Applying Grace to Fear
I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10)
I snap the brown hair tie around my pony tail the third time. I tie the neon pink tipped black laces and start the GPS on my phone
Saturday morning runs are a gift Kagan gives me. No stroller, no kids on bikes, no time limits. Just the pavement and my feet.
The back door creaks and the chilly air feels like a splash of water. Deep breath, through the nose. The air smells crisp. Late summer in Montana. Perfection.
Slow jog. My calves are tight and the right side of my neck and upper traps, stiff. I roll my shoulder and stretch my neck from side to side.
I have been feeling like life is on the precipice of a final exam.
I have no idea how to prepare, but I am responsible to ace it. And Life is hiding behind a bush, with a black handlebar mustache, rubbing its hands together in gleeful anticipation. Eager to deliver a cosmic spanking at my certain failure.
Another breath. Two more steps, feet and calves warming up now.
As I move, I realize that this ominous story has me paralyzed, thoughts stuck. Freezing as I sense danger.
Arms pumping, with my next exhale I imagine oil lubricating my knotted neck. It’s as if these thoughts get snag in my chronically stiff neck.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance, Peter said to the church.
Another translation says, grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.
These thoughts and feelings are not peaceful. They aren’t gracious, either. They are strife and condemnation. I realize, subconsciously, that’s what I’ve been feeling in abundance and pretty full measure recently.
I try wiggling my jaw as I continue to warm up with a slow jog. My eyes tear with the effort in the brisk morning air. I blink several times. Warmth pools in my right eye and catches on my lower lashes.
When I quit BSF last year to do a Bible study with then 99-year-old Gramma Jean, I chose Ephesians.
I ordered the Kay Arthur Precepts study, I bought two sets of pens in green, light blue, pink and purple. I carefully explained to Gramma what you have to do.
I couldn’t tell if she actually forgot — or if she was just being passive-aggressive about participating in the study — but she never did her “homework.” Two or three weeks in a row, I explained the idea to her. All she has is time on her hands, after all. She never got that 3-ring binder out herself to “study.”
So, we read Ephesians 1 and 2 aloud once a week for 6 months.
Every week, Gramma Jean would stop in chapter 1 verse 6 or verse 7. If we got to chapter 2 we would pause over verse 7.
“To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:6). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph. 1:7). “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6-7).
She would say, “now, people rush over those words. Words like grace. I don’t remember what grace is, Becky. Nobody has ever explained it.”
Although certain that, in her 99 years she has heard many a sermon on “grace,” I would try to explain. And, not the years of dissecting, not the decades of reading the Bible like a lawyer — searching for how to define words, testing and arguing over reformed or Armenian theology — no, not these things, but one of the kids’ Veggie Tales CD came to my aid. In one song Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus sing the word “grace” repeatedly. Larry the Cucumber gets through the entire song thinking they’re singing about his Kindergarten teacher “Grace Smith.” Bob corrects him and Larry says, in his cucumber lisp: “oh, that grace. Unmerited favor of God.”
Every week, Larry’s voice in my head, I would explain to Gramma Jean: “Grace is unmerited favor. Getting what you don’t deserve.” She would nod, we’d read the verse again, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” She would ask: “what’s grace again? Oh, yes. Unmerited favor.” And, we would read again: “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Basically every time we pulled out that binder, her eyes would snag on the word “grace.”
Only because God’s built up a little bit of patience in me, would I manage to explain without rolling my eyes.
I jog slightly faster now. The wind lightly touches my face. I blink, and the tear trickles down my cheek. I can taste its saltyness.
She’s right, I realize. Even though I can rattle off the words, the concept of grace is trapped in my head. Maybe it’s been trying to work its way down into my heart and my bones but it’s stuck in my fibrous, ropy, knotted, neck.
I think I’ve lived all my life understanding grace and mercy to be the same thing. Grace is actually a little different, I think. It has an additional component.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve. It has to do with the fancy theological term “propitiation.” God’s anger appeased.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.
