Appropriating Grace

Someone I know and love is struggling with a spiritual issue. Frustration and disappointment met in their life like vinegar and baking soda and boiled over into an "out of character" response to God. They are struggling with their sense of guilt at having spoken to God in the manner they did. They wonder how they could have been so "over the top" with God and they wonder if they have damaged their relationship beyond forgiveness and restoration.

Have you been there? I have. Let me suggest, first of all, that you not undervalue or underestimate the knowledge or love of God nor the efficacy of the death of Christ. Whatever outburst seized you in a moment of fear or frustration, though probably worthy of confession and repentance on your part, was not unseen or unexpected on God's part. He is the one who makes known the beginning from the end, and not just of cosmic history, but of your personal history as well. All of your days was written in his book before ever one of them came to be. And not just the number of days. The content and substance of those days have been known to God all along.

Add God's omniscience to Christ's substitutionary death on our behalf and you have Christ taking the punishment for all your sins: the ones you know about and the ones you don't, the ones you plan and the ones you don't. They are all covered. Grace covers them all. Love covers a multitude of sins.

So, I said to my friend, "Just ask God for His grace. He will not withhold any good thing from those whom he loves." Their response" "How do I do that? How do I ask and know that I'll get it. I was asking about other things and not receiving and that was why I was upset in the first place."

How can we appropriate in experience what God has promised in truth? Here are the suggestions I made to my friend:

  1. "Be still and know that I am God." - Find a place of quiet, still the voices of guilt and shame, and present your heart and life and thinking in that moment to God. Don't continue the conversation that's been going on in your head. Just be quiet and fortify the intent that in these moments you are setting aside, you will be seeking God and the experiential knowledge of God with which He wants to fill the earth by filling you first.
  2. "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you." - Don't seek the things first. Seek the King first. I know you want forgiveness, release from guilt, freedom from regret, but these are not commodities God doles out in exchange for emotional effort. Forgiveness, freedom, and release are benefits of a loving relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. Seek the Son. Seek Christ. Ask Him to be present and make Himself present through the Spirit and the word. I typically turn either to the Psalms or the Gospels when I'm seeking the King; you may have other Scriptures where God has met you in the past. Go there and stay there until your heart finds the One you are longing for.
  3. "Keep praying and do not give up." Jesus used the parable of the importunate woman to teach his disciples to endure in prayer. The parable is not so much about the behavior of the judge as much as the tenacity of the woman. We give up on God much, much too easily. Your spiritual maturity is important enough to God to send His Spirit into the world, into the church, into YOU to enable your growth. Keep praying. Don't give up.
  4. "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various trials." Assign joy to your situation. Don't wait for God to rewrite your emotional response. You do it. You fell into the trial of frustration and pride. You fell into the season of repentance and regret. You count it all joy. You are not rejoicing in sin, but in God who forgives sin; in God who redeems our humanity; in God who embraces us in our weakness; in God who knows we are dust and doesn't mind getting dirty!
  5. "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed." Have you ever marveled at what the inspired author of Hebrews says of Jesus in chapter five verses seven and eight? 

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 

I love that phrase, "loud cries and tears," because in those words I see that Jesus did, in fact, experience life like I do, and sometimes, he also handled life like I do. So, rejoice, not because we suffer but because Christ also suffered as part of his walk and life of faith, and because he overcame doubt and fear, and because he promises to not leave us without a Comforter!

Are you struggling with God today, trying to make sense of how He is working in your life? You are not alone. You are not the first to wrestle with God and you will not be the last. Trust Him. Be honest with Him. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to know and love about Him, and you, and about the plan He is working in your life.

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