Friday, March 1, 2013

The Embrace Precedes and Supports the Empowering

     I have been thinking of lot lately about how grace works in our lives. Since so many have written about grace and even more will do so in the future, I am not sure what I can add, but one thing that I think is absolutely essential to our spiritual growth and health is understanding how the grace that embraces us must come before and also always support grace that empowers us. What do I mean?
     I mean that the growing trust in God's power to change us as we "put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" (Romans 8:13) must always be rooted in our absolute assurance that we are God's dearly loved sons and daughters. And this assurance must be based not upon our behavior but upon God's choice to love us unconditionally. Papa's embrace is what releases Papa's power in my life because Papa's embrace is what invites me to trust Him and His power to lead and change me by His Spirit. It is by "grace through faith" that we grow, and faith rests upon our assurance that God is for us and will always be for us because we are His dear children, not because of how well we behave (the scandal of grace). 
     Perhaps I should illustrate how this works, at least in my life. I have discovered that if I am nervous about God's affection for me, if I am convinced that His embrace is conditional, then I find my ability to trust His Spirit to lead and empower me is greatly hindered. I think this happens because of the distraction away from Father that my focus on behavior creates, but I am not sure. What I am sure of is that living as if I cannot displease Him nor change His good intentions for me no matter what releases a level of trust in me that has led to remarkable transformation in my life and the lives of others who live confident of His embrace. 
     "But wait!" you say, "this sounds to good to be true. And it sounds dangerous! If we remove behavior from how we relate to God, people will stay the way they are." It is more likely that this is too good not to be true, and too true not to be good. :-) And as for people staying the way they are, my experience has revealed just the opposite: It's the people who focus on their behavior rather than on Papa's love who are most stunted in their growth. Think about it, and you can discern why this is so, methinks.
     This is not to suggest that how we behave is not important, of course. Behavior is important, dear ones, not because it affects Father's love for us but because it affects the quality of our lives/relationships and the fulfillment of our destiny. Paul makes it clear in Galatians--the book of grace--that planting to the flesh results in a deadly harvest whereas planting to the Spirit results in a life-giving harvest. The fruit of the Spirit is definitely to be preferred to the works of the flesh! But it's the focus that I am addressing here. Focus on behavior rather than living loved and listening shifts our trust from God to self and stops the flow of His life-changing power.
     So it is that I will choose to live in His embrace, fully convinced that nothing can hinder His embrace, certainly not any behavioral checklist. And there in the center of His embrace, I will listen and trust and obey. And as I do, deep change becomes inevitable (albeit not always quick or easy!). It is my trusting, love response to Papa's unwavering love for me that releases His power to overcome, to win, to grow, to persevere, to....
     Trusting that this is somewhat clear. If not, please let me know!

Embraced and empowered.

Tom, one of Abba's treasured children

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