Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Living a Life of Graciousness

This morning, as I was driving my daughter to school, I was reflecting on the idea of grace. I've recently started a Bible Study by Beth Moore called, Entrusted - Bible Study Book: A Study of 2 Timothy It is a powerful look at ministry and discipleship, and she is focusing on Paul and Timothy.

Last night, as I was going through 1 Timothy 1 as part of the homework, I was moved by verses 12-14:

"I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." (~1 Timothy 1:12-14, ESV)

I think many of us have people in the Bible that we can relate to, and I've always related to Paul. Not because I am some great orator, but because he had a shady past, just like I do. Before his conversion, Paul was not a good dude. In Acts 9, right before the Bible talks about Paul's conversion, it says that,

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2). 

God didn't forgive Paul over say a few nasty things Paul had said here and there. He literally persecuted Christian, threw them in jail, all while breathing "murderous threats."

Paul knew about God's incredible grace. He had devoted his life to persecuting and imprisoning Christians, and yet, once he had an encounter with God, his life was transformed. It wasn't an easy life (he ended up imprisoned numerous times), but Paul knew that God's grace had transformed him and he devoted the rest of his life to witnessing and sharing the gospel.

Paul knew how powerful God's grace was. He watched it in his own life, and made sure that he continually praised God for it. In Ephesians 2, he reminds us that: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV)

It is so funny how God's grace and love means we are saved and forgiven of all of our nastiness - our less-than-pretty pasts, our unkind words, our road rage - and yet, in the day-to-day, we are often so ungracious to others.

Sure, we might feel loving and kind at church on Sunday, and prayerfully tell God we want to be kind and loving this week. But by Thursday, we are short-tempered, burned out, or ungrateful. We are critical to our spouses, frustrated with our children, resentful of our job or finances.

How easy it is to take God's gracious forgiveness of our sins (and I have many) for granted. To praise him for forgiving us, yet do the exact opposite to others during the rest of the week.

When I teach my marriage class through my church, I often share that if God can forgive our sins (addiction, anger, jealousy, gossip), the least we can do is be gracious to our spouses. If God can forgive all of our sins, we can forgive our spouses when they are occasionally short-tempered or snippy after a long day. We can forgive them after a tense "discussion" about money or parenting or finances or any of the things that we bicker about in marriage.

As I was reflecting on grace, something awful happened. I dropped off my daughter at school, with the words "grace wins every time" (I love that song by Matthew West) going through my head, and I witnessed a car accident.

Not a little one either. One where the bumper was ripped off, the woman wasn't moving, and police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance all showed up.

It was literally breathtaking.

Life is incredibly short, y'all.

One moment, you are driving your child to school, the next, you are in a potentially life-changing (or ending) accident.

A routine mammogram shows breast cancer.

A spouse decides to take their life.

As a therapist, my office is full of people whose lives were changed in an instant.

And it got me thinking, if I died tomorrow, would people at my funeral say, "Hilary was such a gracious person. She knew how to let things go, she was giving and kind"?

Or would they say, "Well, Hilary was pretty intense, she was definitely not a kind mom to her kids, and we had some intense run-ins over the years."

Whew. It literally made me teary.

This year, my husband and I have chosen words to represent our goals. I've waffled from "prioritize" to "focus," but after seeing that car accident, I think it needs to be "gracious."

After all of the sins I've done over the years, the people I've hurt, the ungracious, unkind, unholy things I've said, I am forgiven because of grace.

So I need to forgive others and be gracious to those who bug me, anger me or cut me off in traffic. It is literally the least I can do.

2 Peter 1 describes several powerful qualities we need to have as Christians, "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love" (2 Peter 1:5-7, ESV)

Ouch. I struggle with all of these sometimes. My words and actions are not always virtuous, full of self-control, steadfast, or loving.

It goes on to warn us, "For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." (1 Peter 1:9, ESV)

I don't want to ever forget that I am cleansed from my former sins.

I don't want to forget that God's grace has covered all of me.

I don't want people to one day remember me as awesome and successful in public, but testy and ungracious behind closed doors.

I want my year to reflect a constant striving towards graciousness.

With God's help and unending mercy, and the loving accountability of those around me, I know that I can.

In His name,

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