Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chapter 3 Faith for Grace

Faith for Grace

When Grace "fails"...?

        The pot was boiling over, the sauce was burning, the baby at my feet was crying, my daughter on the stairwell was screaming, her harasser was busy provoking me with his sassy grin, and my oldest was demanding my answer to a question he apparently had already asked me several times. As the symphony of cries drowned out my words, I thought, “I won’t make it through this! Where, oh where is Cameron? He’s already a half hour late and I need him now!” What had been a pleasant day, not because of its’ lack of troubles, but because of the grace I had had from the Lord amidst them, suddenly became a crisis of hysterical proportions. I unloaded on my unsuspecting hubby the instant he entered, immediately regretting my ungracious words. He gently reproached me, “Heather, you need to walk in the Lord’s grace.” I snapped back, “I was!” His dubious glance led me to confess, “Well, I did for most of the day, anyhow. I somehow lost that grace right at four o’clock....when you had promised to be home.” He replied simply, “I’m sorry,” and taking a deep breath, I said, “I’m sorry, too.” But while that particular crisis ended, I continued to wonder why that sort of situation was such a familiar scenario in my life. I would be going strong, clearly walking in a Strength not my own, but just when I expected relief from my demanding responsibilities, chaos would break loose and I would find myself completely empty of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual resources to survive the mayhem. “Why?” I would ask God, and silence would seem to be His reply.

A Transfer of Funds 

        One night, after a particularly “grace-less” day, I cried out for understanding, and again was met with silence. The next day, however, a particular verse echoed in my heart. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8) By grace...through faith. Of course. It immediately dawned on me that I had only ever obtained grace through faith. Thus, when grace was absent, it must be an issue of faith. I had been reading an excellent book by Cheryl Brodersen, called When a woman lets go of her fears, and in it she speaks of faith as a “fund” given to everyone. To whom or what it is applied determines the outcome of that faith. In other words, if something promised by God is lacking in the life of a Christian, it is not because God has let them down nor that they lack the faith to receive it, but rather that they have misapplied their faith to things other than Jesus Christ. Rather that striving to “have more” faith, she encourages believers to “transfer” their faith from those other things to God. Applying this to myself, I asked, “What then have I been putting my faith in other than God?” Thinking back to that recent crisis of circumstance, I realized that my faith had been in the trial itself and also in my husband, Cam. I believed the trial was greater than the grace available to me, and thus turned my faith to my husband who I believed had more grace than I for the situation. Grace had failed me because I had placed my faith in the wrong things.

If only...”

        When I have hard days, I sometimes dream of different circumstances that I imagine would improve areas of my life. “If only we had a house more suited to home schooling, then...” or “If only we had family close by, then...” or “If only we could afford such and such, then...” And I fantasize about how easy life could be, “if only...” But what is so easy to forget is that such thinking cuts us off from the very grace we need to endure our present circumstances. How? Grace is obtained through faith in Jesus’ ability and promise to supply us with what we lack. We miss out on God’s all sufficient grace when we begin to hope in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ to meet our needs. Among the myriads of false hopes, there are four main categories that I have identified through my personal experience of them: 

1. Trust in Ourselves 

        In Philippians 3:3, Paul describes a mature believer as one who “puts no confidence in the flesh”. What is the “flesh?” The flesh is all that is naturally characteristic of ourselves: our strengths, abilities, and talents, as well as all of our faults. We tend to take pride in the characteristics of our flesh that make us feel good about ourselves , and minimise or reinterpret those that do not. Our self-esteem is largely tied to our positive or negative opinions about our flesh. Paul described himself as one who had much to be confident in as a person. “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5,6) For a Jewish man of his day, he had a lot to be personally proud of in his flesh. Yet, as he continues on in his letter to the Philippians, he declares that all those things he counted as “gain”, he now counts as “loss” for what he has found in Jesus Christ. He, at some point, had transferred his faith from himself to God, and found a confidence unshakeable and immoveable in Him. We as people do need confidence, but what does that confidence rest in? Ourselves or God? I used to have much more confidence in myself than I do now. I considered myself to be intelligent, creative, physically fit, positive, self-motivated, ambitious, stylish, skilled, attractive, adaptable, resourceful, witty, interesting, and down to earth to name a few...oh, and humble...ha,ha! In short, I thought well of myself and had no doubt as to my future success in whatever I put my hand to. In God’s great mercy to me, He allowed trying circumstances to challenge these fleshly confidences, exposing them as shallow, temporal, and insufficient. My self-esteem was thoroughly shaken and, in some areas, completely shattered. Stripped of illusions of grandeur and glory, I realized that, in and of myself, I am just a nobody. Not noble, not mighty, not wise. I am a rescue case, at best, in desperate need of the grace of Jesus Christ. I have no confidence in my fails me all the time. If we are trusting in ourselves, we will inevitably let ourselves down. Have you ever thought, like me, “I just can’t believe I actually did that!” or “That’s not like me!” when you have done something “out of character”? The merciful reality of failure is that it effectively dismantles any prideful delusions we may have cherished regarding the maturity, character, or righteousness we believed ourselves in possession of. When we are self-confident, that is when we are truly most helpless, because God’s grace is only available to us when we realize we need it. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34) 

