Recently I heard the following statement “God insists on grace.” He insists that we treat others (even ourselves) with grace. We ought to be living as grace creatures, as vessels of grace, as grace dispensers. Why we emphasize anything else is quite amazing. All that we possess (physically and spiritually) is because of His grace. The opening of our understanding to that reality may be a life-long process. I will be sharing some of my journey in the experiencing of this relentless, magnificent, grace.
There has been a deep valley in my life. In nature, valleys usually start gradually, and end gradually. They do not often start or end with a cliff. This has been true in my life. There have been many aspects to the deep valley in my life, it did not start all at once, nor has it ended all at once. As I look back over that valley, I can see at least three facets to the valley: physical, spiritual, emotional. There has been difficult non-life-threatening, yet painful, and uncomfortable physical struggles, a terrible church/ denominational type split, and the emotional crater of my wife’s death along with single-parenting two young children. Also included in that mix, has been the emotional friction with my natural family exacerbated by my faith, and my marrying a non-Jew. It is a mix that I would not want to wish upon anyone. Incredibly, I find myself on the other side of the valley, not wanting to trade this experience for anything. The simple reason for this: grace. It was in the very depth and darkest part of the valley that I had the most needed and most valuable lesson in grace.
The second and third year after Sandy’s death were the hardest and darkest years of my life. I was still spiritually worn by the church issues, emotionally beaten by my wife’s death, struggling to raise two young children, and feeling physically miserable. My attitude was not pretty. Much of the time, my attitude, my mumblings, did not look very “Christian” (or Messianic Jewish). I cannot completely explain that atmosphere and attitude with words. It was hard; my inside was just yucky. One night, after a particularly hard day, wrought with physical pain, earthly responsibility, and “unchristian” like disposition, I reached my dead end. I was finished on this road of mine. I had had enough. I had had enough of trying to be a Christian, trying to be a pastor. I was finished with being a Christian, really, honestly, forthrightly. I expressed this to the Lord, and expressed it in many less-nice words. I was not thinking; oh, I will feel differently in the morning; I will ask the Lord’s forgiveness in the morning. I was throwing in the towel of my Christian life. I was hanging it up. I was finished with this Christian thing. It was in this state and disposition that I went to sleep.
I had come to a dead end. My faith had brought me to a dead end. I mean that very sincerely, and without maliciousness. It is not the end of the story though.
The next morning, early, before I was fully awake, in that half-way state between awake and asleep, something incredible happened. No, I did not have a great vision. No, a lightning bolt did not come down and fry me (like I deserved, and deserve every day of my life). No, I was not instantly healed. In that not fully conscious state, without any willful decision on my part, I was singing. I was singing a simple song over and over again. I was singing: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. After singing it a number of times, “Jesus loves me this I know, the Bible tells me so”, I became conscious – awake, and flabbergasted. I remembered the attitude and condition in which I had gone to sleep. Since falling asleep, I had had no intention, no willful decision to repent, no remorse over my attitude, no change of heart. Yet, my spirit was singing, “Jesus loves me this I know…..” As I considered this, I only had one explanation, Jesus was in my life to stay, and it was not dependent on me. 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself”. Philippians 1:6 says “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”. The Almighty was faithful, even if I was not. My relationship to the Messiah was not dependent on my faith, it was dependent upon Him. He was completely faithful, regardless of my whimpering, complaining, and even regardless of my giving up. Wow!
This was a paramount turning point in my life. That is not only in regards to my suffering and tsouris2. It was in regards to my entire spiritual-life orientation. Grace was really grace, a gift, something we do not make happen. It is free. It is not dependent on us. True Christianity is a relationship with Jesus. Relationship means at least two beings. The solidness of this relationship is built on the solidness of Messiah, not the maybe, sometimes, solidness or mushiness of our faith. He had started something in my life; He was going to finish it, even if everything (including me) seemed contrary to that. True faith is not faith in ourselves, or faith in our own faith. It is faith in, and the faith of, the Faithful One.
This was so liberating. True grace is liberating. No, everything did not go fantastically that day or that week. Everything does not go fantastically now. A change has happened though. Jesus loves me. I know Jesus loves me. And it has nothing to do with anything that I do. I can live in that certainty all the time. When I am doing well, and when I am doing terribly. No spiritual activity on my part: positive, negative, or neutral, increases, maintains, or diminishes that love. That love is always. Oh that is basic scripture and basic theology, yet how many of us live as though we really believe it for ourselves. How much of my life had I only stated it, yet not fully believed it. “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye sees thee” (Job 42:5). I had heard of grace, but now I had seen the wonder of Y’shua’s3 relentless grace in my own life. I now turn away from my self-righteous, self-trying efforts to impress, convince, or help God to love me more. I simply rest my life in the certain reality: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. This relentless, magnificent, grace!!
(This article first appeared in Smiling Maven Newsletter January 2006)
- I am sharing three major turning points in my experience with grace. They are being shared in reverse chronological order.
- Tsouris (Yiddish)—Trouble.
- Y’shua – ישוע (Hebrew) Jesus