Celebrating God’s Attributes: His Grace

Mark Verkler

Grace defined:

1. The free unmerited love and favor of God; the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him. (Romans 11)

2. The application of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner. (Romans 5)

3. A state of reconciliation to God. (Romans 5:2)

Perhaps grace is the ultimate expression of God’s love to us and for us. …for God is love (1 John 4:8b). It is hard to describe and hard to grasp, partly because it’s so unnatural and so much against the flesh. I have such a tendency to either compare myself favorably to someone I suppose is a worse sinner than I am and unfavorably to someone I suppose is a better saint. Pride would keep me out of each group–humility would put me in.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘The Lord said, ‘My grace is enough for you: my power is at it’s best in weakness.’ So I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me.’

One of the most amazing parts of God’s grace is that He promises that it is enough. No matter the sin, no matter the failure, no matter the weakness, His grace is enough. I have learned that I AM NOT to ask for God’s grace. That is like asking for rain that is already falling, or asking for sunshine on a cloudless day. I am to accept by faith that God’s grace is extended to me and receive it moment by moment with thanksgiving. Of course it makes sense to give thanks for a gift as great as Grace. But I am afraid I all too often ignore it, or ask for it, instead of opening the gift of grace that is right in front of me and giving thanks and rejoicing.

In Luke 17: 3-4 we see another picture of grace. Jesus tells us that if our brother trespasses against us seven times in the same day, repents and seeks forgiveness, we are to give it to him. Would God ask us to do something he wasn’t willing to do? No. That is God’s grace’a well that is so deep it will never run out of water no matter how much we need or use. Though we are warned to not use grace as a license to sin (Romans 6), we are exhorted to embrace our weakness and need of it.

To truly know grace, it must go far beyond understanding and into experience. That means embracing my need for God. I am a Saint by God’s grace, and a Saint who sins and needs His grace every day. Dietrich Bonhoffer noted,

‘He who is alone with his sins is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding in corporate worship, common prayer , and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from their fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!’

This is evidence of God’s grace working in me: I can admit my weakness and need for God’s grace to myself, my God and my brother’s in Christ. I don’t have to cover up so that I appear to have no need of His grace. On the contrary, I can ‘uncover’ and embrace my need of the gift of grace.

Someone said that God doesn’t clean his fish until AFTER He catches them. God is in the business of justifying the ungodly.

 Romans 4:5 says: ‘But to him not working, but believing on Him justifying the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.’ That is grace. I must not think that I have to justify myself. That is his job. Mine is to admit my need.

In closing, I am inspired by Henri Nouwen’s vision of grace in the story of the Prodigal. He writes:

‘In my minds eye, I see Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The dim eyed old father holds his returned son close to his chest with an unconditional love. Both of his hands, one strong and masculine, the other gentle and feminine, rest on his son’s shoulders. He does not look at his son but feels his young, tired body and lets him rest in his embrace. His immense red cape is like the wings of a mother bird covering her fragile nestling. He seems to think only one thing: he is back home and I am so glad to have him with me again.’

May we all go ‘back home’ into the arms of grace.

Spiritual Loneliness: When the Lord Seems Far Away

Brad Stenberg

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” – Psalms 13:1-2

Spiritual loneliness is an experience we’d like to avoid because we feel excluded, punished, and abandoned by God. Still, there are times when we all experience that strange inner gnawing or hunger, that unsettling unrest that makes us say, O God, where are you? Few struggles are as acute as our soul’s search for God. We so desperately want His attention as we grope for answers, support, and relief.

You might have felt it when your prayers went unanswered, making God seem remote and uncaring. You may have felt it when you heard a friend’s experience of God’s presence in ways you’ve longed for, but never had. You might have felt it when your attempt to hold on to a word or promise from the Lord was not enough to keep you from acting out. You likely felt it when your sin separated you from God and the experience of His grace.

So what can we do? Spiritual loneliness is maintained by passivity, so it’s important that you get up and do something about it. Here are some things to consider.

Connect with others. Spiritual loneliness is a problem of relationships. People who feel like God is distant usually disconnect with others because a part of their soul is hidden, isolated, and lost. So the commands to love God and others as ourselves are not being realized. 1 John 4:20 says we can’t love God whom we haven’t seen if we don’t love others whom we have seen. So begin with the deficiencies in your relationship with others. Find out where you’re hiding from relationships and seek to connect with others. In the process God will find you and restore the connections.

Draw near to God. Though God may at times remove His presence to develop our faith, it is usually us that has moved, not God. Richard Foster says that ‘God aches over our distance and mourns that we do not draw near to him. He grieves that we have forgotten him. He longs for our presence’ (Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 1). So, draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:4)

Listen to what God is saying. Embrace this time as an opportunity for listening prayer. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16) Be intentional. Like Jacob, seek the blessing that comes from a spiritual battle fought alone. (Gen. 32:26) Turn off the radio, TV, cell phone, pager, PDA, fax machine, computer, and take time to listen. Reflect on what is happening to you. God will meet you and speak to your heart.

