A guest band was leading praise and worship at our church, and their passion for the Lord was moving. We could see—and feel—their enthusiasm.
Then the musicians revealed that they were all ex-prisoners. Suddenly, their songs took on special meaning, and I saw why their words of praise meant so much to them. Their worship was a testimony of lives broken and restored.
The world may embrace success. But stories of failure offer people hope too. They assure us that God loves us no matter how many times we have failed. In his book Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay, pastor Gary Inrig writes that what we call the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 could well be entitled God’s Hall of Reclaimed Failures. “There is scarcely an individual in that chapter without a serious blemish in his or her life,” he observes. “But God is in the business of restoring failures . . . . That is a great principle of God’s grace.”
I love the comfort of Psalm 145, which speaks of God’s wonderful works (vv. 5-6) and glorious kingdom (v. 11). It describes His compassion (vv. 8-9) and faithfulness (v. 13)—then immediately tells us that He lifts up those who have fallen (v. 14). All His attributes are expressed when He picks us up. He is indeed in the business of restoration.
Have you failed before? We all have. Have you been restored? All who have been redeemed are stories of God’s grace.
It was an early Saturday morning in my sophomore year of high school, and I was eager to get to my job at the local bowling lanes. The evening before, I had stayed late to mop the muddy tile floors because the janitor called in sick. I hadn't bothered to tell the boss about the janitor so I could surprise him. After all, what could go wrong? I thought.
Plenty, as it turns out.
Stepping in the door, I saw inches of standing water, with bowling pins, rolls of toilet paper and boxes of paper score-sheets bobbing on top. Then I realized what I had done: While doing the floors, I had left a large faucet running overnight! Incredibly, my boss greeted me with a huge hug and a big smile—“for trying,” he said.
Saul was actively punishing (Acts 8:1) and harassing Christians (Acts 9:1-2) when he came face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-4). Jesus confronted the soon-to-be-renamed apostle Paul with his sinful actions. Blinded by the experience, Saul/Paul would need a Christian—Ananias—to restore his sight to him in an act of courage and grace (Acts 9:17).
Both Saul and I received unexpected grace.
Most people know they’re messed up. Instead of lectures, they need a hope for redemption. Stern faces or sharp words can block their view of that hope. Like Ananias, or even my boss, followers of Jesus must become the face of grace in these life-changing encounters with others.
“How can you be so kind if you don’t even know me!”
By making the wrong decisions, Linda had ended up in jail in a country not her own. For six years she remained in prison, and when she was set free she didn’t have anywhere to go. She thought her life was over! While her family gathered money to buy her ticket home, a kind couple offered her lodging, food, and a helping hand. Linda was so touched by their kindness that she willingly listened as they told her the good news of a God who loves her and wants to give her a second chance.
Linda reminds me of Naomi, a widow in the Bible who lost her husband and two sons in a foreign land and thought her life was over (Ruth 1). However, the Lord hadn’t forgotten Naomi, and through the love of her daughter-in-law and the compassion of a godly man named Boaz, Naomi saw God’s love and was given a second chance (4:13–17).
The same God cares for us today. Through the love of others we can be reminded of His presence. We can see God’s grace in the helping hand of people we may not even know well. But above all, God is willing to give us a fresh start. We just need, like Linda and Naomi, to see God’s hand in our everyday lives and realize He never stops showing us His kindness.
My mother and her sisters engage in what is increasingly becoming a lost art form—writing letters. Each week they pen personal words to each other with such consistency that one of their mail-carriers worries when he doesn’t have something to deliver! Their letters brim with the stuff of life, the joys and heartaches along with the daily happenings of friends and family.
I love to reflect on this weekly exercise of the women in my family. It helps me appreciate even more the apostle Paul’s words that those who follow Jesus are “a letter from Christ,” who were “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). In response to false teachers who wanted to discredit his message (see 2 Cor. 11), Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to keep on following the true and living God as he had previously taught. In doing so, he memorably described the believers as Christ’s letter, with their transformed lives a more powerful witness to the Spirit working through Paul’s ministry than any written letter could be.
