I picture Elaine Benes, from Seinfeld, scrunching up her face in the episode where she meets Mr. Pitts, who has noticed her startling resemblance to Jackie O.

“You think I have grace?

Of course not. But then neither do I, most of the time.

Grace is on my mind because the topic came up in church on Sunday. The mystery of grace makes me pause to consider: what is it, and how do I get it? Will grace make a difference in my life?

Grace is the ability to see people as God sees them–worthy, desirable, and full of potential. Although we were unworthy, undesirable, and completely lacking in potential, God sacrificed his Son to purchase our souls. He somehow looked past what we were and loved us for what we were meant to be–what He had intended us to be. This perspective might eradicate hatred, violence, and poverty worldwide, if only we could see everyone through this lens.

Not many of us have that kind of grace.  Oh, we throw out some random acts of kindness or hold our tempers, but that’s not grace. That’s kindness and self-control (and probably not very good examples of either).

Grace is lavish exaltation. It’s generosity without an expected response. It’s edification without deserved proof. When God gave grace, which precipitated redemption (the carrying out of grace), he did so with full knowledge that most of us would spit in his face, pretend we don’t know him, and choose him on Sundays but forget him the rest of the week. And he wanted a relationship with us anyway. A one-sided, lop-sided, all giving-and-never-getting-anything-in-return relationship. Because of grace. This kind of grace has the power to rescue the rebel and restore the broken marriage. It gives and gives and leaves the results to a higher power.

That doesn’t sound like a fun gig. Not really the kinds of relationships we are looking for, even in our acquaintances. Should I give grace towards a cruel boss or a hurtful spouse? A selfish parent or an angry teenager? How is that even possible?

Through forgiveness. Not the answer I’m looking for. Much of the time, forgiving doesn’t feel fair. In order to be forgiven, people should ask. People should change. Yet often, forgiveness is a one-way street. But the destination is the same if you keep moving forward. Freedom. Grace. Redemption. It’s the kind of forgiveness God offers us.

So how do you learn to show people grace? How can we ever hope to model the love of Jesus through our grace-filled actions? I guess we can’t spend our days slandering our authorities, criticizing our spouses, and lecturing our children. I might have to give them grace. I must choose to believe that God is at work in them and that maybe my gracious actions could facilitate their responses to God. I might have to believe that instead of being evil, they were created for a great work.

Oh, you mean we need to show those people grace?

Ah, yeah. It’s not grace to show patience to the well-behaved child crying over his homework or the pretty woman at work who still doesn’t know how to send a fax. Patience and grace are not the same thing. Patience, perhaps, waits for the other person to get his act together; grace knows he won’t.

If you want to be gracious, you must humble yourself enough to accept grace from God and others. And if you want to live a worthy life, you must give grace lavishly. No strings attached (or it’s not grace). That is a pretty tall order, I’m just saying.

If you’d like to read some seriously astute material about grace, I suggest Philip Yancey‘s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? because he can obviously explain this theology way better than I can. Today I’m just reminding myself of some grace-influenced actions that I can incorporate to propel me toward a path of gracious living:

  1. Don’t judge other people’s actions and attitudes–you don’t know what they’re going through
  2. Assume the best about people–maybe they will rise to their potential
  3. Look at yourself first–you’ve got plenty to work on yourself

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24)

image by alex grichenko

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