Christians know God’s grace is first of all a gift, bestowed with no ulterior motive, from a heart of love that even we can only begin to fathom. It is the gift we want everyone who doesn’t share our faith to receive. But it does much more than save. It strengthens us to serve. It keeps us in the race. It propels us toward the finish line. Just ‘watch’ this short film about grace to see what I mean.
It’s a Wonderful Grace – Act I
From inside a tawdry living room, a camera captures a truly unfit mother watching her daughter leave home, carrying only the luggage of a broken heart and crushed spirit. As the film depicts one year after another, the mother’s tears and a bottle of booze fill scene after scene. At the depth of her alcoholic misery, the phone rings. The mother answers to hear a ‘missing’ daughter calmly asserting, “Mommy, I’m coming home. I love you.”
The reunion is not stuff that happy endings are made of. The mother never regains her health and doesn’t magically start loving her child. But through her deteriorating condition, mom is nursed with an endless supply of compassion and concern. When confronted by one last round of selfishness and anger, the daughter does not retaliate or withdraw, for something has changed. The child that left shattered and alone has returned, carrying a different set of luggage – grace.
While the audience stretches and the house lights are up, let me share another thing about grace. It is only grace because we have done nothing to merit receiving it. The moment we can claim grace as our due, it becomes an obligation to be paid and not a free gift to bequeath. The daughter in Act 1 didn’t return to her mother with the grace to love because she was a worthy daughter, but because God blessed her with his gift of grace.
Can’t say any more right now, people are coming back for…
The screen comes to life. A weeping man, with unkempt beard and dirty cloths, looks into the audience for solace but finds none. His head sinks to his chest, all hope extinguished. You see the cardboard sign by the man’s side. He’s almost sitting on it and the words are unclear until the camera pans in.
“Will work for food” comes into focus. Intuitively you know the story will be about a struggling family, held together by the will of a precious wife and mother as the habitually unreliable husband self-destructs. And you’re right.
He has failed at 12 jobs in 3 years, all due to his negligence and irresponsibility, and is at the low point in his life. It is only a matter of time until the consequences of his actions take his family down with him. The camera returns to his eyes staring hopelessly, but now at a well-dressed man on the corner.
The man, one of the 12 previous employers, has heard of the family’s plight. He approaches the huddled wretch and extends a hand. In his palm is an offer of clean cloths, food for the family, and another chance at his old job. The husband hesitates, not believing this turn of events. He slowly stands then sweeps his matted hair from his face and tentatively grasps the offered hand. Grace grips back.
Life is challenging. It can be painful. We all are prone to be discouraged by weaknesses, crushed by insults, slowed down by hardships, bewildered by persecutions, and wrecked by difficulties. Each of us could become like the man on the street corner. Yet the Apostle Paul delighted in these same five situations that can cause us to slow down or even quit the race. How could that be?
In the midst of a culture screaming at him to earn everything he wanted to possess, he heard that God’s grace could arrive unexpectedly, when least deserved, and dramatically change what it touched. Three times he pleaded with his Savior to take away what he knew to be painful, and perceived to be harmful. But Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
It is this very grace, a precious gift to the world for salvation, which so powerfully equips and empowers us for our ministry to others. Grace, which brings salvation, is not the end; it is the beginning.