In my previous post I talked about whether we believe God or not. I made the comment that if we understand truth and grace, our lives will reflect that belief. The problem is that we don’t really believe that it’s true. We don’t understand the importance of truth, or the depth of grace. I’ve continued to think about these topics, and there are three areas in particular that pop up currently in my life where I need to consider whether I am going to embrace that what God has said is true, or not.
As most people who know me have heard me say, when I”m talking about believing God, I’m not talking about intellectual assent. There are a lot of things that Christians say that they don’t really believe. We can know that they don’t believe them, because their actions and lives don’t match what they say. I guess this is the heart of hypocrisy. I’m not saying that if you believe certain things about God and life that you will do specific actions. It isn’t a formula or magic, and your response won’t be the same as mine. Rather, the things you do, the choices you make, the way you treat others, all of these areas of your life will reflect your understanding of who you are and who God is. If they don’t, then I have to conclude that you don’t really believe those things. If you tell me a bridge is safe, but there’s no way you’re walking out on it, I would conclude that you don’t really believe it is safe.
So here’s a heart check moment for me: do I really believe that what God says is true? The way I can know what I believe is in seeing whether I am willing to act on that belief. That willingness is displayed by actually doing it. I don’t think there’s any other course.
First, do I believe that God’s grace is sufficient for everybody? What I say I believe is that without the grace of God we are all equally dead. Dead people stink and rot. There’s no distinction between good corpses and bad corpses. God’s grace extends equally to all of us, whether we’re someone who has followed the rules, or a criminal in the midst of our own well deserved execution. I find that easy to believe in the abstract. When I hear stories in far away places or times in which really bad people come to God and are changed, I think that’s really awesome. When the story is closer to home, grace seems further away.
In my life over the past few years I’ve been exposed to some people who come from some rough places, or who have made some really bad choices, or are just not good people. Do I believe that God’s grace, which I believe extends to all in the abstract, can extend to these individual people too? Can he forgive people who have hurt little children?
Quite honestly, I think my real belief is that he could, but I kind of hope that he won’t. I can relate to Jonah, who didn’t want to go to the people of Nineveh because they might repent and be spared from God’s judgement. Can I pray for the salvation of a person who has done evil that hits closer to home, knowing that if God’s grace can reach them, I have no right as one also forgiven to hold onto my anger?
God’s grace isn’t about making good people better. Its about bringing decayed corpses to life. God’s grace is sufficient for me, and for you, and for even the most heinous of criminals. If I believe that, then I will pray for them, not just that God will deal with the evil, but that God will touch their hearts and that they will turn to him and be saved, and in doing so become my brothers and sisters in Christ. God will then show them the same kindness that he has shown me, pouring on them every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. And if I believe that then I will also pray that God will use me in that process, and I will speak to them in love and truth, not just to condemn evil but also to point to grace that is sufficient for each of us. Then, I will also forgive, just as God has forgiven.
The second heart check moment recently for me was this: can God really use anybody? One of my kids has Cerebral Palsy and a variety of other problems. I think its not all that difficult to believe that God can use people with physical handicaps. I recently heard David Ring speak, and it was very encouraging to me as a dad of kids with special needs. A man with CP can be used in amazing ways by God. But the idea that God can use someone with a physical handicap isn’t that far fetched to me.
On the other hand, here’s a challenge for me to believe: God can use idiots, people who can’t get anything right on their own, people who have never had a logical or coherent thought in their lives, and complete screw-ups. I don’t just mean he can use them as bad examples. God is not limited by our limitations.
In one sense, that’s a relief, because I spend a lot of my life out of my depth. In fact, if you follow God’s leading he will surely put you in situations that you cannot possibly succeed without him. The point isn’t for us to do it on our own, but rather to learn to lean on him to do his work, and for the glory to go to him when it’s done. There is no one else who is capable of accomplishing God’s work. Only God can do it.
In another sense, its a profound challenge to me, because I have to admit that when I interact with people in the church or in ministry who are really not as smart as I think they should be, or who don’t know what I think they should know, or just seem to never get things quite right, I start to wonder. “But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world things weak to shame the strong.”
I tend to think that God’s grace makes the good better, but I need to remember that God’s grace is for the dead. I tend to think that God uses the talents and skills we bring to the table for his work, but I need to remember that it is God doing the work, and he uses the weak on purpose. That’s a good thing because it means he can use me. Its a hard thing because it means he can use the people that I have a hard time believing are capable of any good outcomes. I cannot assume that because someone is not very bright, or not very talented, or just can’t seem to get anything right, that they are not exactly where God put them on purpose so that he could do amazing things, things I might not even be aware are happening. God works in mysterious ways. After all, he chose me.
The third heart check issue for me recently is whether I really believe that God’s promises hold true today, right here where I live. My last post touched on this, whether I really believe what I say I believe. Here I’m focusing more narrowly. I listened to a message by Francis Chan recently in which he pointed out that the same word in John 3:16 that says “that whoever believes in him will not perish” is the same word in John 14:12. In the previous verse Jesus pointed to his miracles, and then in verse 12 he says “he who believes in Me will do the same things I have been doing, and even greater works than I have done.”
Do I believe that God is active and moving with power and purpose in the world today and in my life? Do I believe he is sovereign and good, and keeps his word? If what God says is true, than I can trust him. I can move forward in faith knowing he is here, now, and he is in control, that he loves me, and that he is good.
I know that God answers prayer because I have seen it happen more times than I could count. He has shown me that this week, and he’ll answer prayer today. The astonishing thing is how quickly I can forget, and not talk to him about things. The amazing thing is that when he speaks I sometimes find excuses not to listen, most often based on the oldest trick in the book: “Did God really say…?”
I am so far from perfect it isn’t even a comparison, like comparing crumbling mud to a diamond. The thing is, perfection isn’t really my goal. Trusting and loving God and doing what he says is my goal. Part of that is trusting that he who began a good work in me, in my heart and life, will complete it.
God’s grace and forgiveness are enough and available for anyone who will accept them. God’s power is enough to work even through you and me, and through the weakest of his children. He is trustworthy and able to do all that he has promised. And he will, not only someplace else or some other time, but here and now. He is able and willing to move with supernatural power in your life and in mine, today.