The Mysterious Way of Grace

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them” (Isaiah 42:16).

I am haunted by the sense of doing something wrong, or that I am not doing enough. There is constant pressure to do more, accomplish more, work more. I live in a constant evaluative mode, always concerned if I am doing the right thing – the thing that God would have me do. I bounce between feeling guilty about this, and wondering how much of this feeling is really from God vs. something I am putting on myself. Lately, I’ve had a slight inkling it’s me. It’s like trying to cut your way through a dense jungle, and stumbling out into a clearing. A sudden shift in thinking that opens up space to breathe and rest. These are glorious moments. I tell God I want to stay here with Him in the clearing. But before long, I turn right back to my tangled ways. Why? I feel like Paul when he said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). And so the vicious cycle repeats: pressure, confusion, guilt, work, work, work. Always falling short, fearing I am not living up to the calling I have received in Christ.

But seeing the problem is half the battle. At least I am beginning to recognize this struggle as my flesh – the old self trying to do God’s work my way. But God’s work only comes in His way – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

I read that verse this week, and “not by works” jumped off the page at me. I came to another clearing in my jungle. I gasped for air and tried to breathe deep the grace being offered to me. My heads-down-pushing-hard ways were preventing me from recognizing and receiving His grace, which is at work powerfully in every one who believes. No one misses the grace train in God’s Kingdom. But some of us are so busy trying to invent new ways to make the jungle bearable that we can’t see God has given us a way out.

Grace is a struggle for us. I didn’t even know the extent I struggled against it, until recently, when these thoughts began to surface. We don’t automatically know how to recognize or receive grace because it is against our nature. We only know what we know. We can only live out of what we know. We must learn a new way – this way of grace. But it is not a path we can figure out on our own. We can’t make it out of our jumbled thinking without God. His grace is the only clear path that leads to spacious places.

I once heard a technology guru talk about different mentalities. He labeled two distinct ways of thinking. He called them the “scarcity model” and the “abundance model”. The scarce thinker hoarded knowledge, fearing there was never enough, and that he had to accumulate all that he could to keep himself relevant in his work. The abundant thinker was the opposite – generous, a collaborator. He freely gave and received because he believed there was enough to go around. He felt no pressure or threat, which made it possible for him to live and work this way. This talk always stuck with me because I see so much correlation to life. Failure to recognize or receive God’s grace is the equivalent of being a “scarce thinker”. Work becomes a pressure oriented race where we are always behind, and fearful of slipping even further. When I come to a clearing, I get a glimpse of the old me, still partially clinging to scarce thinking. And even this is a gift of His grace. Only He can give us eyes to see.

Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He said the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. We allow the enemy to keep us heads down in the jungle because he is adept at playing to our sin nature. He tells us we haven’t done enough, couldn’t possibly be pleasing to God, and keeps us on the treadmill of scarce living.

But Jesus offers us abundance in everything. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:7-8).

Paul prayed God would open the eyes of our hearts to see the riches of the glorious inheritance we have in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:18). We have a Gracious God who offers us abundance. Isn’t it time we start living out of it? I want to be free of this false, scarcity model. I want to stop receiving God’s grace like a kid with her hand caught in the cookie jar. The cookies are ours in Him. I want to stop falling for the lie that I have to “do more” to be worthy of God’s grace, and stop listening to the voices inside my head that keep me fearfully striving, and loaded with guilt.

Grace is God’s free gift. We are not worthy of it. We can’t earn it. We can’t produce grace through toil and striving. We can only receive it. We yield our lives to the goodness of God’s grace, trusting Him to harvest us in the clearings. And little by little, we learn this new way of grace. Out of the jungle, abundance flows.