Skip to main content

7 invitations to grace

Image from americanvision.org
I have the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, on my bookshelf. I have never read it. One of the reasons is because being highly effective is not one of my priorities. And that is because I don't think I can really control the effect I have in this world and on other people. Though I might do everything in my power to change a situation, in the end people choose whether or not they embrace change. Don't get me wrong, it appears that Covey has some very good advice which can help people develop good personal work habits and help them work better within a team setting, but like any self-help or self-improvement book, it probably focuses on what we must do to change ourselves and our environment. There is usually little room made for failure, for things we cannot change, for getting stuck. There tends to be little talk of receiving kindness and acknowledging that we are at the mercy of grace. Instead of another self-help book, I would like to offer another way: the way of grace.

I recently read an interview with Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham's grandson) in which he explains the subtle way in which we as Christians have twisted the gospel to be more about doing something for Jesus instead of what Jesus has done for us. I see myself in his critique. I want to be a better person so I focus on making better decisions, being a more loving person, being more grateful, being consistent and faithful in my commitments (with God's help, of course), and the road I end up on is self-improvement instead of self-surrender. Let me quote Tullian:

...it seems that the good news of God’s grace has been tragically hijacked by an oppressive religious moralism that is all about rules, rules, and more rules; doing more, trying harder, self-help, getting better, and fixing, fixing, fixing–—ourselves, our kids, our spouse, our friends, our enemies, our culture, our world. Christianity is perceived as being a vehicle for good behavior and clean living and the judgments that result from them rather than the only recourse for those who have failed over and over again. The fact is, that the solution to restraint-free immorality is not morality. The solution to immorality is the free grace of God. Only undeserved grace can truly melt and transform the heart. The route by which the New Testament exhorts sacrificial love and obedience is not by tempering grace but by driving it home. Charles Spurgeon nailed it when he said, “When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I beat my breast to think I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so and sought my good.” 

The law, at least, assures us that we determine our own destiny—we get to maintain control, the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because it breeds a sense of manageability. It keeps life formulaic and predictable. It keeps earning-power in our camp. The logic of law makes sense. The logic of grace doesn’t. Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. It’s not rational. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness. It wrestles control out of our hands and destroys our safe, conditional world.

While I hear myself cheering at Tullian's words, I find it very difficult to get myself to the place of grace (even those words "get myself" are rather telling in how counter-intuitive grace is). However, there are some entrance points, some doorways, some thin places where it seems easier to slip into the big easy-chair of grace, to put my weight into it and rest for a bit. These are not ways to regain control nor ways to ensure that things go right. No, these are just a few things that I have found helpful in positioning myself to receive grace instead of defaulting to self-improvement. These are invitations to receive grace and stop trying to do it all myself. These are not really habits at all, but ways to open our hands, our heads, our hearts, our lives to receive the gift of grace. Because grace is not a skill one can develop; it is a gift we must receive.

1. Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of doing it wrong, of the future, of people, of what my past failures may have set in motion. Jesus (and numerous angels) was always telling people not to be afraid. Why? Because he was with them. Fear is basically mistrust. In contrast, being unafraid is putting myself in the vulnerable position of trusting someone. I believe that Jesus says "Don't be afraid" to me every day. Do I hear it? Do I choose to trust?
2. Say "yes" more than "no." I tend to see what is inadequate in people, in situations, in the work others do, in the work I do - you name it, I can tell you what's wrong with it. Having an automatic response of "no" means that grace is not in me. In order to give grace, I must be living in it, and living in it means saying "yes" to the embrace of God. God has already said "yes" to me, my failures and my successes, my ugliness and my beauty. The ability to say "yes" starts with knowing that God says "yes" to me, every day.
3. Let grace have a say in every horrible situation. In the middle of chaos or death or failure, stop and listen to grace. She has something important to say.
4. Let grace have a say in every incredible, wondrous situation. In the middle of great success, joyful celebration, outrageous good fortune, and jobs well done, stop and listen to grace. She has something important to say.
5. Look around you. See the people who stick with you through thick and thin. They are there, they are. Receive them into your life, even if you wish they were someone else or did things differently. Living in grace means not being so picky.
6. Create stations of grace in your house, your work, your neighbourhood, and your day. These are places or times or activities which make space for and trigger gratitude, peace, and contentment. Visit them several times a day. Let them be a place to feast on the unconditional acceptance of a loving and merciful God. It could be your dining room table (a good place for a feast), the bus ride to work, a walk in the park, your closet, sitting in front of a fire, reading a good book, having a cup of tea, or taking a hot bath. Give grace physical and temporal room in your life.

Sorry, there is no number 7. Can you have grace for my inconsistency? For not delivering what I promised in the title? For perhaps disappointing or frustrating you? I hope you say yes. Grace says yes.

Comments

Lori said…
Think you would enjoy 7 habits, it's not a self help book as much as it's a guide to community living and determining priorities in your life. Basically you build a mission statement for your life. The next three habits talk about being part of a community (ex seek a win/win situation, seek first to understand and then be understood).
Matte Downey said…
Thanks, Lori. I readily acknowledge that it is a bit presumptuous of me to comment on it without reading it. Thanks for informed review. One day I'll get to it...

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

lessons from a theological memoir and a television series about lawyers

It's a hot Wednesday afternoon, so let's talk about false binaries. Basically, a false binary or false dichotomy happens when a person's options are artificially limited to two choices, thereby excluding all other possibilities. Insisting on the limited choice of either A or B leaves no room for middle ground or another, more creative solution. In other words, a false binary assumes the rest of the alphabet (after A and B) does not exist.

Binary thinking is quite prevalent in our society. Either you are for me or against me. Either you are guilty or innocent. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. Either you are a Christian or a pagan. Either you are all in or all out. Admittedly, it is convenient to see things as either black or white, but we live in a multi-coloured world and not everything fits neatly into two categories. This is why insisting there are only two choices when, in fact, other options exist, is labeled as a fallacy in logic an…