How wonderful that God’s Spirit in us writes a story of grace and redemption! For as meaningful as written words can be, it is our lives that are the best witness to the truth of the gospel, for they speak volumes through our compassion, service, gratitude, and joy. Through our words and actions, the Lord spreads His life-giving love. What message might you send today?
The US Masters Golf Tournament began in 1934, and since then only three players have won it two years in a row. On April 10, 2016, it appeared that 22-year-old Jordan Spieth would become the fourth. But he faltered, on the last nine holes and finished in a tie for second. Despite his disappointing loss, Spieth was gracious toward tournament champion Danny Willett, congratulating him on his victory and on the birth of his first child, something “more important than golf.”
Writing in the New York Times, Karen Krouse said, “It takes grace to see the big picture so soon after having to sit through a trophy ceremony and watch someone else have his photograph taken.” Krouse continued, “Spieth’s ball-striking was off all week, but his character emerged unscathed.”
Paul urged the followers of Jesus in Colossae to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5–6).
As those who have freely received God’s grace, it is our privilege and calling to demonstrate it in every situation of life—win or lose.
My friend Norm Cook sometimes had a surprise for his family when he arrived home from work. He would walk through the front door, and shout, “You’re forgiven!” It wasn’t that family members had wronged him and needed his forgiveness. He was reminding them that though they doubtless had sinned throughout the day, they were by God’s grace fully forgiven.
The sequoia tree, one of three species of redwoods, is among the world’s largest and most enduring organisms. It can grow to 300 feet in height, weigh over 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kg), and live for 3,000 years. But the majestic sequoia owes much of its size and longevity to what lies below the surface. A twelve- to fourteen-foot deep matting of roots, spreading over as much as an acre of earth, firmly grounds its towering height and astonishing weight.
A redwood’s expansive root system, however, is small compared to the national history, religion, and anticipation that undergird the life of Jesus. On one occasion He told a group of religious leaders that the Scriptures they loved and trusted told His story (John 5:39). In the synagogue of Nazareth He opened the scroll of Isaiah, read a description of Israel’s Messiah, and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
Later, after His resurrection, Jesus helped His disciples understand how the words of Moses, the prophets, and even the songs of Israel showed why it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise from the dead (Luke 24:46).
What grace and grandeur—to see Jesus rooted in the history and Scriptures of a nation, and to see how extensively our own lives are rooted in our need of Him.
A woman desiring to pray grabbed an empty chair and knelt before it. In tears, she said, “My dear heavenly Father, please sit down here; you and I need to talk!” Then, looking directly at the vacant chair, she prayed. She demonstrated confidence in approaching the Lord; she believed He was sitting on the chair and listening to her petition.
A time with God is an important moment when we engage the Almighty. God comes near to us as we draw near to him in a mutual involvement (James 4:8). He has assured us, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). Our heavenly Father is always waiting for us to come to Him, always ready to listen to us.
There are times when we struggle to pray because we feel tired, sleepy, sick, and weak. But Jesus sympathizes with us when we are weak or face temptations (Heb. 4:15). Therefore we can “approach (God’s) throne of grace with confidence, so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).
A friend and his wife, now in their early nineties and married for sixty-six years, wrote their family history for their children, grandchildren, and generations to come. The final chapter, “A Letter from Mom and Dad,” contains important life-lessons they’ve learned. One caused me to pause and take inventory of my own life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship with Jesus Christ. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” (Matt. 11:28–29).
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’s invitation in this passage begins, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? . . . Walk with me and work with me. . . . . Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
When I think that serving God is all up to me, I’ve begun working for Him instead of walking with Him. There is a vital difference. If I’m not walking with Christ, my spirit becomes dry and brittle. People are annoyances, not fellow humans created in God’s image. Nothing seems right.
When I sense that I’m practicing religion instead of enjoying a relationship with Jesus, it’s time to lay the burden down and walk with Him in His “unforced rhythms of grace.”