I understand coming to Jesus for grace. I love what Paul writes: ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works.’ Jesus’ Parable of The Prodigal Son highlights God’s grace for us. We are the son. We come before God ready with our excuses and deals but before we even open our mouth, he restores us. This is grace.
Even though I understand salvation by grace, often I struggle to live like it. I’ll see grace as an entrance into God’s presence and then work really hard to make sure I stay there.
Who hasn’t done this? We want to show God we are worthy of the love he’s heaped on us. And so we’ll run from meeting to meeting, Bible study to Bible study and program to program feeling like we are finally achieving something, but only to look down and realise we are running on a hamster wheel. The Mark Meynell’s poem So Tired capture hamster wheel Christianity:
I’m just so tired of the self-righteousness of myself
Who thinks I’m so sorted … and well, better than the self-righteous
To be honest, I’m just so tired.
Nathan Foster knows how tiring it is to work to keep hold of grace. In his book, The Making of an Ordinary Saint, he writes:
‘When I failed to adhere to my strict religious and moral code, I tore myself down for not being stronger. Shame motivated me for a good year. But, of course, shame never sustains long-term change, and eventually I got tired of feeling like I could never measure up, so I quietly left the church and in a sense quit trying.’
Resting in Grace
I can relate to Nathan’s story because I get tired of trying to keep God’s grace. Grace is like water in some ways. When you try to grab it, it just slips through your fingers. But if you join your hands to make a bowl, it will pool. We need to stop grabbing.
Stopping doesn’t mean doing nothing. Instead, we stop to rest, to listen, to feel God’s presence. This is so important. If you run to try to earn God’s love, you will lose it. God is there, longing for you to come and rest in his love, unconditional, embracing you as you are, unable to unworn out.
A few years ago I asked to help know his love for me. I wrote a poem. It goes like this:
I want to sit with you and
Hear your dreams and longings
And even your regrets.
I hurt with you,
I feel your pain,
But I’m always for you.
I cheer when you come to me,
I applaud when you follow in my footsteps,
I urge you on when you need my strength.
So stop trying so hard,come to me and
Know the beauty of my embrace.
You will only know the depths of God’s grace when you know the depths of his love. Grace and love go hand in hand. But in my experience, God’s loving voice is tender, and we drown it out with our busyness. There comes a point when we need to learn to stop and rest trusting in God’s love.
Nathan Foster learned this exact thing:
‘I was so enslaved to being religious and trying to earn God’s approval that I was unable to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ: God loves me. It’s weird to think that my well-intentioned religious efforts managed to keep me away from God. Today I’m thankful I wasn’t able to measure up to the standards I had placed on myself. Failure forced me to come to terms with the fact that I am in need. Weakness creates space for God. The healthy don’t need a doctor.’
The Yoke of Graceful Love
Following Jesus is exactly that – following. It requires action and obedience. But we don’t do it to get, or keep, God’s grace. Check out what Jesus offers. He said:
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Hamster wheel Christianity leaves you weary. The constant striving leaves you needing rest. Isn’t this what Jesus offers? But what’s all this about Jesus’ yoke and his burden?
Oxen ploughed the fields in the 1st Century agricultural world of Jesus. A yoke could be used to train a younger ox. Basically, an experienced ox is joined to the younger by a crafted piece of timber. The experienced ox does the work. It bears the load. And in the process guides the younger ox.
When Jesus speaks of being yoked to him, he is the experienced ox. He is bearing the load. He’s doing the work. And he teaches us what it means to be loved by the Father and live within his grace.
It’s up to you.
There’s two different types of Christianity. There’s the one that requires you to run round making sure you earn God’s grace. It leaves you exhausted and feeling like you can never measure up. Is this really what God wants for you?
But there is another way. Jesus offers to join himself to you. He invites you to follow him. He says, ‘You don’t need to try to earn God’s grace, I’ve already done it.’ Instead of striving to keep hold of grace, Jesus draws you to rest in the embrace of God’s unconditional love.
Which will you choose?