I have been calling on God to work in my life based on the impossible work He already did through Jesus. I’ve found myself often praying for “more of God’s grace,” or for the ability to “give grace to others,” or for God to “show me grace” in a situation.
But as I’ve been considering who God is and how he acts through difficulties, I have become aware of my own faulty way of thinking about God and this grace that I have been so desperately praying for.
I am realizing something that I don’t especially like: Sometimes grace is ugly, and painful, and hard to endure.
It’s true. Much of the time when I pray for grace, I am completely overlooking the fact that the very trial I’m experiencing is an act of God’s amazing, unfathomable grace.
You see, usually when I pray for “God’s grace” in my life, I’m not actually praying for the hard and essential work of sanctification. When I pray for “grace,” I’m usually praying for comfort. I’m praying that I won’t suffer. I am praying for escape.
God’s grace isn’t always warm and fuzzy.
When we drag our weary hearts to the Bible in search of hope, we are met with a painful reality. We find that God does most of His amazing work through trials, the very thing we are praying to avoid.
The difficult relationship, the time of loneliness, or the season of spiritual wilderness is a gift of God’s grace, designed to produce growth and intimacy with our Savior. That’s how God works. He’s proven, over and over, that He works in amazing ways through the suffering of His people.
Let’s consider Elizabeth for a moment (see Luke 1:5-80). Just imagine how many YEARS she waited, prayed, and cried for a child.
I wonder how many times she questioned what purpose God could possibly have in her pain and loneliness. She was likely married as a teenager, and she remained barren – but righteous – until she was past child-bearing age. That’s a long time!
But because of her ongoing suffering, we have the story of an incredible act of God, a confirmation of the Christ who was to come. And without her years of waiting, her pregnancy wouldn’t have seemed like much of a miracle, would it?
Now, think about Moses marching through the wilderness…Daniel waiting to be lowered to the lions…three faithful teens walking in the fiery furnace…Esther going before the king…David fleeing for his life time and again.
Without their anxious moments and unfair treatment, we wouldn’t have the powerful pictures of a God who can part an entire sea, and close the mouths of vicious beasts, and defy the destructive nature of fire. The Bible is packed full of accounts of suffering and redemption, pain and rescue, trials and miraculous acts.
It’s easy to read of the extraordinary faith of the characters in the Bible and forget that they were ordinary people. Read through Hebrews 11, and you’ll see real people who dealt with rejection, physical persecution, seemingly unanswered prayers, isolation, family trouble, the list could go on and on.
Then, read the story of the gospel. Jesus himself suffered greatly. He accepted rejection from his friends, persecution by the government, isolation from his family, unimaginable suffering for crimes He didn’t commit. He accepted the ugliness of suffering to give us the beauty of a relationship with God.
Ugly grace is still grace. And it’s still beautiful.
Sometimes, life is hard beyond belief. Sometimes I’m so weary, and tired, and full of fear that I wonder if I will ever recover.
In those burdensome moments, I find myself clinging to the shreds of my faith, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of hope, a glimpse of God Himself.
Much of the time, I do see Him at work, but only on the other side of pain. His relief does not seem swift. It is not before the storm; it is through it.
That is grace, too.
Painful grace isn’t always what we want, but it is often what we need.
When the weight on my shoulders keeps me down on my knees, that is grace.
When my every thought is a prayer and my every breath a sigh, that is grace.
When I feel empty and alone, that is grace.
When I am left with no one to cry out to and nothing to hold onto, that is grace.
When the ground beneath me shakes and the waves threaten to wash away every bit of security, that is grace.
When trials drive me on scraped hands and bleeding knees to the foot of the cross, that is grace.
When the heavy hand of God’s grace falls on us, may we keep our eyes on Jesus!
The faithful in the Bible endured because of faith in the promise of a Messiah. And yet, we have the blessing of looking directly at Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
We can humbly pray for God’s grace and thank Him for it when He answers, even if that answer doesn’t come in the timing we hoped for or by the means we expected. We can praise God for the pain that is conforming us into the likeness of Christ, chipping away at our pride, and comfort, and false sense of security. We can submit ourselves to the steadfast love and faithfulness of our sovereign Savior.
In the midst of difficulties, hold onto the truth that God loves you enough to sanctify you. It is the grace of God that has placed you in the storm, and it is the grace of God that will sustain you until you are perfected. God used the ugliness of your sin to bring you to the beauty of the cross, and you can trust that He who did not spare His own Son will also graciously give you all thing (Romans 8:32).
Have you experienced the “heavy hand” of God’s grace? Are you experiencing it right now? Let’s encourage one another in the comments!