Gracious moments. We can’t live without them. When we extend grace to others, despite our flaws and weaknesses, we reflect something of the very nature and character of Christ.
With grace, sin becomes the enemy, not people. What was it that enabled Paul to endure such sinful opposition and rotten attitudes from a group of people he risked his life to reach for Christ? What was it that kept him coming back and writing, instructing, and teaching, even when it seemed that none of it was sinking in?
Grace believes the best of people and draws it out of them. There is nothing cowardly about a gracious person. Grace is the most courageous of all virtues. It alone enables a person to face up to ridicule, slander, unforgiveness, and hatred, and to do much more than just react. Grace empowers a person to see beyond the sin of his enemy and to love the soul, to look beyond an angry brother’s faults and to see his needs.
Nicky Cruz came face to face one day with the power of grace on the streets of New York City in the form of a skinny little country preacher. In the 1960s, when David Wilkerson was responding to God’s call to reach out to drug addicts, he came in contact with Nicky. Resistant and bitter, on one occasion Nicky pulled a switchblade on the urban missionary and said, “I’m gonna’ cut you, preacherman!” With much more than just quick wit, Wilkerson replied, “Nicky, you can cut me into a thousand pieces and each one of them will say ‘I love you!’” Grace gave anger something it could not penetrate that day, and the rest is history.
The power of love is the fuel of grace. The gracious person is one who is convinced that love conquers all. No wonder Paul penned the classic love chapter and addressed it to the grace-deficient Corinthians.
The gracious person has a great tool at his disposal. In the face of conflicts and challenges, he chooses to overcome them instead of being overcome by them. His modus operandi is the deep conviction that the “storms” he faces go far deeper than the people who bring him grief. The root cause is sin itself. And for this he knows, and freely extends, a great remedy—grace.
Giving people grace does not mean that we excuse sin. Graciousness is not synonymous with mere tolerance. No, the gracious man is one who sees sin for what it is and chooses not to fight fire with fire. He uses water, instead. In the face of bitterness, he exhibits thoughtfulness. In the face of greed, generosity. In the face of anger, calmness of spirit. To words of wrath, he offers affirmation. And to hurt, a listening ear and a kind heart. Instead of striking at the sinner in anger, he confronts the sin with an antidote called grace.
With grace, we give people space.
What Paul wanted from the Corinthians had nothing to do with their graceless suspicions of him. His gracious heart and concern are easy to detect in a few of his last written words to them: “Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you… I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less?” (2 Cor. 12:14-15).
The attitudes and issues facing this young church at Corinth would have drawn a scathing rebuke from many other leaders. Paul chose, however, to speak the truth in a spirit of love. You see, the Christ he had come to know was “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14 , italics added). Accordingly, Paul reflected to them what he had already received from God. He gave them grace and he gave them space.
At least three types of people can become absolute grace-robbers in our lives. First of all, the pessimist (oops, there I go labeling again!). Doubtful and detrimental, a pessimist can snuff out a person’s joy almost single-handedly. Negative words and attitudes can neutralize the hopes and dreams we carry. Just the opposite, a grace-giver gives people much-needed space to grow and room to change. Grace-givers choose to believe for the best in a person.
Another grace-robber is the perfectionist. Crossing every “t,” dotting every “i,” and splitting every hair is of greater import to such a person than building bridges or cultivating friendships. The scrutinous eye of the perfectionist can make even the most familiar tasks a tedious trail of eggshells. Grace-givers, however, know that everyone needs room not only to succeed, but to fail as well. Their realistic perspective acknowledges that every man has areas of weakness. Knowing themselves all too well, they view such without shock or surprise.
Finally, grace is seldom felt in the company of a pedagogue, a person who has everything to teach and nothing to learn. Whether a self-appointed “mom” or “coach” to the entire world, such a person is typically too busy telling everyone what they should do to consider God’s grace at work in a given situation. Control is the driving motivation of the pedagogue. Givers of grace understand that everyone needs space to express themselves, to talk and to be heard. Grace-givers are generally slow to speak and quick to listen.
We all need grace, in virtually every relationship and event of life. We need grace for forgotten appointments, broken promises, abrupt words, and missed deadlines. We need great doses of grace to live for a perfect God in such an imperfect world.
How refreshing it is to be in the company of a gracious person. Gracious people love without condition, despite our political preferences or doctrinal differences, regardless of our taste in music, clothes, movies, or hobbies, and beyond all our faults and weaknesses. Perhaps we are never more like God than when we give grace to someone.
So how can we, like Paul, become grace givers? Start by asking some questions: What am I living out of—grace or anger? What fuels most of my actions or reactions toward people? What is behind the words I use—or the reflections and tones in them? Do I believe the best in people—or expect the worst? Do I expect too much of the people in my life? Do I look beyond the faults on the surface and see the desperate needs within? Do I endeavor to make people feel comfortable or uncomfortable? Do I know how to give grace?
We can get quickly caught up in the idea of a grace that makes a way for us to enter heaven, but there is another aspect to Christ’s work on the cross, something He wants us to see today. Christ wants to use my life and yours to bring some of heaven to earth, into the lives of the people on this planet, in the real realms of our relationships, and in the form of a gift called grace.