I promised to write this in my newsletter. But where do I start!?
I think I’ll just jump into the middle.
If you’ve been raised in any form of solid Christianity that preaches the redeeming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to give the world the door to forgiveness of anything you’ve done or thought that was less than holy, then you’ve probably heard and truly believe this statement:
There is absolutely nothing you have done or will ever do that can make Jesus love you less. He gave himself for you when you were at your worst.
And, in my history with the church, we call that the definition of grace. Receiving something we don’t deserve in any way. And NOT receiving what we DO deserve for our wrongdoings.
This is so true!
But can I get really core honest with you?
I was a really good girl. I would listen to this and think, “So why am I so full of guilt? I’ve repented of every thought and every wrong thing I can think of! I’ve loved Jesus since I was eleven years old and spent my life trying to live for Him and share him with others. Why am I stuck in deep depression when I have everything anyone could ever ask for? My God is good. My husband loves me. My kids love me and more importantly, they love Jesus. I have an amazing career as an artist in a workspace full of the best people on the planet. I’ve been miraculously healed from cancer, been on missionary trips all over the world, had incredible jobs in the workforce, and somehow I seem to walk in favor… but I’m still depressed and have been lonely since my earliest memory.
I learned it is possible to be thankful and happy, yet depressed and lonely all at the same time.
“What? Just what.”
That became my prayer. “What?”
Out of words. Out of questions. Out of ideas. Out of bread from the wonderful heritage I’ve had.
A few years ago, my friend Margaret and I sat on the couch in our family room talking about the story of the Prodigal Son. Margaret and I are two people who couldn’t be more different in our life experience, but are the same in our walk with Jesus. We are like two sides of a coin. It’s the same coin, but depending on which side you look at, you would describe our life imprints completely differently.
Margaret identified with the prodigal son. I identified with the “good boy” who stayed home and did all the things right. Earlier that week, we had both heard the phrase, “God wants to celebrate you. He wants to throw a party over you.” We both agreed that the rebellion of one and the pride of the other had separated them from the Father who loved them and who wanted relationship WITH him.
And over the years, I began to learn that the parable - in my opinion - is misnamed. It is not about the prodigal son. It is about the Patient Father.
Are you still here? Wow. Thanks for bearing with me.
I’m trying to convert a 7 year journey into a blog post. But Jesus heard my cry. He has gently led me to his heart by stages. As I cried out, He began to show me His Father’s heart. And he began to transform my own heart to be able to receive that love.
Fast forward through some trauma, launching kids, becoming a caregiver, starting a new career and I found myself spent and confused as I began a 16 session program called, “Be Transformed” by John Robin Murphy from Rock House Center Counseling.
My amazing journey is something I’ll be writing about in the future, just so I remember it, but it was there in my counselor Patti’s office that the penny dropped.
Chapter by chapter, we began to peel off one lie after another. They were stuck to me and wrapped around me like graveclothes around Lazarus. But one lie covered my eyes and it was this: “I am responsible somehow for how much Jesus can love me.”
While it is completely true that nothing I have ever done can make Jesus love me less, the perfectionist performer I had been needed to also know this:
No good thing I do or will ever do can make Jesus love me more. I am his beloved and He is mine. He already loves me with 100% of his heart and he does not withhold himself from me.
Could you do me a favor and read that again - slowly?
Are you someone like me who feels like that verse “be ye perfect” is a curse rather than a blessing?
Are you exhausted from giving 110% and knowing you’re still not perfect?
Are you frustrated when you get something lined up and someone comes along and moves it?
Are you aching from trying to carry it all on your own shoulders because you’ve been led to believe that’s what God expects?
Oh, they didn’t say it like that exactly. It came out more like this from the pulpit, “You’ve been saved by grace. Now your job is to serve Him with your whole heart and do some good in the world so that when you die you can present it to Him and receive His pleasure. Then He’ll say, “Well done…”
Now stop a minute with me. There are bits of truth in all that, but the very point of departure from the heart of God is that bit where you get told that YOU are responsible after your salvation. Can you sit with me in that thought for a minute?
If it’s all up to you, then Jesus has asked you to do something that is impossible. Not only is that frustrating but also unfair. But the biggest problem is that it makes Control an idol. Your own thoughts about you are on a sliding scale that changes with circumstances. You measure yourself up against others. And the Father grows more distant because you don’t think you’ve done enough to draw near.
Hold on, you’re thinking. If I stop trying I’ll be like those lazy people who say, “I’m just gonna do whatever I like because God is in control. He can just make it happen. He doesn’t need me.”
Sheesh. This grace thing is big, isn’t it? And one blog entry can’t cover it all.
But let’s just look back at that verse, “Be ye perfect even as I am perfect.” Jesus was either cocky, insane or unrealistic UNLESS he was referring to something we receive rather than perform. HOW was Jesus perfect? Could it be that He was perfect because the Father loved Him and saw Him as perfectly His own, therefore Jeus was perfect because the Father’s love defined perfect?
I mean, by definition, “perfect” means something that can’t be improved upon. It’s complete. Its value is decided. If the standard of value is the Father’s LOVE, then HE sets the standard according to how much He loves a person. And that perfect Love for Jesus was and is uninterrupted because Jesus stayed and stays in constant fellowship with his father every moment of His life?
Could it be that Jesus’ sacrifice is actually the Father’s love literally poured out on us so that we, like Jesus, can be completely inseparable from Him? Could it be that when Jesus died and covered us with His shed blood, that the Father looks at us and sees His child that He loves perfectly? Could it be that with Holy Spirit now actively living in the life-beating heart of every believer (unless we shut Him down) can teach us how to dwell, abide, recognize and thrive in a love that is perfect?
Could this be what grace is?
I am learning an exciting thing. I honestly don’t know how I missed it all this
Grace is a gift - and grace is a relationship.
The perfectionist in me was trying to earn grace.
But can you see the lie? If I can earn it, it is not grace.
The two words really can’t exist together.
One negates the other!
It just can’t make sense.
The whole meaning of the word grace is that it is not deserved and cannot be earned. It is mercy when our hearts condemn us.
And there is a second lie.
And, oh the sneaky secondary lie is that, since grace is such a profound gift that holds the key to life with Jesus, then - if I can’t earn it - somehow I must repay it.
Here’s the deal. Grace. Is. a. Gift.
If you try to repay it, it remains a gift in the heart of the giver, but in my heart it becomes a contract, an obligation, a rock so big I can not ever lift it.
So what now? Just sit on the couch and do nothing?
That’s laughable. That’s just another picture of me living apart from Jesus on my own. He has wonderful adventures for me to do WITH Him.
I’ll leave you with a question.
What if every single command is not an expectation placed upon us to perform and bring back the results?
What if, instead, every single command is an invitation to do something WITH God knowing that you’ll be completely surrounded by His unrestricted, never stopping, joyously bubbling love for you?
OK. I’m going to stop. This has been somewhat poorly written. There is really no place to stop this conversation because it leads to the whole of the gospel.
Grace. Jesus loves me. This I know.
So I’ll just pause for now.
Gripped by grace,
©2023 Lydia D Crouch