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Surprising Grace

August 23rd, 2012

Sing … because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.

Isaiah 54:1

Grace is always surprising. If it were not it would not be grace. It shows up when and where we least expect and does what only God can do. The biblical principles of grace teach us to trust in the greatness of God in all circumstances – we can never know what He will do with anything in life when we place the circumstance and our hearts in His hands.

God has a different way of looking at things than we humans have. We see based on our limited experience and reason, which is always, well… limited. We lack the vision to see beyond the possibilities that we have come to accept mark the boundaries between what is possible and impossible in life.

God must laugh at both our lack of and our abuse of imagination, at the false boundaries we set up and the true ones we ignore. We magnify physical matters that He has shown repeatedly are quite capable of being torn down. We ignore the moral boundaries that distinguish righteousness and unrighteousness, and tread over them as though they were nothing at all even though they are surer than the sun.

And God says to this materialistic world filled with mediocre minds, hemmed in by what we have come to accept as unbending physical laws, that the children of the desolate woman are more than the children of the woman with a husband. “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (Psalm 113:7). These verses are simply announcements that with God all things are possible, that the physical limitations we have come to assume do not really exist with Him, but that the moral ones certainly do. Though there are not lines in the physical universe that God cannot traverse, there are boundaries in the moral realm over which He will not step.

Often in the salvation story of Scripture, the plotline is stretched out along very vulnerable valleys, with hardly a way to make it happen. When God is prepared to do something great, it seems, we see an abandoned baby in a basket, a shepherd boy against a giant of a warrior, a prophet fed by crows, or an infertile couple with a tiny baby. And not just once does this happen, but repeatedly the point is made, Joseph in prison in Egypt, Daniel in the lion’s den in Babylon, and then Paul in prison in Rome. And this theme is layered on again and again, where salvation comes in hopeless circumstances – a mere lad made a prophet, a besieged city liberated, lepers healed, blind given sight, lame made to walk, and the crucified One risen.

And even when those in power are His instruments, there is something inherently weak about their circumstances – the eight year old King Josiah seeks the Lord, Aramian General Naaman is a leper, the wealthy Shunammite’s son dies, and Paul has a thorn in the flesh. It is no wonder we read in Hebrews 12, “The Lord disciplines those he loves,” and in 2 Corinthians 12, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

The secret to seeing the hand of God in its unlimited power is faith in Him – not faith that He will do this, but faith that He is already doing such things. The secret to experiencing these things in our lives is utter humility. Jesus spoke of the hidden blessings given to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – the ones we would ordinarily assume are under some curse, reeling from their own failure or victimhood. But from God’s perspective, only the one who picks up his cross can follow the Master, and only the ones overwhelmed by weakness truly understand and are ready to stand in His power.

True faith in God seems to be the strongest when everything false that we normally cling to is taken away, and we stand in the face of the whirlwind with only His promises and the seed of His goodness planted in our hearts. And there is no escaping this in life, for even the most pampered individual will eventually be overcome by the enemy death.

How much wiser we would be if we learned this principle early in life, if we learned to look for the hand of God in hopeless circumstances, if we kept in our hearts the moral boundaries He has erected, but did not fear the physical ones so much. With God all things are possible except falsehood and the denial of His love for those who trust in Him. “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man” (Psalm 112:4).

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