Have you ever had an encounter with someone who was less than gracious? Have you been accused? Confronted?
Or maybe you’re in the store, waiting in line at checkout, and right in front of you is a family with young children. Just then one of the kids start freaking out because the parent won’t let them have candy. Is it hard for you to be gracious?
What if the parent is you and the kid is yours? Are you able to graciously stand firm while your offspring is throwing a tantrum? What if the other customers around you start acting frustrated with you, as if it is your fault your child is losing it? So you’re being hit with your child’s poor behavior on one hand, and the poor behavior of adults on the other. Are you gracious then?
What if your boss cuts your hours? Gives you a poor performance review? It can be very hard to be gracious.
I use the app IFTTT on my phone. “If this, then that.” It is an app that automates your phone to do tasks. I have found it to be amazing. For example, IFTTT helped me set up my phone so that I send myself a text message reminding myself to take out the trash on Thursday nights. It sends me a text each 1st of the month to remind me that the mortgage is due. IFTTT can do so much. One interesting feature it can do is a rescue call. And by “rescue”, I don’t mean rescue from danger. Instead IFTTT will rescue me from one of those conversations when I badly need to go, but the other person won’t stop talking. Or maybe they’re talking about something awkward, maybe politics, and I want to get away, but I don’t know how to do so graciously. All I need to do now is tap the IFTTT phone icon on my home screen, and within seconds, IFTTT makes an automated phone call to me. All I have to do at that point is say to my conversation partner “I’m so sorry, I need to go and take this call.” Gracious!
There is hope! Not only can we use technology to graciously rescue us in difficult situations, we can learn to become more gracious. If you know there is bitterness or a habit of poor responses coming out of you, then you can be changed from the inside out. You can become a more gracious person. Read on!
This week we’ve been talking about grace. When we accept God’s gracious gift, we are not only taking on a whole new family name, but we are also saying that we will live like a child of grace, to live like Jesus lived.
If you want to know how to live a life of grace, study Jesus. In 1 John 2:6 one of Jesus closest friends, John, says “Whoever claims to live in Jesus must walk or live as Jesus did.” Accepting God’s gracious gift, then, is not just saying “I believe in and receive the gift of God’s grace”. It is living a life that looks more and more like the gracious life of Jesus.
But a life of grace is not always easy. In fact, when calling us to a life of grace, God calls us to something that can be difficult.
I recently read the book, Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, and I highly encourage you to read it as well. Caleb is a pastor who parents are gay. They were married, divorcing when he was 2yrs old. Soon after the divorce, his mom started a lesbian lifestyle, and she raised Caleb in that community. To him, therefore, it was normal. His dad remained single, though years later Caleb learned that his dad was gay. So Caleb grew up in a family environment, mostly with his mom and her partner, that normalized the lesbian lifestyle and felt the pain of hate and discrimination from less-than-gracious Christians.
But something unexpected happened. Caleb, through friends, a youth group, and reading the Bible, learned about and received the gift of God’s grace. As he studied the Bible, he changed his mind about same-sex relations. Caleb then had to come out to his parents. But it was a very different coming out. Instead of announcing to his Christian family that he was coming out as gay, Caleb announced to his gay parents that he was coming out as a Christian and he no longer agree with their lifestyle. It was brutally difficult for Caleb to live out the gracious life of Christ in his family.
Living in families is like that. We all know this. Sharing life together as a church family is like this.
Grace is not easy. Grace can be very difficult when people are unkind to you. Grace can be difficult when people make bad choices that affect you. Grace can be difficult because people can be difficult. But as we learn from Jesus how to live the gracious life, we’ll notice how, time and time again, he chose grace when people were being extremely difficult to him and others.
Another difficult aspect of living a gracious life is that it doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want because, “God is gracious, and he’ll forgive me. His grace covers it all anyway!” One of the writers of the New Testament, Paul, referred to this thought process in Romans 6. There he asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace will abound?” Have you ever thought something like that? That you can do something sinful “just this once” because God will forgive you anyway? If we’re honest, I suspect most of us have thought that about God’s grace. Guess how Paul answers his question. “Should we go on sinning so that grace will abound? By no means!” Accepting God’s gift of grace means that we surrender to our way of doing things, and we give our lives to do things God’s way.
In another writing, Paul says to Titus who was a pastor friend of his, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
What this means is that we respond to God’s gift of grace by living lives of grace. A graceful life is one that pursues self-control, purity, and treating others with grace. That’s where this grace thing gets messy. Imagine what it is like for God to be gracious to us when we are regularly thinking, doing, and saying things that are not self-controlled and pure. Imagine how he feels. He was so gracious to us, to the point of sending his son to give his life for us. And how do we respond to that grace? We choose to ignore it by sinning.
And just as we can messy to God, others can be messy to us.
So what will it look like to be gracious to people in your life? Sola Gratia means that we are children of grace, and we should be known not only for receiving God’s grace, but also for showering that grace on those around us.
I want you to think. Who do you have a hard time being gracious to? Remember that grace is undeserved favor. Who rubs you the wrong way? Who do you need to be actively gracious to? Have you allowed yourself to develop a less than gracious attitude to people in your church family? What about in your own family? Is there anyone for whom grace is very messy for you?
What will you do to show more grace? What will you do to demonstrate that you are a child of grace?
- Evaluate yourself. Have people ever told you that you are less than gracious? That you are intimidating or difficult or argumentative? Have someone who is able to speak the truth in love to you evaluate you. Don’t trust yourself to give yourself an accurate accounting. Some of us are too hard on ourselves. Some of us are too easy. Get a true perception of whether or not you are living as a child of grace.
- Learn to live graciously. Study Jesus’ life in the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life, recorded in the Bible), Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And as you are reading, ask God to help you to learn to be gracious from Jesus. Write down the ways you see Jesus being gracious. Then seek out someone in your life who is known for being gracious, and ask them to teach you. Get the book Messy Grace. It is excellent.
- Practice. Are their people in your life who you have been less than gracious to? Do you need to go to them and ask forgiveness? And to show that you are seeking a new gracious pattern with them, what is a gracious act you can to do to start treating them differently? Maybe a small gift, maybe a nice card, maybe a compliment?