By Harry Flanagan of Pure Desire Ministries
But what is grace? As a young Christian, I remember hearing the oft-quoted Joseph Henry Thayer who published a monumental lexicon in 1885. He defined the Greek word that has been translated to “grace” as “unmerited favor.” This remains a popular definition of grace. But the word truly means so much more than me and you receiving unmerited favor.
Several years into my journey of healing, I ran across Larry Crabb’s view of grace. It remains one of my favorite quotes. Crabb is a Christian counselor who has published over 40 books and also holds a PhD in Psychology. Here is the quote that rocked my world and started me down a path of embracing His grace for me.
Neither does God tinker with our old nature, the tangled system of God-doubting, self-protective, pain-denying passions within us that the Bible calls our flesh. Rather than entering the dark places of our souls with a flashlight and a scalpel, intent on repairing what’s wrong, he enters with a flashlight and a smile, eager to let us see how he feels about us even when we stand exposed in his presence. …He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see a goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. And sometimes he exposes what we are convinced would make him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with his grace.
Larry Crabb, Connecting: healing for ourselves and our relationships.
I read this over several times. It was like he was reading my mail. It exposed my fears and preoccupations; but mostly, it presented God’s love in a proactive way. He was intent on loving me. I saw God in a new light.
Brene’ Brown defines generosity as extending the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. This is a great view of God’s love for us and what His grace looks like between humans. God certainly has been generous to me in extending His grace in the midst of my brokenness.
Then, in my research, I came across Phillip Yancey’s book, What’s so amazing about Grace. Again, God took me deeper in my understanding of grace. The book was so amazing, I started taking quotes that spoke to me from the book and writing them in my journal. It was over four pages of thoughtful and awesome quotes.
Here are a couple of quotes that spoke to me:
Grace baffles us because it goes against the intuition everyone has in the face of injustice, some price must be paid. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. A murderer cannot simply go free. A child abuser cannot shrug and say, “I just felt like doing it.” Anticipating these objections, Paul stressed that a price had been paid by God Himself. God gave his own son rather than give up on humanity.
I observed people who followed the rules and missed God, and people who broke the rules and missed God. What burdens me, though, is that group of people who still believe that they missed God because they broke the rules.
This was huge for me because I believed my relationship with God was based on my performance. True, He knows my struggles; but it was my belief that He didn’t want to interact with me based on my performance. I expected God wanted me to be moving toward perfection and when I failed, I thought He would reject me. Ouch. So when I read Yancey’s book and saw it was talking about my belief system—because I broke the rules—God would distance Himself from me. But this is not the God I have come to know. Instead of God distancing Himself from me when I broke the rules, it was me, in my shame, distancing myself from God!
So practically speaking, how do we experience God’s grace? Paul leads us to the answer. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 (TPT), it says:
But he answered me, “My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.” So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I’m weak I sense more deeply the mighty power of Christ living in me.
Wow, what a verse on grace! His grace is proactive and He is telling us that in the weak and broken moments of our lives, His grace is enough for us. He literally makes us adequate where we feel inadequate. What a great God we serve! This is why the verse ends with Paul stating, he would even celebrate his weakness because God will make him sufficient.
When I was young, one of my favorite mentors said God’s love would be revealed through acceptance and forgiveness. We can’t feel loved or forgiven if we don’t feel accepted. The whole point of grace is that He accepts us where we are instead of where He wants us to be. Even when we make dumb decisions (and I have made plenty of them). His love and, therefore, His grace interacts with us through His acceptance. This is God’s cry for intimacy with us.
His acceptance paves the way for us to experience the depths of His love and the power of His forgiveness for our sin and destructive choices. His grace is enough. His acceptance of us, where we are at, is enough. He actually rejoices in giving us His power in our weakness.
So, 28 years ago, I identified myself as the classic and worst kind of hypocrite. I called myself a pastor, but used the position to fulfill my addiction. I hurt everyone who loved or trusted in me. Then on September 20, 1993, God exposed my sin. I was toast. I swam in a sea of shame and guilt. I knew I deserved all of the pain and rejection I was experiencing. I just wanted the pain to go away. I wanted God to take me home. But instead, He used the pain and the struggle as a furnace of transformation (see Daniel 3).
Now, 27 years later, I see how His grace was enough for me. He gave me more life and joy than I deserved. His grace led me to the glorious place I am today. I have friends and family who love me with my strengths and my weaknesses. I have the privilege of being the first full-time clinician at Pure Desire. I get to serve people and help them find healing! I don’t deserve this blessing.
But here is the greatest gift: He is teaching me how to be gracious. To give acceptance, love, and forgiveness. I am learning to accept people where they are, with all of their shortcomings and faults—and have the wonderful job of helping others experience His grace through me—even in my imperfections.
His grace really is amazing.