The Subtle, Often Unnoticed Grace

If you are aware of your growth process into the likeness of Christ as a Christian, you are probably aware that you move a lot slower than you thought you would when you started out. You are probably aware that you have far more passionate inclinations towards sin than you thought you would. You are probably aware that you do not love God near as much as you would like to. And on and on your awareness may go.

Yet at the same time, much of what is celebrated on our church stages week-to-week and year after year is the spectacular sanctification moments in various lives.

“God saved me from drug addiction in an instant!”

“I went from hating God to loving him with everything in me, reading my Bible for hours every day, staying up all night in prayer!”

“I just feel God’s presence is so near when I wake up, when I eat lunch, and when I am falling asleep!”

Catch the drift?

The testimonies we hear often most celebrated in church are the spectacular ones about our sanctification process. Yet, the average Christian-joe out there then compares his story to those stories and probably thinks, “Well, I have never had those kind of experiences.” The average self-aware Christian looks at himself and thinks, “My faith is so much weaker, my love so much softer, and my experience seemingly so much less-awesome than that Christian.”

The result? Thousands and thousands of Christians who discount all the radical grace that has been given to them by God; the grace that has put within them a real faith in Jesus, a real love for God, a real hatred for sin, and a real love for righteousness. It is all discounted because it does not look as spectacular as others; as wondrous, as “powerful”. It is all discounted because their experience as a Christian supposedly pales in comparison to the freed-in-an-instant drug addict.

This is so sad to me because it is so biblically wrong. For one thing, we often seem to celebrate ourselves and our growth far more than we do the perfect Savior and his perfect work that needs no growth. But for this post, let me focus on the other thing that is wrong and devastating about this reality: So many of the testimonies we most celebrate are ironically the ones most rare. C. J. Mahaney, commenting on how we so often miss what God is doing, and working in our own lives, says it like this:

“So often…most of these people [average Christians] aren’t aware God is at work because to them it doesn’t appear spectacular. And so too many Christians have one category: If God is at work, it’s spectacular. But if it’s not spectacular, God is not at work. But oh, listen, God does some of his best work subtlety.”

The subtlety of God so often missed and discounted, if noticed, could bring so much vigor and joy to so many Christians. If we would only celebrate it in our own lives and in the lives of our beloved brothers and sisters. Today, take notice of the subtle grace of God in your life. Remember your conversion experience, or the season God was bringing you to Jesus, or maybe the fact that he saved you so young you don’t remember it. Remember the grace of God. Take notice of the grace of God. And expect the grace of God in your future.

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Divine Perspective (Ministry Mondays)

C. J. Mahaney, one of my favorite preachers of all time, one from whom I find much gospel-refreshment and equipping, has a great sermon on being diligent to find evidences of grace in others (and for sure, in ourselves).

As a pastor, my job is not to first and foremost find what is wrong in someone (that is not hard to do in a sinful world with sinful people. It wouldn’t take you long to find one of my many faults). What I need to be diligently seeking is the evidences of God’s grace in people’s lives. I need to gain a proper perspective of what God is doing in the midst of how I, and my friends, are consistently failing.

C. J. illustrates this point with the following (amazing) letter sent home from a daughter away at college. Enjoy…

“Dear Mom and Dad,

Since I have been away at college I have been remiss in writing and I am sorry thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date but before I do please sit down. Are you sitting down? It is very important that you sit down before you continue reading this letter.

I am getting along pretty well now that the skull fracture and concussion have healed. I got them when I jumped out of my dormitory window when my dormitory caught on fire shortly after my arrival. I only get those sick headaches a couple of times a day. Fortunately, the fire in my dorm and my jump was witnessed by an attendant at a gas station. He ran over, took me to the hospital, and continued to visit me there.

When I got out of the hospital, I had no place to live because of the burnt out condition of my room. So he was kind enough to let me share his basement bedroom apartment with him. It’s sort of small but very cute. He’s a very fine young man and we have fallen deeply in love. We are planning to get married. We haven’t set the exact date yet but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.

Yes, mom and dad, I’m pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the same tender love and care that you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay is that my boyfriend has an infection that I carelessly caught from him. I know, however, that you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind and thought not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours I know that your often expressed tolerance will not allow you to be bothered by that.

In conclusion, now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dorm fire. I did not have a concussion or skull fracture. I was not in the hospital. I am not pregnant. I do not have infection. There is no boyfriend in my life. However, I have failed history and science. I wanted you to see these facts in proper perspective. Proper perspective changes everything.”

If you are in Christ, in the midst of all of your sin, and mine, there are traces, evidences of God’s grace. As much as you may be trying to hold on to a particular sin, as little as you may feel you love God, as weak as you feel your faith is, I beg you, find those traces of grace. Don’t fix your eyes on how you ought to love God, but remind yourself that you do love God, however little your love may be. Don’t fix your eyes on how strong you wish your faith was, but remind yourself that you do have some faith. Why is that important? Because only, only! God can cause someone to love Him and believe in His Son, however slight it all may be.

Your weak love and faith exists because God loves you and has worked that faith and love in you. Rejoice in that. Rejoice in the grace of God for you. Then, fix your eyes upon the great love of Jesus for you, for only in doing that will your love and faith for him grow strong.

Help us Lord Jesus, in your abundant, raw grace!