(A few months ago, I shared some personal reflections on grace with my congregation. Since grace is such a central part of my faith (or at least I’m trying to make it that way) and since the intersection of faith and life in suburbia is on-topic here, I thought maybe I should post my reflections here, too…)
Roughly eight years ago, I read Philip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace”. It has possibly had more effect on how I approach Christian faith than any other influence since. Grace, says Yancey, is our “last best word”. I have found this to be the case. I ask myself, “What do I have to offer to the world? Or, what evidence do I have that Christian belief is authentic?” (And those are valid questions, because unfortunately there is a lot of stuff that originates with the church that isn’t very pretty.) When I have little faith left, I ask similar questioins: “Why should I believe any of this Christian stuff? What keeps me from walking away?” The answer is Grace.
Here, you have to understand a little of where my mind is coming from. I’m a scientist. I weigh evidence. I dissect arguments. I’ve been trained to doubt. And for some reason that I can’t fully explain, Grace withstands my scrutiny. In my mind, I can tear down just about everything about Christianity. Not Grace. Perhaps, it’s because I see Grace as the only thing that can keep humanity from ripping the world apart. Even if the Church doesn’t do it well, I haven’t found it anywhere else.
Well – that’s a glimpse of the dark, doubting corner of my mind. When I’m operating there, it may be because I’m going through a faith crisis, so let’s move on from the darkness to being amazed by Grace.
One area where Grace has amazed me is prayer. I love prayer. I’m not very good at it, but I love it anyway. I love stories about people who wrestle in prayer – who have the audacity to wrestle with God in prayer. Consider this Psalm:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise him in the heights!
Now consider that it was brought to us by the same people who gave us:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
How do you pray something like that? And how do you get it included in Scripture? I cringe when I hear that. But I’ve come to realize that God knows that we have this darkness in our hearts whether we speak it or not. And God, in God’s Grace, is big enough to sort through our junk (insert your own more colorful word), especially when we’re honest with it. The end result is that Grace purifies our prayers. Amazing.
Jim Croegaert has a song that says:
Here by the water
I’ll build an altar to praise You
Out of the stones that I’ve found here
I’ll set them down here
Rough as they are
Knowing You can make them holy
I’ve seen these stones that he’s talking about. There’s a stream near our house where my girls like to play. They find shells and crayfish and even snakes. And they turn over all the rocks – all the slimy, mucky, muddy rocks. It’s not pretty. But this is what God makes holy. It’s Grace.
I’ve come to realize it’s how God relates to us, and it’s how we’re to relate to the world. Sometimes, I think we Christians (and by we, I mean me) are hesitant to interact with the world for fear of getting stained with the muck and sin of the world. But I think God might prefer if I trust in the cleansing power of Grace a bit more and dare to get a little dirty in the process of sharing his love. As Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly.” Allow Grace to be amazing.