Humility

Pondering Grace: It’s Better to Give Than…

I’ve been doing a little thinking about the last post, and in combination with some recent personal events, something has been rattling around in my mind to the point of distraction. Usually that means it’s time to write. (A lot of you “get” that, I’m sure.) Here is my best effort to capture it, though it feels a little like herding cats.

I can be selfish. What—you can, too? It can be comforting to know we’re not alone in some things. I don’t suppose any of us honestly wants to condone or encourage it, but acknowledging the problem can be a step toward change. It’s all about bringing the dark things into the light.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” John 3:19-21

Friends, we ultimately choose whether to merely exist in the shadows or live fully in the brilliant daylight. And the choice is going to be hard for a time while the decisions cause angst between what we habitually know and what we really, really want. Much like running a marathon begins with a few single steps toward the goal, we take single, isolated steps toward bold choices that lead to change and a new “daylight” lifestyle that honors God. There have been several teachable moments for me in this area recently.

I have choices, and lots of them, every day. It’s almost always a choice between a sweet aroma of grace or the stench of something quite different. I think we can all distinguish between the attractive qualities of grace and the repulsive qualities that go along with selfishness, dishonesty, disrespect, malice, and the other nasty options that abound. We don’t want to be on the receiving end of the nasties, but we shouldn’t be on the giving end, for sure! Followers of Christ have been given clear direction. There are various lists of evil behaviors in Scripture; they are easy to find (Matthew 7:20-23; Romans 1:28-32; Titus 3:3; etc.). Being familiar with these helps us identify the worst choices.

The comforting part of the lists above, if there were any, might be that Titus 3:3 establishes the behaviors are common to all of us, at least at one time, or in a season of life (pre-conversion, for the author of the book, it appears):

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

When decisions are hard, I’m reminded to soak for a while in that “At one time we too were” there. I’m not alone. It’s not uncommon, but it’s not okay. There’s some tension for you right there!

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

When property is damaged or stolen, feelings are trounced upon, or I feel insignificant as others disregard me in conversation (notice the “majors” and “minors” in my list), I will have a difficult time. I’m offended, and it’s a big deal to me. I’m reminded of the printed warning on my car side mirrors: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. It’s a somewhat poor analogy compared to the straight forward “plank-speck” analogy in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, but bear with me.

Consider how myopic we might easily become. Either the offense triggering the poor choice becomes greater in our field of vision (closer than it appears in reality) or the grace we received at the cross does. And it’s a choice—a tough one, though. Things have monetary and sentimental value, our hearts crave significance in relationship, and our mistakes or others’ can drive us to undesired behavior. Grace-filled humility contrasts starkly against our natural desires for significance, respect, and honor. Dear goodness! It’s insanely hard when our pride goes head-to-head with genuine humility, isn’t it?

I am brought back, full circle, to the post in Romans about the “Do-Do Chapter.” I do selfish things I honestly don’t want to do, and I don’t do gracious, humble things I genuinely want to do when I consider the sacrifice of grace on my behalf at the cross. It takes different forms: “big stuff” I believe jeopardize my overall comfort, health, and well-being and “little stuff” that hurt my feelings a wee bit.

When I read Titus 3:1-11, I’m challenged to be completely different than I might otherwise want to be. But, there is a reason and a purpose behind making the changes:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. v. 4-8

What’s the whole point of being a “giver” of grace? Is it perhaps better to give than to receive in this case? Yes, and—just yes!

We have been the recipients of incredible mercy! The passage is clear; we’ve been granted merciful grace that offers rebirth and renewal, right standing (justification) with God, and adoption benefits (rightful heirs). That’s the reason behind making the changes. Being wholeheartedly devoted to doing what is good and right as a gift to others is what we’re called to. But, in as much as it benefits others, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. It is all-around “excellent and profitable for everyone.” That includes being beneficial to the giver. Giving grace benefits the recipient, but it also shapes our character after the One we follow. There’s a benefit we might not be counting in the mix, but it’s huge! It means our decision to be grace-givers will get easier with repetition, and we will be most definitely be changed. That’s the purpose behind the changes.

In my opinion, it is better to be a “giver” because that’s the ultimate calling on the Christ follower’s life and reflects the merciful, gracious nature of the One who sacrificed everything at the cross. Living out our high calling is both noble and the working out of our faith in this life amid the culture. And the cross—the sacrifice there must become more our motive for what we say, think, and do. Or if not, introspection is seriously needed to root out the reasons for choosing to exist in the shadows rather than living in the brilliant daylight.

