Barbara Sampson brings into focus a unique aspect of our faith: the wonder of grace. If you struggle to read the Bible (you are not alone!), try meditating on these four studies over the next week and begin a new habit for the New Year!
When C.S. Lewis was asked what makes Christianity different from all other faiths, he replied: ‘It is grace.’ In marketing terms, grace is the USP—the unique selling point—of the gospel.
Read Genesis 28:10–19: ‘When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” ’
There was nothing graceful about Jacob. He was a grabber right from the beginning, a tough little schemer. He cheated his brother out of his birthright and deceived his father over his brother’s blessing.
Jacob is on the run when night falls. As he sleeps he dreams of angels on a stairway to heaven and hears God speaking amazing promises: ‘I will give you the land on which you are lying … Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth … All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
Jacob awakens realising that God has not struck him down for his sins but, rather, has blessed him. The place has become Bethel, House of God, a holy place of encounter.
Even when, like Jacob, we are in ‘a certain place’, vulnerably on our own, running from our troubles, unsure if we will make it through the night, God knows where we are. He will find and bless us and make of us what we could never make of ourselves. Remember, the grace that sees through us is the grace that will see us through!
Having read Jacob’s story, now read Psalm 139 as ‘your’ story. Whatever words or phrases strike you—let them tumble around in your mind throughout the day.
Read Exodus 16:1–18: ‘In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him.’
The mystery of God’s grace is that it is free, but it comes with a cost. The 19th Century Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard lamented the failure of many of his contemporaries to understand God’s grace. If grace received by a believer is not lived out and passed along in grace-filled ways to others, it is what Kierkegaard called ‘cheap grace’—a two-dollar-shop plastic version of the real thing.
When God led the children of Israel out of Egypt they danced with joy. Against all odds they had been delivered from bondage and set free for a new life in the land of promise. But when the promised milk and honey of the new land did not flow immediately, their songs of joy quickly turned to grumbling. Dreams of Egypt’s bounty were preferable to hunger pangs in the desert (verse 3).
Within a few weeks of their miraculous liberation the Israelites had turned back to their idols. Israel’s sorrowful story is sadly our story as well. We too struggle with living in the aftermath of God’s grace—forgiving and not holding grudges, setting free and not seeking revenge, responding with gratitude rather than with grumbling.
Our response to God’s grace may often seem inadequate, little more than a ‘crumpled amen’. But God sees beyond our inadequacy to the heart of gratitude with which we bring ourselves. God’s grace, given to us freely and at such cost, calls forth all we have and all we are.
Have you ever moved from ‘grace to grumbling’? Write an expression of confession.
Read 2 Samuel 9:1–13: ‘ “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” ’
Grace is a demonstration of love that is undeserved, unearned and unrepayable.
The custom at the time of King David was that when a new king came to the throne, all the family members of the previous dynasty would be killed. Jonathan knew that one day David would be king, and asked him to show kindness to Jonathan’s family. Many years later, when he was indeed king, David remembered his promise and asked if there was anyone still left of the house of Saul (Jonathan’s family).
Ziba, a former servant of Saul, told David about Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan ‘crippled in both feet’. When Mephibosheth was five years old, his nurse, hearing that Saul and Jonathan had both been killed in battle, picked Mephibosheth up and ran. However, she dropped the child and as a result he was permanently disabled. Mephibosheth had spent the years since then hiding from the king, living in Lo Debar—which literally means ‘no pastureland’, that is, a barren God-forsaken place.
When David hears about this son of Jonathan, he orders Mephibosheth to be brought to the palace. He comes, bowing low, knowing he is as good as a dead dog (verse 8). But instead of being killed, he is shown kindness. This son of Jonathan, with nothing but his crippled self to bring, finds that the king has set his heart on him. He is welcomed to the king’s table, treated as one of the king’s sons, and a tablecloth of grace covers both his feet.
In this story, do you feel more like David or Mephibosheth? Why and how?
Read John 1:14–18: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’
To understand what clothes grace wears, to see what grace does, to hear the accent with which grace speaks, we need to look at Jesus. Like the word agape, which is a designer word to describe God’s love (as opposed to other ‘loves’), grace was not even in our vocabulary until Jesus came.
He came from God the Father, John writes, ‘full of grace and truth’. Out of his own fullness Jesus poured out ‘grace upon grace’ (verse 16, RSV), ‘one blessing after another’ over us. He became poor so that we could become rich. He humbled himself so that he could lift us up. He became nothing so that we could become something.
When grace appeared it came incarnate in the person of Jesus. He clothed himself not in a robe of plush velvet or shimmering white, but in human flesh that sweats and smells and suffers. He came not as a prince among men, but as a servant, bending low to wash the feet of his closest friends.
Jesus reached out to lift up fallen sinners and to restore lost sons. He noticed little things like children and meagre lunches and widows’ offerings. He kept company with people of no standing, no repute. He was as unconcerned for his own reputation as he was uncondemning of theirs.
He met doubt with tenderness, hatred with love, betrayal with forgiveness. He lifted his heart to the God who people thought was unapproachable and called him Father, Abba, Daddy, and encouraged us to do the same.
Jesus came clothed in grace, speaking grace, living grace—as John says, ‘full of grace’.
Read Philippians 2:6–11 and respond to Jesus in your own way.
Enjoyed this study?
This is just an abridged taste of Barbara’s Sampson’s collection of 18 studies on grace, called Grace for the Ungraceful. To order your copy contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost: $5 ($3 + $2 p&p).
by Barbara Sampson (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 13 January 2018, pp20-21
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.