Apr 5, 2009

Performing with Grace

If you know anything about me, you may have realized that when I am overwhelmed everything suffers. I fail to perform to the level expected of me. When I have too much to accomplish, I accomplish nothing. When situations or people bring stress, I withdraw into myself allowing relationships to suffer. When I seem to lack strength for life, I wallow in my weakness instead of depending on the One who is strong in my place. When my performance suffers, I fall into depression or even apathy as I view myself as a failure for not performing with grace.

This past week proved to be such a time as I sat in my office, fighting tears, wondering why I ever decided to go back to school because obviously this was not for me. Did I misconstrue God’s leading and miss His will by following my own? Did I make this decision based on emotion rather than logic and true desire to glorify God? Did I do this for myself, for my family, for Alex and not for my Creator? Am I a disappointment? I must be because my failures outnumber my successes of late: I failed to teach Raman Spectroscopy to my students because I failed to understand it; I failed to be considerate of my mother’s emotions through this planning process and failed to make it enjoyable for both of us; I failed to be a friend; I failed to be a leader; I failed to be a student; I failed to fight for joy.

I know that God led me to this school, at this time. The decision to come was made after months of prayer and uncertainty, searching to know what God would have me do. His answer was so clear, how could I doubt it now?

I doubt because I view my performance as the only measure of my worth and therefore it must reflect whether I am obedient or not. Surely success is the mark of obedience! Surely depression is revelation of some intentional shortcoming in my life, some sin. Surely I cannot believe these inferences if I truly know my Savior!

Indeed, Christ did not promise success, he did not promise emotional stability, he did not promise ease in this life. Obedience is difficult; depression is the broken response of a broken person to a broken world; failure is a natural course for a fallen being. However, in my failure, Christ promised he would bring good things; in my erratic emotions Christ promised to be faithful, constant, sure; in my brokenness, Christ promised to bind me up and comfort me with his joy and indescribable peace. He will be my strength; He will be my joy; He will be Grace to me.

So how did I come to this place? I confess the fault is all my own. Instead of looking to the work Christ accomplished for me, I turned my attention to the work I attempt to accomplish for Him. It is a discouraging sight as my best efforts will never be good or glorious. I posses no grace or righteousness of my own, so even the work of my hands is the result of borrowed joy and vision. I saw I have naught to offer anyone. Instead of exulting in the lovely Grace and Mercy of God that he would bestow upon me all His very best, I shrank away. Why? I do not know—it must be the result of a depraved thought process.

There is great danger in this thinking. It not only affects my life tremendously, but it reflects a distorted view of the Cross and Grace of Christ. Yet, I find this way of thinking prevalent in my environment, allowing it to filter into my mind and heart to the extent that it prevails in me. I lapse into the belief that the value of my life is the sum of my parts, mainly my success as shown through performance: Did I earn the exceptional grade? Did I dominate my presentation? Did I please my parents; do I make them proud? Did I give Alex a reason to love me today; is he happy he chose me? Did I read my Bible and pray through the names on my prayer list? Did I prepare for and go to small group and Bible study? Did I reach my goal? Am I successful? Did I earn His love and grace today?

It does not matter.

The answer to those questions is irrelevant because the economy of God is based on capitalism but on his unimaginable generosity. He is Grace, Righteousness, Love, Peace, Joy and all I ever need regardless of my performance. Out of gratitude I long to serve Him as best I can, focused not on my work, but on the work that allows me to benefit from all that is good and glorious. I must preach the gospel to myself daily as the cross is not just my salvation; it is my sanctification and total redemption of my depraved state on a daily basis. Thus, when I preach the gospel to myself daily, I also preach it to my sphere of influence daily; the power of the cross is unleashed in my life to flow into the lives of the hurting, the hopeless, the proud and the apathetic I encounter. As a friend wrote,
“This is the very reason that the gospel is for all people, for all times. Simply put, we will forget the power of the gospel unless it preached to us daily---preached to ourselves daily---preached to each other daily. I needed to be constantly reminded of Christ’s great exchange so that my mind does not return to its default mode of performance.”

As I preach the gospel to myself, preach the gospel to yourself and we will see a shift in the church from unattractive legalism to a community attractive to the broken failures that inhabit this world; people like me.

Communities of Performance

* People talk about grace, but communicate legalism
* Unbelievers can't imagine themselves as Christians
* Drive away broken people
* The world is seen as threatening and 'other'
* Conversion is superficial—people are called to respectable behavior
* People are secretly hurting
* People see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion
* The gospel is for unbelievers

Communities of Grace

* People can see grace in action
* Unbelievers feel like they can belong
* Attract broken people
* People are loved as fellow sinners in need of grace
* Conversion is radical—people are called to transformed affections
* People are open about their problems
* People see faith and repentance as daily activities
* The gospel is for both unbelievers and believers
(from The Resurgence blog)

I want to foster a community of grace.