Some stories and situations and study* in recent days have led me to need to remind myself of this truth: All God’s grace is undeserved.
I’m afraid that in our churches and Christian circles we are inadvertantly preaching something different. We subtly say that we receive God’s favor and blessing by being good enough. But scripture says we can never be good enough. When things go wrong, when money is tight, when sickness prevails, when we lose things or people dear to us, we think disobedience is the culprit. (I know that sometimes our sin and irresponsibility does lead to dire situations in our lives, but that’s another sermon, right?) Beyond following God’s directives in scripture, we imply that jumping through these hoops or following these steps yields stellar marriages, obedient children, perfect health. And something less means we’re just not doing it right.
Doesn’t this devalue our relationship with Christ? In reality, faith is a lot messier than that. As Andrew Peterson has sung, “it is brave and bittersweet.” Psalm 34:17-19 promises, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” This passage basically guarantees trouble. But it also promises God’s steadfast grace during those troubles – and their eventual end.
Off the top of my head, I can point to righteous examples in scripture who had their share of undeserved troubles. Hannah birthed her precious Samuel, but didn’t get to raise him. The orphan Esther left her dear guardian to enter a political beauty pageant and hope to win favor with a king in his bedroom (to lead to the salvation of her people, but she didn’t know that going in). Jeremiah was prohibited from marrying or having children, imprisoned, and almost killed – and didn’t hesitate to express his anguish about the message he was charged with bringing. In obedience to the Lord, Hosea married a harlot who was unfaithful. Job lost almost all a man could lose, and when he questioned the Lord, he got more questions in response. I can only imagine that Mary endured years of gossipy neighbors doing the math of her marriage and her firstborn son’s birth, then saw that beloved son executed as a heinous criminal. How many years did Paul spend in jail?
So we – I – have got to stop pretending that closeness with Christ means fat bank accounts, healthy children, clean homes, the envy of our neighbors, great hair, and skinny jeans. He calls us to something so much deeper than that. “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” Psalm 126:5. Let’s do the hard work of sowing with tears and look forward to the songs of joy.
Let’s simply preach obedience.
Let’s preach and live God’s promises.
Let’s preach and live God’s generosity.
Let’s preach and live God’s grace.
For ALL God’s grace is undeserved.
*I’m studying Stepping Up: a journey through the Psalms of Ascent by Beth Moore with a group of ladies through my church.