(Beware: this is a slightly longer post, but don't push 'skip' just yet! )
Grace is God's empowering presence. God manifests this Grace Presence in unique way. I've been suggesting He manifests Grace in a poetic manner, using our common everyday circumstances as His writing tablet and themes. Intertwining the playfulness of words, sometimes putting them in an odd order or omitting punctuation, a literary poet will create stanzas of images about life.
Grace poetry shows up in ways that also seem odd or out of place as well. Like the literary poet who uses rhyme, metaphor, and meter, Grace uses pain, pleasure and personality to accomplish the task. I've been mentioning the pain and pleasure part the last couple of weeks. It is now time to look at this third means by which Grace does His work.
The work Grace accomplishes is the transforming of an individual's life. Grace empowers us to be what God desires us to be, which is to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus. It is our lifelong pilgrimage to allow Grace to do this transforming work, and it begins very early in our lives. Scriptures tell us we are created in the image of God. Theologians have written libraries full of books describing what that means. My short answer is that God imprinted within us the ability to love. Because God is love we too are created, imprinted with the ability to love.
As each of us is born we come into this world with an innate ability to love, but, as Scripture also tells us, we come with a nature that is 'fallen.' It's broken from the way it was originally designed. We call it our sin nature. As love mixes with our broken nature it blossoms into a love that is determined on getting what it wants, when it wants it. All of our relational interactions are now set on this course from the time of infancy.
What makes each of us unique from one another is that we all have particular family structures in which we grow up and are nurtured. These family structures, as good as some of them were or are also expressions of broken love. They nurtured and feed into our growth in love and create wonderfully unique expressions of brokenness. These expressions are often labeled our personality.
Every counselor and psychologist I meet I try to ask this same question: is our personality a product of nature or nurture, are we born with it or do we develop it? So far the only answer I've ever received, if they even will answer the question, is, 'yes.' Essentially suggesting it is both/and. It seems theytoo must deal with mystery like all of us.
One of the great experiences in the early stages of our young adulthood is to begin taking various personality tests in an attempt to find out how and why we're so unique. We find out how special we are, we find out how we fit into the family, how we fit into the work environment, how we can make a relationship with one we love be successful. I love these tests too, whether it's finding out my number, my series of letter combinations, my quadrant, my animal or color. They are all fascinating experiences. What I'm discovering most fascinating about these tests is that while they are suggesting they are unpacking my unique strengths they actually are showing me my unique brokenness!
Each of us learns to live in what we call our strengths out of a broken ability to love. Somewhere in our lives we made a choice to do life 'our way.' This becomes our pattern of love. What is common about all of our various neurotic expressions of love is that we have figured out a way to love with a sense of reciprocity, basically asking the question, 'what's in it for me?'
Now here is the good news: God is aware of our broken ability to love and loves us anyway, just as we are! We don't have to change how we love for Him to love us! But as we accept this love He then shows us how to love as He does. The Scriptures are stories of this love, manifested most perfectly through the life of Jesus. It is Jesus, and how he loves, that the Father desires we become like. Jesus loved without reciprocity, not loving expecting something be returned, not asking 'what's in this relationship for me?' He just loved, He gave, He served.
More good news: God provides for us all we need to have our broken ability transformed, to learn to love without reciprocity. What He provides is Grace; His empowering presence that makes us, transforms us, to be what He is calling us to be. We can't do it ourselves. He does it in us. But we must agree to the process.
Entering into this agreement is a lifelong pilgrimage. We each have it within us to love; He provides what we need in order to love as love was designed. We must engage this Grace, open ourselves to its power to transform. We do this through our choice of what are called spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines in and of themselves do not change us; just because we discipline ourselves to act 'spiritual' doesn't mean the power of Grace will be unleashed (and we spend most of the first half of following Jesus acting spiritual). What the discipline does is put us in the appropriated place to recognize Grace and then receive its powerful work.
How do we know Grace when it shows up in our disciplined activity? Oddly enough we know Grace is present when we sense that we are irritated by the act of the discipline itself. The very first thing any discipline will do, if it is being done as a 'spiritual' and not just an 'act of' discipline, is to cause a measure of irritation. It is 'working' if it is pointing out some hidden motivation or well kept selfish behavior. This is where fruitfulness of a spiritual exercise is manifest.
God is aware that there is more we need to let go of than we need to add to our lives. We often think of entering some spiritual discipline to find out what God wants us to do. The reality is the first thing God wants is for us to find out what is prohibiting us from loving as we should, then we can go do whatever He invites us to do with power.
As He works in each of us like this, we become one more stanza of His expression of poetry. We do become these wonderfully unique expressions of transformed love. While each of us as a stanza expresses what Grace can do, they never are completely understood without the surrounding stanzas. Our work of transforming poetic expression must be connected to the other stanzas surrounding us. What I mean by this image is that our transformation never occurs in isolation, it is always accomplished to the degree that we are connected relationally with others. When a people are attempting to love one another without reciprocity, then you have authentic community, be it a church, small group, or family. Then you become a light on a hill to the world around to see.
I'm asked often in spiritual direction sessions, 'which disciplines should I do?' I try first of all to suggest what Henri Nouwen suggested, that anything can be a spiritual discipline as long as it is something that makes space for God. So anything you 'normally' do in life already can be a spiritual discipline, as long as you invite the Poetry of Grace to be with you...and pay attention to the irritation!
There are classic spiritual disciplines that over the centuries those who have followed Jesus before us have suggested are helpful. We teach these poetic expressions from centuries past in Rhythm of Grace. We have also learned that there are certain ways God will make Grace known to each of us based on our personalities. He uses the very unique ways we are broken (or if you want to call them your strength) to communicate love to us so that we are able to hear Him. Our retreat coming April 17-19 is going to teach on this topic. We are calling this teaching retreat, Soul Print: Hearing the Voice of God. Click here here and read a bit more about the retreat and how to sign up. We are again able to offer the 2 for 1 deal, so if you sign up you can bring a friend for free!
I write this in hopes that it will be a blessing upon you.
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