Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eager Grace

Prodigal Son IMG_0599

Image by OZinOH via Flickr

Consider these two scenarios:

1.  A rebellious child greedily abuses the common graces he is shown, and refuses the extra graces he could have received if he'd been right with his parents.  His parents are angry, fed up.  They're cutting off communication, taking whatever jabs they can take at him, and trying to figure out how to make him suffer enough to…(they might tell themselves they want him to suffer enough to repent, and that may be partially true, but if they take an honest look at themselves, they will see that they really want him to suffer enough to pay for all of the suffering he's caused them.)

2.  A rebellious child greedily abuses the common graces he is shown, and refuses the extra graces he could have received if he'd been right with his parents.  His parents are eager to show him special grace, but he just spurns it.  Grace flows from them, but he will not repent.  The parents provide loving discipline and are not permissive, but always exude eagerness to show as much grace as the child is able to receive.

At this point, you might want me to draw some sort of prophetic picture, telling the future of these two families based on how the parents responded.  But I can't do that.  The most perfect parent who ever existed (God Himself) had kids that went horribly astray.  Children are not modeling clay, and we can't form them into whatever we choose.  The child whose heart seems to be with you at first may turn out to be a rebel.  And the rebel may repent (Matt 21:28-32).  God alone knows.

I can tell you that I have tended to be more like parent #1, but I want to be more like parent #2.  Why?

1.  I no longer believe that parent #2 is a sucker.

2.  I want to present God's grace in a tangible way, so that my children will perceive God as gracious and willing…no, eager to forgive.

3.  I want to remain in God's grace myself, enjoying Him as He flows through me to others.

4.  I want to know that I did the best I could for my children.

How eager are we to be gracious?

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'  But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate."  (Luke 15:20-24, emphasis added.)

I wonder, would the son have even bothered coming back, if he'd had a father like parent #1?

Can we extend these thoughts beyond our families?  How eager are we to extend God's grace to our neighbor, to the homeless, to the elderly infirm, to the debauched, to our enemy?  I didn't ask, "how willing," but "how eager?"

How different would we be if such eagerness characterized us?  What expression would habitually shape our faces?  What softness would sound in the tone of our voice?  What hopefulness would shine from our eyes?  How different would we be from the world around us?

Would those who long for grace feel drawn to us?  Do they feel that way now?

I'm sure some of you are quite free with God's grace, and I am thankful for you.  But as for the rest of us, why are we not more eager to extend God's grace to others?  Having received it freely from Him, are we now going to be stingy about giving it (Matt 10:8 NKJV)?  Are we afraid of people abusing His grace?  Do we resent the burdens others place on us, or are we hindered by selfish motives (1 Pet 5:2)?

Could it be that we've never tasted His grace at all?  We've taken His common graces for granted, and perhaps…dare I say it…perhaps there are some among my readers who have named the name of Christ for years, but do not really know Him?  Perhaps some have no overflow to give, because there's no flow coming from Above.  That was my story, for most of my life.  I would be guilty of great sin if I didn't at least ask sometimes for people to examine themselves, as Paul commanded (2 Co 13:5).

Whatever the reasons, I know that today was the first day in my life that I was ever aware of eagerness to show grace.  It is a wonderful feeling, and I know it is nothing short of a miraculous answer to prayer.

I also have felt the usual old flesh coming through plenty of times, of course.  So can we keep praying for one another…not just that we would show common grace, but that we would be eager to show it, and eager to show special grace whenever we possibly can?

If the whole body of Christ were like that, what would happen in our world?

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Ed said...

Betsy, thanks again for wonderful insights. It seems the distinction between eagerness and willingness is much like the contrast of devotion with duty. I wonder how often I do my duty, but not out of devotion. Keep up the good work!

Karin said...

Over the years, I have seen both scenarios that you describe. Very interesting situations. Sometimes a child develops a sense of entitlement - always expecting grace, mercy, generosity, etc. to be shown but makes no effort to be grateful,demonstrate grace to others, and just simply has great expectations. Some folks I see have no boundaries and only give grace so that they will be liked or to keep the peace. But, God sees the motive of each heart and He alone can change a heart. Good, challenging post. Thanks!

Betsy Markman said...

You make an excellent point that underscores our confusion about what grace is. We tend to think of grace as permissiveness, and letting the kids get away with stuff. But God's grace isn't like that at all. It's His grace that takes me to the woodshed, too. Anything that is designed to draw me closer to God comes from His Grace. Anything that is not designed to draw me closer to God cannot be gracious. Permissiveness hardens us in sin, so permissiveness is the opposite of graciousness. But how often do we think of it that way?
And then, of course, so often our "discipline" is more like punishment...just designed to vent our anger and get revenge, instead of graciously trying to restore through loving disciplinary action.
For most of my life, I thought there were only two parenting options...permissiveness or harshness. I'm praying that God will show me what gracious parenting looks like; both when it disciplines and when it shows its gentler side.

LauraLee Shaw said...

Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Should I say it again? Amen!

Vonnie said...

I love the part when the father RUNS to meet his son. God is so like that! He is watching and waiting for his child to turn around, to repent. He is so willing to give and give and give!

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