportunities and blessings, even when all along He sees those insecurities, fears and doubts that we don’t even think we have. He knows so much better than us, takes care of us and is always with us.

He has a rhythm for our lives, a plan that’s much bigger than we understand or know. He knows everything that’s going to happen, all the choices we will make and no matter what He is going to love us, bless us and be there for us.

I mean think of all the doubts, insecurities and fears you’ve had about things in your life, looking back at difficult times - or if you’re in difficult times now. The thing is you see that even in the so-called ‘good times’ those insecurities and doubts were still there, but we just couldn’t see them. God was blessing us, things were good, but He knew all those doubts and insecurities were there even then.

It’s easy in the merit-based culture we live in to think that when something bad happens we’re being punished for something, or that somehow we’re to blame for the bad thing that’s happened, or our doubts and insecurities which these difficult times expose are somehow the reason why the good times have stopped.

But that’s a lie. That’s the lie I think I believed for a long time. 

That’s why grace is so scandalous and hard to accept, because this merit-based view of the world is so deeply ingrained in our culture. That’s why I’ve struggled to accept grace at times, because somewhere inside believed in that merit-based view of God for too long, and combined with a lack of self-esteem in my younger years it’s proved a deadly combination. 

But a merit-based faith comes from a religious, legalistic view of God, and as I said, it’s a lie. 

God wants relationship. He wants our hearts. He has a way He wants us to life, and the invitation is to join our lives to that story, that rhythm and reorder our lives and values around that. He loves and accepts us just as we are - but He loves us way too much for us to stay that way. 

There is an invitation - to believe the scandal of grace, to join your life with God’s and let Him reshape you into the shape He originally had for you, and receive His unconditional love, grace and blessing. 

Are you ready to accept that blessing?

Have you believed that you somehow have to earn God’s blessing?

Have you believed that bad things that have happened to you are somehow punishment from God, or that something has been denied you because of something you did?

How did you respond the last time something painful and unexpected happened?

Is your relationship with God based on grace, or merit?

Posted via email from James Prescott