Focus on who God is. He is with you. God has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5) He knows what you’re going through because He has been there too. Jesus experienced a painful spiritual loneliness at Calvary when God forsook him for a time. So, “we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathized with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are ‘ yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) God cares about you. Knowing would be empty if God did not also care with His concrete love. “He will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.” (Ps. 72:12)Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7)

Tell God how you feel. Our honest, candid complaint to God leads to a more authentic relationship with Him. Prayer is not about “theological correctness,” but about a real relationship in real life with a real God who really wants to know the real you. Pious words will not fool the One who knows the attitude of our hearts. Thus, Job cried out: I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter: I have to speak!’ (Job 7:11)

Take control of your mind. It takes an inner determination and discipline of spirit to take the reins of your mind, speak to your situation, and choose to praise God. The psalmist repetitively did this: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” (Psalm 42:4, 11; 43:5)

Also See:
Transformation

Thoughts on Weariness in Recovery

G. Mike Clark

This last week my wife and I, along with our Bible Study class of forty-three, including children and adolescents, went to the Appalachian Mountains in eastern Kentucky on a mission trip to Solomon’s Porch. This little community of Lynch was once a thriving mining town. If you were to ask the people of Lynch about the recovery of this town they would say, ‘Recovery of what?’ If you are talking about the coalmines and the boom related to that growth, the answer would more than likely be, ‘No’there is no chance of recovery like it once was during the boom time.’

US Steel and International Harvester, as I understand, moved out of the area and closed the mines within the last ten to twelve years. On the other hand, maybe the recovery of this community could be done through drawing small businesses there to strengthen the economy. They have drawn some small businesses into the area, but this alone is not going to recover this small community of Kentucky economically.

Many of those living in the Appalachians are weary.

Webster, 2nd edition, defines weary as without further liking, patience, tolerance, and bored, becoming wearing. Interestingly it also includes in its definition the word drunk. If you were to ask most of those living in this part of the country if they were weary, any of those descriptions would be heard. Many of them have lost any sense of hope in the recovery of their community and have become weary.

In Proverbs 23:4-5, the writer tells us, ‘Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, like an eagle that flies toward the heavens‘, (NASV).

The kind of recovery needed in this community is spiritual renewal. We are in a spiritual battle. Without spiritual recovery, no amount of economic recovery will make a difference in this community; or any community, or person.

Up to this point, we have been speaking about a small community recovering economically and a sense of weariness that members of that community may have experienced in the past and still experience today. These same kind of issues are experienced in each of us who are in the recovery of sexual addiction, i.e. without further liking, patience, tolerance, and bored, becoming wearing. In addition, one can experience loneliness in the process of recovery whether in a small community or facing sexual addiction.

Loneliness can be crippling to anyone of us in our daily life even during the process of recovery.

As we face any addiction, each of us will experience weariness and loneliness. Isaiah, in chapter 40 verse 31, gives us hope during our pilgrimage. ‘Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.’ Here he gives us hope, strength and endurance to run this race. He goes to say, in chapter 50 verses 4-5, ‘The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples. That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word.’ He goes on to say that, God wakes him in the morning; He awakens his ears ‘to listen as a disciple,’ and he was not disobedient, verses 4-5.

There are many references to the word all throughout the Scripture. In the Gospels, Jesus makes references about the word, Matthew 4:4; 7:24; Mark 4:14, 18; Luke 1:2. In John 8:32, Jesus says that truth will set you free.

Two important principles found in Isaiah: listening and obedience. First, are we listening to the truth found in God’s Word? As we listen, how is God’s Word changing our lives and transforming us from the inside out? Listening to God is not just sitting in our comfortable chair. It includes asking God, ‘What are You doing around me and how can I join you?’ Second, are we obedient as we listen to God’s Word? Do we have a teachable heart with listening ears? In the process of recovery, this requires us to look beyond ourselves. If we look only within ourselves, there is not much hope. Through God’s grace working in and through us touching and ministering to others gives us hope and purpose.

As we look to God, we need to reach out to others for help and to help. In recovery, this is where having an accountability partner gives us hope and strength during the good times and the tough times. As brothers in Christ, our mission is to give each other support and encouragement to the other person needing help when weary. We are not alone in this battle, and it takes time to recover. Lastly, Jesus gives us a promise in Matthew 11:28-30, to hang onto daily. It reads as follows…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light‘, ESV.

This is God’s promise to you and me in the process of recovery during our pilgrimage, and strength to the weary. He will not leave us alone to face life.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.
Also, please see Being Christian: Exploring Where You, God, and Life Connect.