Corrie ten Boom called it dying grace.
St Paul referred to it as “the peace that passes all understanding.”
I have described it as a bell jar that was over me, protecting me.
It is the grace of God, and it comes to us when we need it to do His will.
There are many caveats about this grace, none of which I’ve read in books, but which I’ve learned by walking with Christ.
First, you don’t get this grace when you don’t need it. Dying grace is for the dying. The peace that passes all understanding is for times when you’re in such deep trouble that peace of any sort would confound. The bell jar was for a time when I was being attacked while trying to pass pro life legislation.
The elements I’ve observed about this big-time, empowering grace are that (1) It is not given just because you ask for it, because, say, the hot water tank broke and flooded the floor, (2) It is given when you need it and (3) It is given when you need it to do His will, and (4) You can count on it on those times.
Dying grace comes to the dying; not those who are twenty years from dying and hypering themselves into a panic over what will happen one day.
The peace that passes all understanding comes when you are faced with that which cannot be borne without the grace of God.
The bell jar came to me — unbidden, I might add — when I was gritting my teeth to bull dog my way through doing His will, no matter what.
Dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/the bell jar are a function of the deepest humility there is: When you are on your knees before the cross with the full knowledge of your unworthiness.
If you want to follow Jesus, you need to be ready to find yourself in situations where you need this grace. Because they will come.
How do you get ready for situations where you face anger, gossip, slander, loss of livelihood, even death, attacks, and unfathomable terror as the price of your faithfulness to the Lord?
The Bible tells us quite clearly how we do this. The message is repeated all through it.
You reject burnt offerings, a broken and contrite heart you will accept. King David prayed that when he was lost in sin. We pray the same words every Lent.
But do we “get” what the words are telling us?
Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray. The Pharisee in the story stands for every holier-than-thou-sure-of-their-own-righteousness person in the world today. The tax collector stands in for the drug dealers, corporatists, rapists, murderers, adulterers, Christian bashers, abortionists, pornographers, bribe-taking officials — the in-your-face sinners among us.
The Pharisee stood before God and pointed to the tax collector. I thank you that I am not like that sinner, he prayed. The tax collector bowed down before God in misery because of his remorse for his sins and prayed Have mercy on me, a sinner.
Jesus made it clear that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home that day justified before God.
You reject burnt offerings which means, among other things, all the good works we are so proud of and the goodness we see in ourselves. A broken and contrite heart you will accept, meaning, among other things, genuine sorrow for the things we’ve done to hurt other people.
When we get to heaven, I think the biggest surprise may be who else shows up. There is a universal (as in, I do it too) impulse to justify and understand our own sins while condemning without mercy those of other people. But if you stand before God, clothed in the garments of your own self-annointed righteousness, the Scriptures tell us that you will be clothed in filthy rags rather than heavenly garments.
Twenty-one Christians died proclaiming their faith in Christ on a beach in Libya a couple of weeks ago. Christians live the hell of violent persecution throughout that region of the world. Christian girls are sold into sex slavery, which, in my opinion, is a much deeper and more hideous martyrdom than the one those men suffered on the beach. If I had to chose, I would chose the beach over sex slavery any day.
How do they keep their faith? How do they find the grace to proclaim Jesus in those circumstances? How does a parent whose daughter has been taken, whose son has been beheaded, find the grace to continue their walk with Christ?
The answer is, they don’t. That grace comes from God. We don’t create it or deserve it. It is given to us, like eternal life, out of His love for us.
But what of those who stumble? What of those who recant their faith and “convert” to Islam to save their lives? What of those who wet their pants in terror and cry for their mamas? What of those who fall into the alone of being helpless in the hands of human monsters and crack apart, unable to pull themselves back from the horror?
Does God stop loving them?
Are we called to punish them?
The answers are no, and no.
There is another grace that comes to believers, and it is the grace of forgiveness. It isn’t so flashy as dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace. But it is the their forerunner.
If you want grace that will see you through you personal apocalypse, you have to begin by living the graces of ordinary life. Perhaps the first and foremost grace we should consider in this Lenten season is the grace of forgiveness.
Lent is not just about going to confession and getting yourself cleaned up from your sins. It is not just about no meat on Fridays and “doing” the stations of the cross. Lent is also, and most painfully for just about all of us, about forgiving.
Look into your hearts this Lent, and if there is someone who is like a running sore in your life, someone who has wronged you and hurt you and who perhaps continues to hurt you, take a moment and pray for them. Ask God to be merciful to them and take care of them. You will be amazed what this will do for you. You pray for them, and God gives to you, as well.
If you want dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace when you need it, you have to do the little things now. If you cannot do them in love, then do them in obedience.
Practice forgiveness this Lent. Even if you don’t show up for the Stations and you forget and eat chicken salad instead of tuna salad on Friday, remember to pray for those who persecute you and use you unjustly. Ask God to take the beam of resentment, self-righteousness and self-pity out of your eye. Do that instead of obsessing over whether or not you hit your head on the cabinet and took the Lord’s name in vain.
Get real with God. If you do that, believe me, He will get real with you.