Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grace--Amazing and Then Some

“Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton in the 18th Century, is one of my favorite hymns.  There are two new versions of “Amazing Grace” that I particularly like.  One is Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain.”  The other is Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio’s version of “Amazing Grace” that adds the “My Chains Are Gone” chorus to the traditional “Amazing Grace” lyrics.  It is interesting to me that both contemporary versions include a comparison of God’s grace to rain.  Agnew, of course, puts it bluntly: “Hallelujah, Grace like rain falls down on me.”  In “My Chains Are Gone,” Tomlin and Giglio describe God’s gracious mercy as a flood.

It is singularly appropriate, I believe, to link God’s grace to abundant rain.  In the created world, we depend on rain for personal survival, the ability to clean, for refreshment, to grow crops for our food.  Water is a vital component of our ecosystem, and without it life on earth would perish.  God’s grace, like rain, washes us, refreshes us, energizes us, and ends the spiritual and emotional droughts in our lives.  God’s grace is abundant, often coming as a flood of mercy.  We cannot live without God’s grace any more than we can live without water.  It is fitting, then, to praise God for His grace, and to ask for it.  Our Worship Team often pairs “Grace Like Rain” with another chorus: “Let It Rain.”  Indeed, asking our Lord for His grace is a wonderful way to acknowledge our need that only God can fill.

There is a problem with grace-like-rain, though.  Rain is not always convenient.  It often disrupts our plans and interferes with what we “must” do.  It reminds us that as much as we would like to think otherwise, we have limited control of our lives.  God’s grace, like rain, is often inconvenient.  It can thwart our pursuit of our goals, and it most definitely reminds us that we are not sovereign over our lives.

If God’s grace is like rain, I believe it is helpful to clarify our understanding of grace.  We often view grace with a narrow, self-focused lens.  When we ask for grace, we generally mean that we are asking for a “break.”  The “grace period” associated with a credit card account is the time between a purchase and when payment is due.  We are saved by Christ’s gracious death, His payment for our sins.  It is all too easy to take this aspect of grace and conclude that God’s grace is for our purposes.  But God extends His grace to us as an expression of who He is, our loving Creator, Savior, and Redeemer.  His grace is for His purposes in our lives. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the well-known 20th Century Christian writer, wrote about the dangers of “cheap grace,” the attitude that sees God’s grace as the means to further one’s own purposes, comfort.  This attitude neglects a genuine participation in the nature and work of Christ and misses the point of grace-like-rain.

Grace is God’s free love gift to us, but it does require something of us.  In order to experience Christ’s offer of salvation by faith, we must relinquish our desire and attempts to achieve our own righteousness and earn our own salvation.  Living by grace through faith means that we maintain our focus on following our Master—we seek grace like rain so that we can be enabled, equipped, and empowered to fill His purposes for us rather than serving our own ambitions and wishes. 

I, for one, have a long way to go on this journey of grace through faith.  I don’t always want grace like rain; sometimes I want to be dry, comfortable, and independent.  I praise God, though, that he doesn’t leave me high, dry, and grace-less.  Instead, He uses hymns like “Amazing Grace” to draw my heart, mind, and soul closer to Him.  May this be true for all of us as we sing such songs.