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It was a Saturday afternoon I'll never forget. I was 17 years old and hanging out at a friend's house when I found myself kneeling next to an old Jeep, my trembling hands clasped together as I cried out to God. It was more out of sheer exhaustion and desperation than any religious formality.
At that point I realized my life was killing me--from my very own choices. I was living from moment to moment, crisis to crisis, looking for the next experience--drinking, stealing, sex, anything--that would make me feel alive inside again. For years, I had been trying to escape from the pain of life's circumstances.
As I knelt there, alone, I didn't realize what I was doing and didn't really care. But I knew I was giving up--and that's all that mattered to God.
Before that afternoon in my friend's garage, I had felt so disconnected from God, from myself and from those around me that I had escaped into a world of distractions. Alcohol, stealing and promiscuity were not the problem; they were my feeble attempts to solve the problem.
The real dilemma? I didn't know who I was. I didn't know who God thought I was. In other words, I didn't understand grace.
The Distractions of Life When I look back at that pivotal time in my life, I am amazed at how far God has brought me. I now understand more about grace than I did then--mostly from asking some soul-searching questions that I'd like to share with you now.
Do you really know who you are? Do you see yourself as God sees you? Are you living the dream that you and only you were meant to live? Do you imagine a future that releases you to be what He made you to be? Or are you too distracted by a sinful life or religious roles to even think about it at all?
Our attempts to clothe ourselves in the distractions of life--both the sinful and the spiritual--are open betrayals of the fact that we have forgotten we are sons and daughters created by almighty God. Stripped of our royal robes and noble purposes, we live our lives trying to clothe a cold and embarrassing nakedness with the skimpiness of possessions or position.
John Eldredge and the late Brent Curtis, in their book The Sacred Romance, put it this way: "Very seldom are we ever invited to live out of our heart. If we are wanted, we are often wanted for what we can offer functionally. If rich, we are honored for our wealth; if beautiful, for our looks; if intelligent, for our brains. So we learn to offer only those parts of us that are approved, living out a carefully crafted performance to gain acceptance from those who represent life to us."
The heart that truly understands grace relates to God not through obedience and duty as much as desire and gratefulness. But to move from mere obedience to gratefulness requires us to have our identity rooted in who Christ has made us to be.
The Power of Weakness I recently counseled a married couple who began to argue loudly during the session, ignoring me in an angry exchange that revealed each spouse's exceptional skill at the art of wounding the other. As the verbal combat escalated, something strange happened. They suddenly became aware that I was still in the room. You could see the shock all over their faces. They were horrified that I, their pastor, had seen this side of them.
Immediately they became pleasant again, and even exchanged some mild compliments with each other. I addressed their obvious discomfort by asking them if they were more comfortable before or after they let me see the dark side of their marriage.
It was clear they regretted embarrassing themselves in front of me. It wasn't until I told them that I liked them better and could help them more when they weren't concerned with what I was thinking about them that they felt free to be themselves again.
But notice that, for them, to feel free wasn't the same as feeling good about their marriage--at least not for a long time. For them, freedom meant having the permission to feel bad about their marriage and about themselves, and to not be afraid to show it.
As Christians, we are not called to be without weakness. We are called to understand our weakness so we can exchange it for the strength of the cross--itself a picture of great power clothed in the ultimate weakness of death.
With His sacrifice, Jesus became the original Wounded Healer. Jesus calls all those who come after Him to heal His broken world, not through their own strength, but through the redemption of their broken lives.
God chose us because we were broken, not because we were whole. He picked us out of the crowd because we were falling apart, not because we had it together. He came to heal those of us who were sick, not those who have no need of a physician. As Paul wrote, "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor. 1:27, NIV).
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