As I look at my personal arc of faith from youth to where I am today, there are some amazing changes. Even a few things I wish my older self could have told my younger self; if such a thing were possible. I’m not talking about changing certain life choices, but pointing towards the real direction faith thrives in. Perhaps the greatest lesson I wished I had learned earlier is to lean on grace.
There’s a head-strongness to youth, a surety of belief, which often compensates for lack of experience. In those younger days, it was easy to hear a teaching and grab on onto with blind faith. After many stumbles and falls, both of myself and others, a caution has taken hold instead. A pause to pray, to seek, and to consider before taking any next steps. It’s not that I lack faith in God, but lack faith in what others may be saying God or the Bible says.
In those earlier days, one major concern was finding God’s personal design and purpose for me. It is one of the promises of the Evangelical creed – God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. There is truth in that declaration, but God seldom tells me His plans in advance. I used to be consumed with figuring out God’s plan for me and in the process wasted time that could have been spent simply loving God in moment by moment and step by step obedience. I’ve since learned to lean on grace – if God wants me somewhere, then He’ll get me there one step at a time.
Leaning on grace also affects how I view others with different theological views. We simply don’t see everything clearly, no one does. There are plenty of tensions within the Bible which keeps many of the theological checkboxes from being the only sure answer. I take this warning from the Gospels. The various Jewish sects of Jesus day each thought they had it all figured out. But Jesus didn’t fit into any of their paradigms. Jesus instead pointed at “knowing Him” more than “knowing all the right answers” or “doing all the right things.” God isn’t searching for those with perfect theology or perfect actions but for those that love Him.
I’ve also learned to lean into grace when encountering the God-given passions of others. Some folks are narrowly and passionately equipped by God. I’m not. The evangelist who finds soul-winning so easy they are amazed that everyone isn’t out there doing it. The empathic warrior who sees the brokenness caused by injustice and who is amazed (and somewhat miffed) when others are not moved as they are. All specialists of faith and practice which excel at their calling. Their passions are stirring and often guilt-inducing. Why can’t I be like them? Why don’t I feel like they feel? Simple answer: I’m not them. They are a rose in God’s kingdom, but God made me a dandelion (If you think that dandelions are only weeds then consider the smile on a mother’s face when her three-year-old presents a handpicked bouquet of yellow dandelions). Leaning on grace means learning from those passionate souls while, without shame or doubt, continuing to be me.
The final grace, at least for this bit of writing, is trusting God to finish (and finish well) my story and the story of others. I may see a sin in someone which God has already convicted and freed me from. Leaning on grace for them means trusting the Holy Spirit instead of becoming the Holy Spirit. I will fully confess that my younger self was more on the fanatical side of the judgment spectrum. Many of those incidents are my greatest regrets. I’ve determined to give others the same grace I give myself. Knowing “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6b, NASB95)
This doesn’t mean an end of the struggle against sin. Far from it. But it does mean trusting the Holy Spirit to reveal sin according to His priority and His timing. As difficult as some behavioral sins are to conquer, it is the internal sins, those unseen motivations, which are the most difficult to overcome. Those outward sins I see in others may not be what the Holy Spirit is working on right now. So, instead, I’ll lean on the grace that God is working both in my life and in the lives of others. Trusting God to be God and loving Him more each day.
There is one warning, however. Leaning on grace requires an attitude that everything — every choice, every dollar, every moment, every relationship, every word, and every action belongs to God. To play the game of “If God wants me to stop (fill in the blank ) then He would take it away from me” is dangerous and wrong-headed. Leaning on grace requires utter faith, transparent honesty, and an ever-growing love. Paul put it this way (paraphrased), “I count everything as manure so that I may enjoy Christ and be found in Him…by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9 paraphrased). Anything less and we are not leaning on grace but playing hide and seek with grace.
There is a tremendous freedom that comes with leaning on grace in all things. Freedom from false guilt and shame. Freedom to enjoy the moment instead of worrying about God’s plan. Freedom to accept others knowing the Holy Spirit is working in their lives too. It changes our picture of the life of faith from stumbling about in a maze hoping to make it through to dancing in a sun-drenched meadow. As Keith Green put it, “You just keep doing your best, And pray that it’s blessed, And Jesus takes care of the rest.” That’s what it means to lean on grace.