Grace is one of those words that we banter about yet there are a number of definitions that sometimes don’t all seem to line up. When I was in seminary, Dr. Branine taught us a very simple definition of grace – he always said that it was “undeserved favor.” And you know what? That has worked fine for me as I have tested that definition time after time. But lately, other definitions have surfaced that have brought up some additional questions in my mind… I don’t think Dr. Branine was wrong, but other definitions include a specific reference to God as the One who dispenses grace.
A current definition of grace is “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God…” This definition certainly leads us to believe that grace is only possible if given by God! As a result of this, the biggest thing I have thought about is whether or not a person can extend grace to another – or even to themselves, for that matter. So which definition is correct? Or is there a way that they are both correct?
After careful thought, I am of the belief that grace starts as as a gift from God but can then be extended by us to one another. The word grace, as used in the scriptures, refers primarily to the enabling power and spiritual healing offered through the mercy and love of Jesus Christ.
But I think that it is through this grace given through Jesus that we can, and should, extend grace to one another. And yes, even to ourselves. I bring this up because both Janet and I have been struggling this summer with changes that we have experienced.
As we get older, we find that we have a little less energy than we used to – and, perhaps, a little less tolerance than we used to. As we age, we are adjusting to what we have called “a new normal.”
Both of us are dealing with changes in the way that we approach things. I, at this time of year, am consumed with starting to make sure that all the yard work is done, the patio furniture put away, the grills and smokers cleaned, bird feeders washed and all kinds of other things that I have traditionally done. I guess I’m like that… I want to make sure that everything is working right and proper. For fifty years now, I have made sure that the repairs are done, the outside work is complete and that Janet doesn’t have to worry about these things.
The problem is that each year I have a little more angst about getting all this stuff done. And I am holding myself to a standard that seems more and more difficult to meet. So I have decided to embrace the idea of giving myself grace – realizing my limitations and being okay with them. Years ago I would never have considered that!
As an example, last Tuesday, I was committed to getting the several things ready for the fall season. Then, at the last minute, a friend asked me to lunch and had a number of things that were important to discuss. I extended grace to myself – the other jobs got put off until yesterday. I ended up being okay with that. It wasn’t the first time that I have tried this road but it isn’t easy to break old habits. Thankfully, I recognize the fact that relationships are so much more important than chores, especially at this stage of life.
On another front, the kids are getting older with their own families and Janet and I are getting used to the idea of having arrived at the point where we are, in every sense of the word, growing old together. We have known each other more than 65 years now. We have gracefully entered this season of life – did you catch that word? “Gracefully”… we are learning more about giving, and receiving, grace – including from each other. We have entered a kinder, gentler season. Our limitations are more evident to each other – something that we are both aware of. Grace is a very real part of our lives these days… and there is something very comforting about that – that idea of growing old together!
Our verse for tonight comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, his most spiritually mature church. Paul told them, and us, in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—”
Those words from Paul are ones that we should all heed. And is the case so many times, God shows us the way that we should treat one another. After all, we are also told to “love one another.” And that’s an expression of grace that I believe in. After all, God extends grace to us and, therefore, we are in a position to extend grace to one another.
My encouragement this evening is that we have a great example of divine grace and we can extend grace to one another as a result. My prayer is that we will all strive to live in a world where grace abounds and forgiveness triumphs. After all, we have an eternity to get it right! Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…