I just want to say straight-up that last week was a very difficult time for me. My wife, Mary, had surgery two weeks ago. Praise God that the surgery went as planned with no surprises. After two nights in the hospital she was released to come home. However, she ended up having severe complications and landed back into the hospital. Quite honestly, it was a serious situation and hard for me to deal with. She literally has no memory of all that transpired in those days. Mary is now home again and seems on a more normal trajectory of recovery. But, I have to tell you, that I did not at all like what I saw in myself during those hard days of last week. I found myself being irritated, frustrated, and even angry instead of caring, nurturing, and loving.
In the middle of that difficult time God and I ended-up having a spirited come-to-Jesus-meeting together. In that rather intense prayer meeting, which was more like the Lord’s gracious confrontation to me, God showed me that I was not living according to my highest value in life. You see, I really do believe that everything in life and ministry ought to, and needs to center completely and totally around the grace of God in Christ. But what I was doing was extending love and caring for Mary as long as she reciprocated that love. In other words, my love was conditional and God called me on it.
Mutual love is a beautiful thing. But what happens when only one person can give love? What do we do when grace is the only option? I had to come to the point of giving the very same kind of love that God shows to me in Christ. I had to decide that grace was going to be my lifestyle. I decided that it just did not matter what condition Mary was in; it did not matter what she said or did not say; nothing on her part mattered. What mattered was my loving her deeply from the heart each and every hour I was with her; and, it did not matter if she was able to love me back or not.
Since Christians are redeemed people; since they have acknowledged the truth of Christ’s redemptive events of crucifixion and resurrection; since they are recipients of God’s great love in Jesus, every believer must make the decision to live a life of grace and love no matter what! It does not matter what others may do or say, or fail to do or say; as God’s redeemed people, purchased by the precious blood of Christ, the church will love one another unconditionally.
I do not often read novels because frankly I am really an egghead who enjoys delving into thick theological and historical books. But lately I have been reading a novel written by a Swedish Lutheran bishop back in the 1930s. The book, entitled The Hammer of God, is a story of a pastor in Sweden who got into the ministry as a respectable option for his life’s work. The problem was that his life and ministry revolved around the Law. Everything was about being the right kind of person and doing the right things, of preaching what people ought to be doing and what kind of people they ought to be. But something happened to him, and that something was grace. The love and grace of God in Christ got ahold of this pastor just at the point when he was removed from his clergy position by no fault of his own, but because of mean-spirited persons who wanted to see him gone.
The pastor’s response to the congregation and his fellow pastors, many of whom were simply awful to him and glad to see him go at the denominational body’s ruling of ousting him was not to blast them all for their lack of love, but this: “Not until today have I really understood the depth of the message I ought to have preached. Now I beg you all to forgive everything I have said and done that has been lacking in love. When it comes to zeal, I regret that I have been too lukewarm in seeking the good of your souls, and that I have made a distinction among people, so that I have loved the little more than the big. With regard to love, I regret that I have wounded and chastised more than I have bound up and healed. But most of all I am sorry that I have so seldom preached the full gospel of unmerited grace, which I long for and need more than any of you. My only prayer now is that God in his grace may wipe away the memories of all that was faulty and wrong and let that grow and increase which has truly been the work of his incorruptible Word. And I pray also that there may now be peace and that our hearts may be free from all hard feelings, just as I now would thank God that he still, perhaps, may have some use for me, a sinner, in his church.”
Although this is not what the people listening to the pastor deserved to hear, he told them what he needed to tell them. Grace means loving people when they are unlovely, or when they have no ability to love you back. It is not an overstatement to say that every problem and situation in the church can be effectively and lovingly dealt with by means of grace. People wrangle and wrestle with each other because their love has limits and conditions to it. If we would all learn to walk in the ways of Jesus and determine to live a lifestyle of grace no matter what, then, it seems to me, the church would explode with love and there would not be enough room to handle all the people in need of God’s touch.