I keep hearing a great deal about God’s ‘grace’ these days but seeing very little of it from Christians. And quite honestly, I have little use for empty words and false piety when it comes to some of the commentary on God’s grace.
My take on Christianity (whether Catholic or Evangelical) is that Christianity is meant to be a grace, mercy and compassion-filled intimacy with God as experienced in Jesus; a relationship based more on freedom than rules to follow, hoops to jump through or religiosity.
Most of us, if we are honest, take this relationship as an “outward-in” approach, which is more often than not based on human effort rather than God’s.
As I keep learning, God’s grace is both quite comforting and disturbing. It is comforting because it cannot in any way ever be earned by any human effort. It is disturbing for precisely the same reasons: it cannot be earned by any human effort and it flows and is given to whomever God so chooses and whomever asks regardless of whether I like it or not.
Some 2,000 years ago the people that “got” the message of Jesus best were often the ones who had been shut out of grace the most: prostitutes, the untouchables, the rejected and scorned, the poor, orphans, widows (all women for that matter), the hopeless and helpless, even the betrayers known as the tax collectors (those whom worked for the Empire siphoning money from their brothers and sisters to earn a living).
The ones who did not get it were the so-called ‘righteous’, the pious, those who tried (in vain) to follow the “letter of the law” thereby blocking the very vein from which flowed God.
I fear that there are many today (myself included sometimes) who are falling prey to the same tendencies, turning this truly amazing grace – this absolutely upsetting and freeing Grace – into an outward appearance. And this Outward-in approach is a shell for the real deal, a con job hidden in human effort rather than hidden in God.
The truth is that God’s disturbing and comforting grace is a complete Inside-out job. We come into relationship with God and he changes us; and he does so from the inside-out! In no way, shape or form do we author or control the changing. God does. All we can truly do is ask in faith, be open and receive. We ask for God to come to us, to take over every facet of our lives, and God does the changing and in his time, in his way working and molding us like soft clay on the Master’s wheel.
This can be quite disturbing to many ‘Christians.’ For it is not about appearances, church attendance, the size or particular theological ‘slant’ of your church, or buildings, or even based on piety or how spiritual we are. It is solely about God’s grace, not our effort.
Grace gently (and sometimes not so gently) reminds us that this sorting out of our relationship with God is in truth a lifelong journey as well as the journey of a lifetime. As it was said to me a long time ago: “the life of faith is struggle enough in a broken world without us [people] complicating it for others.”
This journey is about God: it starts with God and it ends with God with all the gaps in between filled in by God as well. We must let go of the urge to control and force (wicked hard for a control freak like me) and simply let God ‘control’ those ways and moments – the ones in which he comes to us (and others) with his disquieting experience of a Love undeserved yet freely given.
And it is vital to a life of faith to not compare our journey with others and to remember (re-member): God comes to each of us in different time frames and in different ways. I’m not talking about ‘relativism’ here, where there are different truths for different people. No, I’m merely speaking of God’s timetable versus ours. We live by the clock…God dwells in Eternity. It is however about trusting God…in all things, with all things, and in all ways.
Oh yes, the life of faith and grace is about trust (another hard one for me): I trust God’s process in you and I trust God’s process in me. And I trust God’s process for us together. It is not about forcing things, either for ourselves or others, for that is the Outward-in job approach and this is a total Inside-out job.
If I was going to give advice (let’s just call this a ‘suggestion’), I would say stop trying so hard to make something happen with God. Ask him to make himself known to you. The truth and promise is that he will make himself known to you, guaranteed.
One thing I am learning that I will share with you is this: I try to pray without expectations and instead pray with expectancy. The former controls (and therefore closes us off to) the many ways God reveals himself; the latter opens us up to the divinely hopeful knowledge that God will indeed come to us. Trust God with all the details of your life, from the mundane to the intense, from your joys to your anger and doubt…oh yes, God is indeed big enough to handle ALL your truths and will embrace them into his tender, eternal Love! I’ll stop now, but before I do, I’ll add this (and I’m sure this is going to upset some folks): your failures don’t matter that much to God. He will just keep showing you how “real” he wants to be in your life!
And that, my friends, is indeed a comforting and disturbing Grace.