…And Grace My Fears Relieved…

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

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Amazing Grace, lyrics by John Newton

As I write this, a massive hurricane looms in the Atlantic Ocean, devastating the Bahamas, and threatening several major cities along the southeastern coast of the United States. There is much fear, danger, and distress for people living in these areas, for their families, and for compassionate people watching helplessly from a distance. What can anyone DO in the face of such raw power and destruction? What hope or comfort can we offer?

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There are many questions we cannot answer in times like this– we can offer no definitive explanation why hurricanes form, how they behave, why they change courses, grow, shrink, or when or where they will make landfall. There are many actions we cannot take– we can’t stop a hurricane, or shift its course, weaken it or make it go away (though scientists and others have been trying for decades). We cannot provide immediate “fixes” for the damage that hurricanes (or other weather emergencies) leave behind.. roads and houses take time to rebuild; fields and forests must be replanted; families must heal and grieve.

What we can offer seems, on the surface, to be insufficient and condescending– we offer prayers, reassurance that God sees and knows and cares, we say, “trust in God and His promises.” And many sneer at such “gifts. God doesn’t promise to steer the hurricanes away from our loved ones, or our own villages or cities or islands. God doesn’t promise that we won’t experience disaster, fear, pain, or grief. God doesn’t promise us days of sunshine with never a cloud, or storm or loss.

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What God DOES promise is Grace– not comfort, not ease, not happiness– something mysterious, undeserved, and unexpected. God’s grace is sufficient– it is enough– through ANY and EVERY circumstance when we ask for it. ENOUGH–never lacking, never too much for us to use, but just right for His good purpose and our best interest in learning to know Him.

Grace doesn’t take away the storms of life; it allows us to experience victory in, through, and in spite of the storms. Grace makes us strong enough, brave enough, wise enough, healthy enough, kind enough, rich enough, and “good enough” to get to the next step in our journey. It may fall short of what we expect, or envy, or dream of for ourselves, but it is never too little to be useful. God’s economy is not about bigger and better, grander or “more.” Because “More” is never “enough”– there is never enough money to buy a longer life; there is never enough strength to defeat heartache and loneliness; never enough goodness to eradicate the injustices of a hundred wicked generations. Bad things will happen. Loved ones will be wounded or killed. Homes and roads and villages will be destroyed. But God is faithful to comfort us, strengthen us, sustain us, and give us a new vision, a new hope, and a new life. Only God is big enough, rich enough, strong enough, and wise enough to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+3%3A20-21&version=NKJV. The amazing part is that He sends us the Grace we need to be part of the unfolding story–just what we need, just when we need it most– not because of anything we have done, but because of His great compassion.

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Grace doesn’t take away the storms of life– this may seem unfair and cruel. God, even a loving God– allows us to weather storms, even to be broken and crushed by them. But God also brings blessing, renewal, healing, comfort, hope, and a renewed sense of purpose, compassion, and vision. These things often come only after the storm. Storms can bring us to a point of fear and despair, or to faith and dependence. Grace is a gift–God won’t force us to acknowledge or accept His Grace. We can choose to tremble at the storm’s approach, or rage, or try to run away. But God’s offer means we never have to face the storm alone.

Grace won’t take away the storms in our lives– and it won’t make us foolishly fearless in the face of hurricanes. But it can relieve our fears and give us the courage and wisdom to face even the fiercest trials in life; even the fiercest storms that rage. And isn’t that an Amazing hope?! Our prayers may seem small; our hope may seem insignificant– because we are not “enough” . But we serve a God and pray to a God who holds the future in His hand. Our prayers are held in the same hands– our faith is in the one who is more than “enough” to face the storm and relieve our fears.

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All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

Once For All…

Hebrews 9:11-15 World English Bible (WEB)

11 But Christ having come as a high priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, 12 nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh: 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without defect to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

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Some chores just never end– laundry, trash, sweeping, making the bed, doing up the dishes, mowing the lawn/shoveling the drive or sidewalk– the list goes on.  Simple chores, but repetitive and sometimes annoying.  And they are all necessary– if someone doesn’t do them, the whole family (sometimes the whole neighborhood!) suffers.

Today, I’m so grateful for the promise that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient– He redeemed us completely and forever through the shedding of His blood.  It’s a done deal!  It is FINISHED!  All that the ancient sacrifices represented has been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Messiah.  Atonement and reconciliation are available for the asking.  We still need to seek His face; to turn from our sin and humble our hearts before our maker.  But the Holy Spirit makes it possible to lay the guilt and burden of sin at the foot of the cross and walk away free and unencumbered.

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Someday, even the mundane chores of this world will come to an end.  Many of the tasks we do every day involve maintenance– maintenance of our earthly bodies (hygiene, eating and/or dieting, dressing, etc.), maintenance of our earthly homes (dusting, sweeping, washing, painting), and maintenance of the earth around us (lawn care, neighborhood beautification, trash pick-up, caring for trees, pets, gardens, etc.).  But better by far, the “chore” of cleaning up after our sins and mistakes and emotional scars will be forgotten in the joy of our eternal restoration.

