I have to share this with you, a little essay from my childhood friend Anna who is living in a Middle Eastern country. It brought tears to my eyes and made the miracle of God’s grace fresh again…
Today I read this quote and it went right into my soul: “Those anointed by God feel no need to prove themselves.” – Rick Warren.
This aligns perfectly for me, because for the past months the thought running through the back of my mind has been, “I’ve got nothing to prove.” (Quick note to say of course this doesn’t stand up to over-analyzing. If we feel the need to prove ourselves, it’s our sinful legalism flaring up, not a sign that we lack God’s anointing!)
I would say this is a life theme for me. This idea that in God we find the freedom to be ourselves–we work hard for him, let others’ opinions and estimations of us (both good and bad) slide off our backs, and leave the results up to him. That results in living fully FREE, ALIVE, and full of JOY!
I picture someone working hard all day in the hot sun (good works God called us in advance to do), then flopping back on a shaded hammock, lemonade glass in hand, watching the giant clouds drift by in awe (grace!). If we let this works/grace mix seep in deep we won’t waste our lives navel-gazing or be sidelined by an inflated head. This is a work-in-progress of God in my life, because my personality is bent on working hard, on outdistancing others, and on “winning”–whatever that means.
There’s this silly computer game called LifeQuest, and its premise is that you’re trying to beat people at life. Yes, for real. You’re trying to outpace everyone from your class at high school before your high school reunion; first to buy a car, to move into a better home, to get a degree, get married. You know, >cough< so I’ve heard, from people who play the game… These days I sometimes feel like I’m looking back at the US and I just don’t get it. It used to feel somewhat normal, but now it looks an awful lot like a game.
Move away from home. Quick, buy a house by the time you’re 30! Get a job with a title you’re proud of. Upgrade–get promoted! Look good. Like, reeeally good, and all the time. Eat like a caveman. No, no, eat only whole grains. Wait, no, GRAIN BAD! I want meat–fed with grass. (wipe brow)
Get a boyfriend –preferably not a Neanderthal. Upgrade to husband. Bada-bing bada-bing: kids. Nice kids–cute, full of personality, always well-behaved. Roadblock–minivan downgrade. 🙂 Get kids into good schools, or homeschool for extra credit. Pile on the extra-curricular activities. Pile their plates with Stevia and almond flour and grass-fed free-ranging joyful mutton. And on and on and on and on.
It’s an incredible amount of pressure.
I’ve been living over two years in a culture that is almost completely devoid of grace. It’s turned me into some kind of a grace-detector, always on the lookout for kindness around me, looking for things to praise and relate to. You know what I’ve realized? The life I left really isn’t that different. Yes, Americans love a comeback story and believe in second chances. This concept that anyone can come from nothing and make something of themselves… that seems so equalizing. “Put your past behind you and live your best life now.” It’s attractive, no doubt.
But that just means that we all (in theory) start on equal footing–and then our results are completely dependent on our actions! It may not be about working hard piling up the good works to please God, but we’re sure as hell trying to please ourselves! or our neighbors!
The thing about all this? Well, it feels great… if you’re “winning.” If you’ve got Ken for a husband, moved into your dream Barbie mansion and are raising two perfect kids, hurray! Life is good!
But if “succeeding at life” depends entirely on our efforts–working hard, reading up on the issues, questioning everything, living intentionally every last minute–where does that leave the “losers”? What happens when you can’t get pregnant? Or when you hold out for Mr. Right and he just doesn’t seem to exist? What if you find Mr. Right and things fall apart? What if everything looks great, but you feel alone inside? What about when you get edged out for the promotion you dreamed of, or you put all your dreams into a business idea that fails? What do you say to your friend who gets cancer? Or watches her child take her last breaths?
Grace, grace, grace.
Anglesey Abbey gardens, photo by Paul McFarthing
My friends, it wasn’t that grace just came into our lives to save us from eternal life apart from God. It wasn’t just a check mark in the “go to heaven” box. Grace came down. The grace spotlight from heaven is permanently shining down on us. We’re in heaven’s ray, “earning” His favor as much as flowers “earn” the sunlight. This grace is poured on us, daily, freely, undeservedly. We stretch out our arms to receive it, turn our faces toward him.
Receive, receive, receive.
This love of God is matchless, it’s unlimited! (Ok, I’m crying now!) This love of God is so sweet. My Father cares for me–oh God, you care for me! The working and worrying and striving and scurrying… insignificant compared to the wide open heaven above. This love gives tiny me significance. It puts me in my place when I think it all depends on me. This love throws my shoulders back, lifts my head. This love puts iron in my bones, strength for the trials.
Come receive the grace and the kindness of Jesus, my friends! Raise your hands to him, run for him with the sun on your back.
You’ve got nothing to prove.