If I was still climbing, you’d steady the ladder.
If I were in pain, you’d ask what was the matter.
So why all the silence when you saw me falling?
Why turn away slowly when you hear me calling?
If grace flows so freely, then why are we silent?
If God says to give it, then why so defiant?
If grace we’ve been given so we keep on livin’
Then why so be so graceless to the other forgiven?
Is my sin so mighty and I’m so to blame?
While yours is so silly it’s not worth the shame?
Is that what grace does, covers sins just so small,
That we wouldn’t really need grace that much at all?
I truly don’t think so; I think we’re all wrong
If our grace is for some and not for the throng.
So why are you silent, when ladders are falling,
Reducing to whispers the cries of the calling?
‘Tis grace helps the fallen to rise to his feet,
While the lack of grace lowers him down to defeat.
God’s grace, we all know, is abundant and free
To choose who receives it is not up to me.
— Thom Hunter
Human Beings, like plants, grow in the soil of acceptance, not in the atmosphere of rejection — John Powell.
One of the benefits of living in apartments and duplexes most of my growing-up years was that yard-work was pretty much someone else’s problem. Still, we occasionally lived in homes with fairly good-sized yards, and, being a boy, I was expected to mow. It helped that I had an older brother who was the first on-call, though he was too soon gone, his motorcycle affording a means of escape from anything that did not appeal to him, like lawn-mowing. I have to admit, my memories are more of my mother putting her full weight behind the push mower, which was always choking on the too-tall weeds that tended to mark our yards, but I did do my share.
To me, the mower was power. I would survey the yard with all the Bermuda grass “antennas” sticking up jaggedly and envision them as TV antennas over the thousands of homes that populated the yard, living rooms filled with lazy, hapless viewers . . . and then I would put myself into a spirit of annihilation and let the destruction roar and roll. “You’re next,” I would say to a plot of green-ville and would even, every now and then, decide who was living in the “house” I was about to shred.
I was indiscriminate. If you were between the porch and the curb, your house and all within was going down. How dare you get out of control in my yard? Nothing short of perfect 3/4″ submission would be accepted. Grasshoppers and doodle-bugs that didn’t flee surrendered the right to be.
I would not have made a very good God. I was into whirling blades, not unlimited grace. Yes, I know it was just a yard and it all grew back with vengeance, but in my metaphor-making machinations, I was a cruel master.
And then life continues on and the mower becomes the mowed and wonders “where’s the grace” of which we all so boast? Can Christians be known for our love and, at the same time, recognized for our lack of grace?
A few weeks ago, with company on the way and a garden that had been graced with Oklahoma’s extreme weather — 106 degree days followed by six-inch rains — I found myself on my knees furiously pulling two-feet-high weeds from around hidden vines of cantaloupe and cucumber, their fruit mis-colored and mis-shaped by the absence of sun under the crowded shadow of choking weeds. My grown-up mind reflected on my boyhood of the antenna-crunching of the innocent, but I had adapted to the passage of years and the gain of life’s experience to a better metaphor.
“You’re next,” I would say to a clump of weeds as my gloved hand reached down to the base just above the roots. Only this time, I found myself ripping judgment from the ground, plucking harshness, dislodging rejection, culling out complacency, digging up haughty arrogance, pulling prideful finger-pointing. I would pause and look around and realize the never-endingness, the impossible task of getting every weed, and when I viewed it as a landscape, it seemed impossible indeed. But when I focused on just the weeds before me, each came up and eventually the so-craved-sun found the distorted fruits of the hidden vines and shined like grace to say it’s your time again to grow.
I know what grows in the garden in the absence of grace. It is bitterness, the mis-shaped fruit of those gasping for grace, thirsting for forgiveness, reaching for restoration, but hidden beneath the weeds of rejection and crowded out by the jungle of judgment. Grace tends the garden so the root-bound can grow again.
Withholding grace from those who sin and repent. . . is a sin. Like the weeds that came into the Garden with the original fall, the weeds of withheld grace take root in the spring, take over the summer and become the harvest of autumn.
A man or woman who struggles with a habitual or addictive sin — such as acting out on same-sex attraction, heterosexual or homosexual lust, viewing pornography, committing adultery — learns that these particular sins are deemed by many Christians as too slippery for the grip of grace. Maybe the deeming is not official, but more an expression of Christian-correctness, as much as culture’s approval of almost everything is deemed political-correctness. As Christians, many of us just can’t handle the reality of sexual sin. Steal my bread and I’ll forgive you and work out the repentance of repayment. Slip into sexual sin and I’ll . . . forgive you perhaps . . . but regard your repentance as an exercise of repetitive futility. Once a pervert forever a pervert.
Okay . . . I said, “many Christians.” I have found that the vast ocean of Christianity is populated with fertile islands of the forgiving who cultivate grace and hope and believe in mercy and kindness. Their lighthouses are welcome beacons to the wrecked vessels being tossed about on the seas of rejection. Grace heals and rebuilds and makes the sinful once again seaworthy.
Interestingly, these islands of grace are more often than not populated with those who have received grace themselves in abundance, people who themselves fell and looked up to find a hand extended, offering grace. Come to think of it, that should be all of us.
After years of struggling and falling and finding fewer hands extended, I understand the great pressure placed on those who offer grace “once again.” As if it is in limited supply, there is a tendency to hold it back for someone more worthy. But . . . then . . . it becomes not grace at all. For no one ever will be worthy. No one deserving.
Those of us who have been shown grace by those we hurt, should be the most generous purveyors of grace. We have been given much and from us much should be expected. We even must find a way to extend grace to the ones who reject us and consider us worthless, because just as in the absence of grace, the weeds of bitterness grow in its hoarding. So, give.
Not lazy, hazy, spacey grace, but clear, powerful, unrelenting, unchallenged, full and . . . unmerited . . . grace. Stun the devil with clarity.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast — 1 Peter 5:8-10.
The God of all . . . grace.
The withholding of grace to each other is the height of selfishness, to keep something which is unlimited away from someone who is in need. To look at ourselves and fear the embarrassment that the person we pick up may fall again and leave us with some proverbial egg on our faces. To stand back, pretending patience, when what we are really doing is passing judgment and piling on with piety. If we keep grace in a precious box because we have decided that the person to whom we should give it will just squander it and return to sin again, we are assuming the worst of both the sinner and of God. How can we in our own limitations determine when the sinner will drop the idol and claim the grace?
To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But You brought my life up from the pit, O Lord my God. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You, LORD, and my prayer rose to You, to Your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” – Jonah 2:6-9
Are you up to the challenge of giving grace and letting God deal with the graced and his or her sin?
Giving grace is an act of courage.
Giving grace is an act of the will.
Giving grace is an act of fearlessness.
Giving grace is an act of selflessness.
Giving grace is an act of trust.
Giving grace is an act of love.
Giving grace is an acknowledgement of the grace we ourselves have been given.
If we are but cold silent statues in a graceless garden, we have forfeited the tending to others. Blinded by our own coldness, we cannot even see what grows, we cannot turn and reach, but are frozen in our selves. Nor do we care; we are there for others to see, immobilized on our granite pedestals.
Step down. Pull some weeds. Bring grace like rain to the thirsty vines.