My prayer:
Dear Jesus, you’ve given me so much mercy and grace, and in doing so, you’ve assigned great value and purpose to my life. What an incredible gift you’ve given me! And it is not without reason and purpose. You loved me, and so sacrificed all for me. You love others, so you give me the opportunity to humbly offer the same loving mercy and grace to those in my sphere of influence. Then they see you in and through me and my choices. You want to change me, and you want others to be changed, too.

Dear Spirit, empower me in my weakness. Give me strength to reject the darkness and walk boldly into the brilliant daylight.

Dear Me (and those reading along), “live by the truth” and be courageous!

~Jennifer

______________________
Photo Credit: “Objects in Mirror” – Jennifer J. (A little “doodle” I did a few years ago. All rights reserved.)
Scripture source: Crosswalk.com @ www.biblestudytools.com

Course Correction

In light of the “Failure is Feedback?” post from a couple days ago, I felt a kind of sequel was in order. I’m leery of all things “sequel” in most cases, since they rarely have anything on the original, but—whatever. It’s Saturday night, and I’m throwing caution to the wind! (Yeah, my life is so exciting that I have to build drama around a blog post.)  *Blink. Blink.* Ummm. Never mind.

Anyway, the point of this post is something I want to remember in the future. I want the fragrance to float by now and periodically in the future. It’s pretty sweet smelling stuff.

Remember when I said I wanted the failure to be feedback in a more positive sense? Well, I think this recent incident does a lot to help me in that area, if I can remember it in the future. The general gist of the situation went a little like this:

A friend asked me to partner in a large project. From the very beginning I was rather timid about pieces of the weighty responsibility and doubted my skill set. Truthfully, this project has never depended on me or my skills. If it did, the whole thing would be a complete mess on my end. Anything that has ever been good in my contributions can absolutely be traced to or clearly attributed to God’s intervention. You’ve got to trust me on that!

So imagine me working on the final piece of my portion of the project, a little weary and very intimidated by the final push. It was going decently well, but I had a nagging feeling that what I was working on just wasn’t quite right. I wasn’t happy with the work, and I really didn’t have another direction yet to go. Usually, there is a clear, precise idea in my mind, and I’m just trying to get it to the page. I had no clear idea, I didn’t love the foggy one I was working, and nothing made it any more clear or lovely. I scrapped the first, messy concept and tried something altogether new and totally risky! I was sure it was more “me” than anything else, and I wasn’t sure I had the skill to pull it off.

Turns out, I didn’t.

The feedback was polite and gentle and very, very tentative. I hadn’t sold the idea, and truthfully, I didn’t like the rendering of it myself. How could my partner like it? Yep, failure in this case was feedback. And it was tough.

The friend who can generally speak truth in moments of my distress and chaos did two very distinct things. First, I got the best listening ear possible. Then I got truth. Partnership is cooperation, and it means sacrifice. Translation: this isn’t all about Jen. Who knew? The feedback wasn’t rejection of me as a person. My work is never who I am; it’s separate. (I have to fight for that one.)

Do you know what “course correction” is? In my world, it’s a second chance. There is nothing more precious to me than this second chance. It was hard to sit in front of a blank page again, questioning all the excitement and certainty I had just days before, and take a second run at it. It was tough to take the failed attempt’s feedback and submit to it. But, it was ultimately for the best in so many ways. I lacked confidence in me, my skills, and my understanding of the project’s direction. Not a bad place to be. Not at all!

I had to lean into it again. Slowly, carefully, with my ear straining to hear and my heart ready to respond, I had to follow the still, small voice on this one. My confidence was bruised, but I exchanged trust in me for trust in the One who knew everything about the direction of the project. Humility goes a long way, baby!

I made another attempt. This time, it was clearly out of my hands and beyond my abilities. There was no question the effort yielded something far more precise than the foggy, cluttered rendering, and light years beyond the skills in the first “new concept” that belly flopped hard. When I look at it, even I don’t have words for the result. It reassures me that there is no way I could have made it so, really.

It’s grace. Big grace. When I receive a gift like this, all I can see is the redemption of a moment by a very big, loving God. And he’s using li’l old me. Crazy!

I’ll share something that my “truth-talking friend” said that deeply affected me in the most beautiful way. In connection with the project’s subject (Bathsheba), my friend said:

I wish she could see what we now know.

Why is that little piece of obscure truth my seed to tend for the day? Simply, if I could see what would transpire, how a second chance would be so dramatically different and infused with a whole different power, wouldn’t that make a world of difference? (Insert a clever comment about faith and “things not seen” here.)

Rejection? No, it wasn’t, really. That hard conversation led to a course correction, a second chance to do the work with God by his Spirit.

I am that precious to my Abba that he would do that for my benefit!

How many times do we believe failure’s feedback is rejection when it’s really a second chance? Have you learned this life lesson, too?

I hope you have a great rest of your weekend. Thanks for popping in.

~Jennifer