2. Trust in Others

        I have a wonderful husband. Wonderful. He is practically perfect in every way. Well, perfect for me, that is. Those shattered illusions one hears about that occur after the “honeymoon” is over, just didn’t happen to me. He is my best friend and life long love. So, when a crisis happens, and my faith in myself is gone, I have a tendency to put my faith in him. Poor Cameron! In spite of all his strengths, he is human, fallible, and insufficient for all my needs. What a horrible burden to put on him or anyone; for when he inevitably falls short of perfection, I then ridiculously want to get mad at him! He never asked for my confidence to be placed in him. He never said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Jesus alone offers such assurance and strength. In turning to my husband for help, I would have simply been misplacing my faith in a person. How often it is that we do this! Whether it is a spouse, a friend, a child, a parent, a pastor, or a public figure, we are always shocked and disillusioned when they fail to meet our expectations. "Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:5) When we put our expectations or hopes upon another human being, we not only short change ourselves, but we actually cut ourselves off from the One who wants to show Himself strong on our behalf. The Bible calls this misplaced trust, "idolatry", and it was the one sin that so often brought disaster upon the children of Israel, as they turned to men, money, and might instead of the one true and living God who alone could deliver them. Jesus wants to bless us, to provide for us, to help us. He cares about us, and unlike people, He never wearies of hearing our troubles, nor does He tire of meeting our needs. It is His pleasure to prove Himself able and willing to satisfy our souls with Himself and to fulfil our every need. We have a BIG God and He is GOOD. When we trust in Him, in both His strength and His love, we can rest in the truth that He is able and willing to work in our situations and lives for good. 

3. Trust in Circumstance 

        We once lived in a fourplex home on a city street infamous for drug deals and nightly debauchery. With small children entering into the school age years, we dreamt of a house with acreage in the country where they could grow up healthy, happy, and homeschooled. Also struggling to figure out family, ministry, and personal holiness, we hoped that a simpler, more separate lifestyle would help us in our endeavours. One day, the Lord opened the door and we moved to a lovely half acre lot in a rural suburb. We began in earnest to turn that little piece of country into a hobby farm, complete with large garden, greenhouse, chickens, and ducks. It was a delightful time and we really enjoyed ourselves. But for all that it was, it hadn’t really solved anything at all. We were still clueless how to raise our children and lead our church, and the homesteading lifestyle hadn’t improved anyone’s godliness. We had misplaced our faith in circumstance. A change of location, and even lifestyle, may be the right choice at times, but it must not become our hope. In the grace of Jesus Christ, the worst of locations can become the very tool that works out the best of results. Are we willing to trust Him in such scenarios, or is our hope in the right house, neighbourhood, school, lifestyle, church, etc? Even in the best of circumstances, we remain reliant upon the Lord for His grace, whether we realize it or not. It can be possible to so cushion and so schedule our lives that we rarely come upon a trial we can’t handle in our own strength; but more often than not, we don’t succeed in trial prevention, and we find ourselves, in spite of our best efforts, smack-dab in the middle of a trial. Circumstances, no matter how ideal, will always let us down. When you find yourself complaining and discontent with where you are at or what you have, take note, for you have placed your hope in that thing which your heart desires. Transfer your hopes to the One who promises you a future and a hope: “'I know the thoughts that I think toward you’, says the Lord, ‘Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”(Jeremiah 29:11) Paul wrote, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5) 

4. Trust in the Trial 

        Peter, the apostle known as much for his failures as for his faith, was nevertheless often the first of the twelve to step out in total commitment in that which he believed in. He was a man characterized by radical decisions, conclusions, and actions. He fearlessly abandoned his career and sustenance to follow Jesus. He boldly declared Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God when many had abandoned Him. He stuck close to Jesus and was there when He was transfigured on the Mount. He even sincerely offered to die with Jesus and then, in misguided bravery, struck out with the sword to prove his commitment. None of these actions of wholehearted devotion come close, however, to the events of one stormy night on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had sent His disciples on ahead in the boat and had gone up a mountain alone to pray. When evening came, the disciples found themselves struggling against a fierce wind that tossed their boat around violently in the midst of the sea. In the early morning hours, Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. The disciples were naturally terrified, but when Jesus told them not to fear, Peter went a step further than your average fearlessness and asked Jesus to invite him to walk on the water as well. Jesus said, “Come.” Peter then climbed out of the lurching boat onto the turbulent sea and started walking towards Jesus. What faith! Peter then seems to come to his natural senses, and thinks, “This is crazy! What am I doing walking on the sea? I’m not in the boat!” Looking around him, he assesses the situation based on all human experience and knowledge, and he fears. He promptly started to sink. As he cried out for help, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Peter, a man of extraordinary faith, took his eyes off Jesus for one moment and immediately became overwhelmed by the reality of his earthly circumstances. He was walking in unbelievable faith one moment and sinking down into real human fear the next moment. The setting and situation had not changed; his focus had. And with this focus change, there was a transfer of faith. Jesus had demonstrated His power and authority to walk on water, to which Peter had responded with absolute trust; his powerful Messiah had inspired his powerful faith. But as he approached Jesus, he began to look around him and became in awe of the stormy sea and boisterous winds. This storm seemed suddenly so much more powerful than Jesus, and he doubted. He transferred his faith from Jesus to the storm itself, and immediately began to sink under his fears. When overcome by an affliction that seems daunting or a situation that appears impossible, we can lose sight of God and believe that this trial is going to bring us under. To despair is to put your faith in the tribulation; to believe that it is going to beat us, or already has. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Paul knew this kind of great tribulation, and yet, knowing Jesus, was able to say in II Corinthians 4:8,9, “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” When you find yourself amidst a stormy tribulation, lift your eyes to heaven, for Jesus is your Rock of refuge. You will not drown. When you find yourself consumed in a fiery trial, look to Jesus, for He is your deliverer. You will not be burned. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:2) Take your faith from what you fear and place it in He who said, “Do not be afraid."

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