Friday, February 11, 2011

When You Forget About Grace

When I feel run down and in need of restoration, I am compelled to be near the water.  I don’t mean when I’ve had a bad day, or feeling a little stressed.  I mean when I’ve reached a point where I cannot find calmness anymore, the point where unrest has defeated rest, the point at which I might describe myself as a tortured soul – preoccupied with sin, anchorless, incapable of perspective.  A few minutes near the water and I am, at least for some period of time, centered again.  This past weekend, I went away to restore my soul with water.  As soon as I left, I had as my mission to take in whatever God presented to me.  I would not search for Him, or demand an encounter (I’ve done this before and it didn’t work).  I would just be and whatever happened, I would soak in and enjoy.  I felt blessed just to have the ability to seclude myself with my daughter, knowing that millions of people in the world have no such opportunity, ever.

While away, a special convergence in my soul occurred.  It was an encounter with God that, as usual, was unexpected.  You see, in the last several months, I think I’ve somehow forgotten about grace.  I mean, not really, not in the ultimate sense, but sort of.  I do not doubt my salvation.  But I had stopped allowing God’s grace to reach me in the everyday sense.

So this doesn’t become too esoteric, let me provide an example: I heard of a friend of a friend’s husband who has had some serious health problems.  I was told he may not make it for much longer and he needs prayer.  I said I would pray.  I do pray.  But, do you know what the very first thing I thought was?  “I hope the funeral isn’t on one of the days I’ll be gone because then I’ll have to change my trip and I’ve really been looking forward to that trip.”  Can you believe this?  Such depravity of heart.  The beating to which I subjected my soul after I thought this was legendary, immeasurable, unstoppable.  “What kind of person says this?  How can you call yourself a follower of Christ?  Can you imagine if others knew this about you?  Who would listen to you then?” This goes on and on and on.  It is toxic and became so normal (and not just about this one expression of my own heart’s un-goodness, but many others) over the last several weeks that it turned into a focal point: the depravity of my heart.  So secret, so clear, so prevalent, so hopeless.

You see why I needed to be restored.  I needed a reminder of grace, but I couldn’t get there intellectually.  I couldn’t talk myself into it.  I start every morning by reading a part of the Old Testament, a part of the New Testament, a Psalm, and a Proverb.  Then, I read the daily reading from Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest.”  Yesterday, I was in such a rush to get to the water, on my last day out of the tundra that is Chicago, I decided I would do my reading on the plane home.  I sat before the waves, listening as they crashed so rhythmically, eyes closed, and remembering the reading from the day before about Eli and Samuel, I said: “Speak, Lord.”  Then I said it again, desperate to hear.  “Speak, Lord.”  A few minutes later, after concluding I would not hear from God in that moment, I heard this:

“Stop focusing on your sin.  You are free of it.  Focus on what I want you to do.”

That was it!  That was the problem!  I had cut off (or quenched, as Paul would say (1 Thess. 5:19)) the Spirit. I had entered a new kind of self-centeredness.  I had become so focused on my lack of goodness, not in acts necessarily, but in heart, where it really counts, that I had lost focus on what God had called me to do.  I recalled a favorite passage from Hebrews that I have studied and repeated to others as encouragement:  “And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”  (Heb. 10:21-22)  My spirit lifted, and I felt new.  Like I had heard about, and felt deep within me the power of, grace all over again.

Then, I got to the daily Oswald Chambers reading and it was upon reading this that everything came together.

“Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the Gospel of God.  The one thing that is all important is that the Gospel of God should be realized as the abiding Reality.  Reality is not human goodness, nor holiness, nor heaven, nor hell; but Redemption; and the need to perceive this is the most vital need of the Christian worker today.  As workers we have to get used to the revelation that Redemption is the only Reality.  Personal holiness is an effect, not a cause, and if we place our faith in human goodness, in the effect of Redemption, we shall go under when the test comes.”

Later, he says: “As long as our eyes are upon our own personal whiteness we shall never get near the reality of Redemption.  Workers break down because their desire is for their own whiteness, and not for God.”

I had my eyes upon my own personal whiteness.  And, in this way, I was far from Redemption.  I was broken down, in need of restoration, because I was desiring my own goodness, holiness (and frightened by the lack of it), instead of desiring God.  Living with a desire for my own goodness and holiness is living outside of Reality.  No wonder I felt so tortured and restless.

When we have trusted our lives to Christ, we may go right into the presence of God because our guilty consciences have been washed clean by the blood of Christ.  We need not, indeed, should not, for it is insulting to what Christ did for us, to focus on our sin.  We are free of it.  We need only focus on what God has called us to do – to preach the Gospel in whatever way He has called us to do it.  Not to state the obvious, but there is freedom, true, reckless, glorious freedom, in the reality of redemption.  Live there.  When you realize you’re not, when you forget about grace, step back in.

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