Grace :: It’s Simple Math

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Grace :: It’s Simple Math

Grace is hard work. And most the time it doesn’t add up. I think this is why so many people reject it as the default mode of their lives. God actually expects us to:

  • Be kind to people who aren’t always kind in return.
  • Forgive people who don’t deserve to be forgiven.
  • Be generous to people who don’t necessarily appreciate our openhandedness.
  • Surrender our personal agendas on behalf of the best interests of the people closest to us—even if they aren’t inclined to do the same for us.
  • Be humble even though it makes it easier for the pushy and arrogant people around us to sometimes get credit for our efforts.

In the early years of my spiritual journey, God’s grace was just an abstract concept. I had no idea what it was supposed to look like in the interactions with the people closest to me. The only concrete grasp I had of God’s grace was the role it played in the salvation of sinners—the lost/found, blind/see role. But grace kept pestering me. And then an epiphany day came when the “what” and the “how” of God’s applied grace became crystal clear. It’s the day God answered my search for answers to real-time grace by distilling it down to a single sentence in my brain: “A grace-based relationship is simply treating the people you love the way God treats you.” Up to that point I thought I had good reason to be impatient and reactive to my wife or kids when they did something annoying. I thought I was justified in balancing a chip on my shoulder and evening up the score when they gave me reason to. But then the question would come, “Is that how God deals with me when I do things that annoy Him or otherwise do Him wrong?” The more I wrapped my head and heart around that single definition of God’s applied grace—“treat others the way God treats you”—the more I knew that obedience demanded that I let the flavor and texture of His gracious heart redefine my heart. The only problem was that I wasn’t inclined in my selfishness and spiritual laziness to do that. I knew it would require a lot of effort on my part.  I’d have to stop doing certain things I preferred doing and start doing other things that I’d always struggled to do. It became obvious that there’s no way I, (or you, or anyone else) could do this without consistently maintaining an intimate heart-connection with Jesus. He’s got to be the power source of our gracious heart—otherwise, we’re just conjuring up some homemade “nice”. Nice and grace aren’t synonyms. Maintaining heart-connection meant I’d need to give more than lip service to the role of the Bible in my life. I’d need to read it, study it, and meditate on it on a regular (i.e., daily) basis. The other three commitments I’d have to make were to prayer, worship, and service … substantive, passionate, and sacrificial. No way around it. I realize I could easily be accused of distilling God’s grace down to a checklist. I realize that checklists are knockoffs for legalism. And I also realize that there are lots of Christians reading their Bibles, praying, worshipping, and serving others on a regular basis who aren’t even in the area code of a grace-led life. But those accusations come at you any time you try to put some kind of form or function to a lived-out faith. All I know is that relationship assumes certain choices and commitments. You can do them for right reasons or wrong ones, but it’s hard to maintain a relationship without them. Which brings me back to treating others the way God treats me. If I was going to live a life where I consistently agreed to set aside my ego needs, own my mess, keep the accent of my life on others, and grant a lot of forgiveness—I knew it couldn’t be done in my own power. These things only happen when Jesus is sitting in the driver’s seat. And that only happens with a consistent relationship with Him maintained through time in His Word, time on our knees, time in deep worship, and enthusiastic service to others. Hard. It took me quite a while to get to where I was willing to pay the price tag that came with operating in the power of God’s grace. And, like getting up while it’s still dark and going to the gym or saying “No thanks” to dessert, it’s always a challenge. But there’s one thought I’d like to leave you with that might make you consider wanting to sign up for the work required to enjoy on-going grace-filled relationships. It’s less work—in the long run—than what you have waiting for you if you don’t. It’s simple math. Although the self-absorbed life looks easier in the moment, when you run it out over a lifetime, it’s immensely more work than treating others graciously. Living lives that cater to our ego needs and accommodate our selfish wants creates ENORMOUS TOIL for our emotions and puts MASSIVE STRESS on our most valuable relationships. Disappointment, distrust, discouragement, defensiveness, and interpersonal debt—to some degree or the other—are the ghosts that haunt relationships when our selfish best-interest own the high ground. That’s why, when we do the math, we all save ourselves so much effort when we do the disciplined work that goes with maintaining a heart-connection with God through His Word, prayer, worship, and service. And in the meantime, we get to enjoy the up-side of it all – hearts filled with His grace and relationships that flourish because of it.    

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