Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grace and the Fallacy of "Arrival"

"The Way of Tranquility" by tafelskiha

All of my adult life, I've been wondering why I haven't "arrived" yet. 

For many people, their 30th birthday is a crisis because they don't want to admit they're getting older.  For me it was a crisis because I had always thought that 30-year-olds would have it all together…and I knew I didn't!  (I didn't have it all together at 40 either, and the prospects for 50 aren't very hopeful.)

So when do I arrive?  What will it look like when I get there?

It's an embarrassing feeling, you know…thinking you're falling short, you're immature, you're a disappointment, or whatever.  I should be past this temptation.  I shouldn't struggle with this any more.  You know the song?

Modern Western "feel-good Christianity" would tell me I need to just rest in God's love and realize that I'm okay just the way I am.  And Scripture definitely does teach us to rest in God's love if we are His children (Rom 8:31-39).

But an honest look at Scripture does not support the idea that, "I'm okay just the way I am."  If I were okay, there would be no need for me to be humble (Jas 4:10, 1 Pet 5:6), to grow (Eph 4:15-16, 1 Pet 2:2, 2 Pet 3:18), to accept correction (Heb 12:5-11), to confess sin (Jas 5:16, 1 John 1:9)…but I am commanded to do these things!  I am unquestionably loved and accepted (Eph 1:6 NKJV), but I'm not yet what I should be.  Scripture warns that I should not be complacent (and implies that I'm a fool if I am – see Pr 1:32).  I am to press on (Php 3:12-14), to strive (Lk 13:24, 1Co 14:12, Heb 4:11), to "work out" my salvation as God works it in me (Php 2:12-13).  I am to walk in a manner worthy of Him and His calling (Eph 4:1, Php 1:27, Col 1:10, 1Th 2:12).  I know these things, so when people tell me to quit concerning myself with my sin, and to work on improving my self-esteem instead, it falls flat on my ears. 

So if I have more striving and working out to do, and more discipline to endure, then how am I to rest in His love and acceptance?  Must I choose between the two truths, or perhaps shuttle between them depending on what kind of day I've had?

Or have I been looking at grace all wrong?

The other day I was having one of those self-disgusted, "I shouldn't still struggle with this" kind-of moments, feeling humiliated that I had to go to God for forgiveness and help once more.  But then the Holy Spirit nudged me with a perspective-changing question:

Do you really think you should have grown beyond needing My grace?

That was a lightning-bolt question, wasn't it?

Into my mind flashed all of the things I've been learning about what grace does.  Grace is the outpouring of God's kindness to us, enabling us to serve Him acceptably, to resist sin, to love Him, to grow, and so much more.

I should outgrow needing grace?  Really?  What foolish, prideful thinking!

Grace isn't a "thing," you know.  It's not a neatly wrapped package that God hands to us from Heaven. 

Grace is nothing less than an undeserved taste of God.

Whatever attribute of His wonderful Self we need, He gives to us…whether it's His kindness, His strength, His mercy, His love, His forgiveness, His wisdom…He gives us a tiny touch of Himself, and everything changes.  That's grace.  To say we ought to outgrow our need of grace is to say we ought to outgrow our need of Him.

We are not just commanded to grow, we are commanded to grow in grace (2 Pet 3:18).  What does that mean?

Can it mean anything less than learning to be utterly dependent on the grace of God, and to draw our lives from Him every moment? 

To answer that question, just ask yourself the opposite.  How much does God want us to walk in our own strength, our own wisdom, our own understanding, our own way?

What if "needing to draw on grace again" is not defeat or a sign of immaturity?  What if a life of moment-by-moment dependence isn't just the route to victory…what if moment-by-moment dependence upon His grace IS victory?  What if "arrival" has nothing to do with reaching a certain level of perfection, and everything to do with maintaining the kind of humble, childlike faith that expects nothing from itself and relies totally on God?  Isn't this what Jesus talked about in John 15, when He said we should abide in Him the way a branch abides on a vine?  Did He ever tell us we should aspire to detach ourselves and go it alone?

If sin is defined as turning away from God, then what is the opposite of turning away?  Isn't it abiding in Him and drawing our every need…drawing constant strength, wisdom, forgiveness, courage, guidance…drawing life itself from Him? 

Doesn't God accept us in the Beloved…in Jesus? 

Perhaps it's time we defined "arrival" by understanding where our destination truly lies.

In Him.

3 comments:

Ed said...

The prospects for someone almost 14 years older don't look good either. Thanks for reminding me that I won't "arrive" until I get There. Blessings.

Tami Boesiger said...

Do you really think you should have grown beyond needing My grace?

Wow. That's a question that will be on my mind all day.

Avalon said...

"What if a life of moment-by-moment dependence isn't just the route to victory…what if moment-by-moment dependence upon His grace IS victory? What if "arrival" has nothing to do with reaching a certain level of perfection, and everything to do with maintaining the kind of humble, childlike faith that expects nothing from itself and relies totally on God?"

Wow, yes! This is exactly what I needed. Cosmic humanism and the world had me believing that I needed to reach that perfection. And I'm still so influenced by that thinking. What freedom! To no longer expect anything from myself; to rely totally on Him. I still can barely grasp this. He is made strong in my weakness. My dependency on Him IS victory. I'm going to have to chew on this for a while, again and again, I'm sure. A very important and powerful message, Betsy. Thank you again for your submission to Him in your writing.

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