Sunday night held a wonderful moment of "felt grace."
Night owl that I am, I crawled between the sheets shortly before midnight; my heart full of the devotions I'd just finished, my brain fogged with sleepiness, and a 6 a.m. alarm awaiting me all too soon.
In other words, it was a fairly normal night.
As usual when my brain is too tired to stay awake much longer, I had a choice to make. Should I spend my remaining waking minutes in prayer, or in reviewing the many memory verses I hadn't gotten to yet that day?
I usually default to the memory verses. But last night the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow it.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding." It wasn't just a random childhood memory verse coming to the fore. It was a verse powerfully brought to mind by the Spirit, illuminated in a whole new way.
You want to fill your head with my Word, but you don't want to bring your heart to Me.
When the Spirit speaks, His conviction feels cleansing, purifying, even freeing. Not at all like a guilt trip. So this Word felt like the wonderful act of grace that it was.
He was right, of course. Memorization is wonderful and necessary, but it's not enough. I tend to trust in my own understanding of Scriptures, apart from the Spirit's application of it in my life, and I tend to feel (subconsciously) that reviewing verses is just as helpful to me as praying. Wrong! When I think that way, I'm leaning on my own understanding of Scripture more than trusting in Him.
By all means, memorize! Memorize tons! But let memorization bring you to the throne of grace. Come to Christ with what the Scripture reveals to your heart. Ask for His transforming work. That's what grace taught me last night. (Oh sure, I'd heard that truth before, but it didn't sink in until grace touched it.)
I wrote the previous paragraphs early Monday morning. And Monday turned out to be a really, really rough day. The kind of day that often sends me plummeting into a morass of simmering rage, basted with self-pity.
On this particular bad day, I did blow my top a couple of times, but overall, I felt God's grace more than I ever have on a day like that.
You see, sometimes grace is about giving us happy times, but if that's all grace could be, then it would be pretty shallow. Sometimes, like on Monday, it's about bringing us closer to Our Loving Father and seeing the change that His touch can make in even the worst of days. And it's about empowering us to love, even when those we love are driving us nuts.
Grace moves us Godward. It could not do less and still be gracious.
But what about those times when we don't feel God's grace? Has He abandoned us?
If we are truly God's children, adopted through faith in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:5), then He promises to complete the good work which He began in us (Php 1:6). And sometimes that means bringing us to the end of ourselves.
In my life it meant years of depression, believing that death would be preferable to life, rage at God for all of my troubles, and eventually stripping away my prideful religious veneer until I heard myself saying with all the venom in my soul, "God, You're a cosmic sadist and I hate You!"
Amazingly enough, if you were to ask me when was the first time I ever truly felt the grip of God's love, my mind would instantly go back to the moment I said that. (Please read the entry called "Feeling His Grip" to get that whole story.) I had to get to that moment in order to finally be freed of my own misconceptions about my spiritual superiority. It was grace that broke me, so that I would stop my headlong rush toward destruction. It was grace that eventually turned me Godward.
Now, God may not need to use a sledgehammer approach on you like He did with this old tough nut, but in every life there are times when grace must be firm. Love must be tough. And when we're hurting, grace may seem completely absent until the suffering ends and hindsight shows us how He led us through it all.
Always remember, whether it's pain or pleasure, loss or gain, joy or grief…
anything that moves you toward the only True God, through Jesus Christ His Son, is grace!