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We live in this knowledge and hope even now– one day we will live in the full reality.  Every reminder, every vestige and speck of sin will be banished, never to be dug up or brought to mind.  Relationships won’t just be patched up– they will be fully restored.  Consequences will be expunged; hurts and damages erased and completely healed.

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Once for all–for all time, for all who place their trust in Messiah, for all the breadth and depth of words, actions, thoughts, deeds, consequences, injuries–Once for ALL!

Why Ask Why?

I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot lately in regards to this blog.  Why am I spending my time writing about prayer?  Wouldn’t I be better served to spend my time productively– making something useful, keeping the apartment cleaner, going to the gym–even spending more time in prayer instead of dissecting it and babbling on to an invisible audience?

But the truth is that I began writing this blog in response to another question, a more basic question thrown at me (not personally, but thrown out to all who believe in the power of prayer)–  “WHY?”  They weren’t asking the question because they really wanted to know my reasons for praying; instead, they wanted to make me feel ashamed and embarrassed, to doubt God’s goodness and my faith.  In fact, they weren’t asking “WHY” so much as asking “HOW”.  How can you continue to believe in God and continue praying in light of random shootings, manifest injustices, rampant corruption, and senseless tragedies?  How can you say that God is good, when people continue to get away with evil?  If God exists, where is he, and how can you just sit back and trust in him?

The fact that I DO continue to trust God doesn’t mean I don’t have questions and concerns, and even righteous anger about the state of the world and the tragedies that fill it.  The questions come pouring out, sometimes keeping me awake at night, sometimes catching me at a raw moment and they are important questions.  To pretend that I never wrestle or struggle with the questions is to say that good and evil, justice and mercy, that God himself– none of it really matters enough to seek an answer.  God forbid!!

But there is a vast difference in asking “Why?” and asking “How? or How come?”

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Consider a small child who asks, “Why is the sky blue?”  (Don’t you just love the inquisitiveness of small children?)  “Well…” I can explain that the sky itself isn’t really blue…I can go on to talk about scientific principals– the property of light, refraction through water molecules and dust particles, and more..I can point out that the sky doesn’t always appear blue, etc.  At the end of my long and factual discourse (assuming the child hasn’t already interrupted), s/he is likely to simply shake their head and ask, “But, why?”  WHY?  Because I haven’t really answered the heart of the question.  I explained HOW, not WHY.

Now suppose I don’t feel like being pedantic, and I answer “Because.”  You can guess what comes next.  The child will ask, “Because WHY?”  Because “Because” isn’t a sufficiently satisfactory answer.  The child wants more; he/she yearns for more comprehension; more understanding.

As an adult, we find this kind of questioning frustrating and annoying.  I think it is because we have been conditioned to think that questions either have a “How come” explanation that sweeps away much of the wonder and mystery, or a “because” answer that leaves us unsatisfied.

As an adult, I may well ask, “Why is there evil in the world?”  This is an important question; one I should be asking.  Experts can and will give me all kinds of “how” answers– how the brain is wired, how emotions work, how society has failed various groups of people, how political structures create oppression, how religion teaches intolerance, how poor diet or lack of sunny days … there are a million explanation of “how” evil exists or why it persists.  And many of these explanations contradict each other, so they can’t even give a conclusive answer.  But just throwing up my hands, and saying, “just because” does nothing to answer my question OR provide understanding that could help alleviate the effects of evil in the world.  “Because” communicates my powerlessness to comprehend.

BUT

Something amazing happens when I stop merely asking people for answers to these questions and start asking God.  I don’t get a magical, comprehensive, incontrovertible answer to life’s thorny questions.  God doesn’t send me a “cheat sheet” with all the “right” answers.  I’m not suddenly an expert on good and evil or what should be done to eliminate crime and disease and poverty.  I still have to wade through the “how come” explanations and use my limited judgment to decide what course of action I can take to try to make a positive difference.  And I will make some mistakes along the way.  But when GOD says, “Because”, there is an authority, a majesty, and a wisdom that can never be present in my answer.  I say “because,” because I have no more to say; no better answer.  God says, “Because,” because HE IS the cause!  And he gives explanations in his word for many of my questions– even if I don’t like the answers!  He doesn’t explain “how come” the sky is blue– he causes it to be blue.  “Why is the sky blue?”  God says so.  “But why?”  Because He is God and I am not.  God explains “how come” there is evil in the world– it’s called SIN–but he doesn’t leave it there.  “Why?”  Because we have the free will to choose good or evil.  “Why?”  Because God wants willing obedience and loving companionship with us.  “Why?” Because God is love!  “So why does he allow evil to continue?”  Because he has a plan that involves redemption and restoration and renewal.  He is the cause of this plan, it’s author and finisher.  Moreover, he is the cause of my desire to ask “why?”, to seek for a more fulfilling answer, to yearn for a solution to the very evil that prompts my questions.

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I won’t stop asking “why.”  Not because I don’t have any answer, or because I don’t know the answer.  It’s just that the answer is so much bigger, so much better, so much MORE than I can handle in the shortness of this lifetime.  And it’s important that I not only keep asking the question, but that I keep defending the answer.

 

1 Peter 3:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

 

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