Overflowing, abundant, fullest measure of what you don’t deserve.
My arms and legs are alternating. I’ve quickened my steps as the blood moves through my body. I can feel it circulating. My neck and shoulder have loosened.
It seems too much. Foolish to think that grace is boundless, unending, lavish blessing.
Nobody is out this morning. The tree-lined street echos no human sounds. The silence gives way to the leaves that rustle in another breeze.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. His blood was offered as the sacrifice for sins, the atonement, the propitiation. His body was offered as the bread of life. No ready theological terms come readily to mind when I think of Jesus’ body.
Just a full tummy for a few hours.
I approach the stoplight. It changes to yellow and as I reach the corner it blinks red. Thank goodness. I am glad for the forced mini-break.
As I stop, the Spirit brings the verse fragment to me again, “In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” I understand that Greek is this crazy language where it’s easy to come up with exactly the right words to use: you take a bit of this word, a bit of that one, smash them together, make sure they’re in the right “tense” and go. You’ve said exactly what you meant.
Well, English isn’t like that, but I love that the Spirit led Paul to tell us that God has riches of grace that are lavished on us not by mistake or naivete, but with all wisdom and understanding.
Lavished. It’s a generous word. God’s rich grace is heaped up on us.
I reach my arm over my head, grab my wrist and lean to the right. Exhale audibly.
A car’s coming. It’s far enough down the road that I could cross, despite the red light. I want to wait. Now I reach the other arm overhead.
Why this feeling that a misstep will be cackled at with glee?
I can’t do it perfectly. The story of my life has been, “tries hard, some talent, but not exceptional.” Really, I tell myself. Top 80% of most things. What if I am destined to be mediocre in all things?
Blood drumming a steady rhythm just under my jaw, the long sleeve shirt is no long necessary. I tie it around my waste.
Mediocre mom. Mediocre lawyer. Mediocre wife. Mediocre Christian..Mediocre human?
The light turns green.
Imperceptibly the road climbs. The little rest did me good. I welcome the small challenge. My breath is steady. Filling my lungs, infusing that blood with energy for my muscles.
What if, compared to the best humans, I am merely adequate? When I try my absolute, messy best, it’s “meh?” Am I courageous enough to show up and just be pretty ok?
Verse 1:7, 2:7 aren’t the only places the Spirit expounds on God’s richness. While Gramma paused at “grace,” the Spirit caused my eyes to pause at “riches.” There in 1:18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Verse 19 finishes off the thought, “and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
It’s compared to others that my abilities — my powers, if you will — are solidly in the middle of the pack. Serviceable.
But God’s power? It’s incomparably great. In.Comp.Arably. Literally: No. Comparison.
And that incomparably great power? It’s for us who believe. Me who believes.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. Even though I can’t think of any fancy theological words for that, I can think of what bread does.
Metabolized, it gives energy. Power to move.
I smile. The gathered sweat at my temples trickles down my cheek. At the middle mark of my run, and I can feel the energy in my muscles.
Jesus breaks open the way for God’s great power in me. Flowing through me. Grace is more than just not getting what I deserve. It’s being heaped with blessing. It’s overflowing as I move.
Peter’s benediction — grace and peace being ours in abundance, overflowing, to the fullest measure — is followed in his second letter by the remarkable statement: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
I think I can swallow my pride to show up just hit the middle mark.
Something may be waiting behind a bush to pounce on my mediocre performance on the “life final,” but it’s not Life. It’s not God.
No, God’s grace is that of a mother, smiling with open arms to the chubby twelve month old who is getting ready to let go of the sofa and take those first few tentative steps.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. To the fullest measure, friend.
If you find yourself stuck in your thoughts, friend, remind yourself: Jesus came to give us grace and peace in abundance. It’s ours for the taking now. If you need a reminder, I created a free download just for you, click here to get it.