Throughout my life, I’ve had many instances where I’ve let my circumstances weigh me down. There have been times in my life where the loss of a job or a relationship completely derailed me, and I lost all hope in anything. I know many of you have probably felt that way a time or two in your lives. We tell ourselves those two words that are so dangerous. You know the words I’m talking about. “If only.” If only I had a better job. If only I had a bigger house. If only my significant other would pay more attention to me. If only I had a significant other. If only my kids would mind me. If only I had more time. I have a friend who is younger than me who is battling cancer. For many people, this would be crippling, but I have seen her faith grow exponentially over the last few months, and she is an amazing witness to everyone around her. We often think that we are defined by our circumstances. She could very easily use her “if only” as a crutch, but the truth is that God has a purpose for everything in our lives, and the things that we often believe will break us have the potential to be the things that God uses to expose others to His grace and love.
This week, we are continuing our series Grace Wins. Last week, we talked about how grace was more powerful than our sins, and this week, we are going to talk about how grace is more powerful than our circumstances. I love what Paul David Tripp says about grace. He said “This is what grace does. It rescues us from our spiritual blindness. It releases us from our bondage to our rationalism and materialism. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see. It frees us from refusing to believe in anything we cannot experience with our physical senses. But grace does more. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we have though impossible. And that grace is still rescuing us, because we still tend to forget what is important, real, and true. We still tend to look to the physical world for our comfort. We still fail to remember in given moments that we really do have a heavenly Father. Grace has done a wonderful thing for us, and continues to do more and more.”
No one in the Bible talked more about grace than Paul, and for good reason. No other person was in more need of grace in his time than Paul. Before he became the man we know him to be, and the man who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament, Paul worked for the Romans to hunt down and help kill Christians. He was basically a terrorist in his time, but in the book of Acts, we read about the man who was known as Saul being blinded by a light from heaven. Acts 9:1 – 19 (NIV) says “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” My first point is this:
Paul’s story of conversion is pretty amazing. Here was a man who had spent the majority of his life persecuting and killing Christians, until an incredible meeting with the grace of God changes his life completely. He goes from being a man who is feared and hated by the members of the early church to being responsible for more than 1/3 of the entire New Testament. Jerry Bridges said “God’s grace is not given to make us feel better, but to glorify Him…Good feelings may come, or they may not, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not we honor God by the way we respond to our circumstances.”
Last week, I told you that our sort of theme verse for this series was Hebrews 12:15 (NLT), which says “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.” Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have things that happen in our daily lives that cause us to lose focus on what God is doing in our lives, and even how He has blessed us. There is a second part to that verse, and it says “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. You see, if we fail to see how God’s grace has blessed us, we risk our circumstances causing us to grow bitter. The Greek word for grace is the word charis, which means favor. The word grace actually means the unmerited favor of God. When we miss out on grace, we are actually missing out on the favor of God.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV), Paul says “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This actually brings me to my next point.
Ephesians 2:4 – 5 (NIV) says “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Paul is reminding us here that our sin was punishable by death, but because He loved us so much, he showed us grace to forgive us our sins. Jesus came to take that death on Himself, so that we could experience the ultimate grace. Because of that, we should be thankful, no matter what situation or circumstance we find ourselves in. Without grace, we can have no life.
Paul knew hard times better than any of us today could imagine. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 – 27 (NIV), he tells us “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold naked.” I doubt many of us has ever received forty lashes minus one, or been beaten with rods or stoned for their faith. In another letter, Paul writes to the church in Philippi and says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:4 – 6 NIV)
Paul is reminding us to be thankful in all circumstances. Grace allows us to do that. Frederick Buechner said “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” Charles Stanley says it this way: “Often times God demonstrates His faithfulness in adversity by providing for us what we need to survive. He does not change our painful circumstances. He sustains us through them.” Whatever you’re going through, there is always something to be thankful for, because there is always grace, and grace is enough to get you through even the worst circumstances. My last point is this:
I’ve heard it said that everything that happens in your life is either a blessing or a lesson, but I would argue that most things that happen in your life are both. There have been so many things that have happened to me over the years that seemed so big that I thought it was the end of the world, but as I look back on them, I grew a little through each event. Those trying times were both a lesson and a blessing, but so were the adventures. I firmly believe that we never stop learning, and no matter what situation we find ourselves in, there is something we can take away from each of them. Kyle Idleman says “Grace gets lost when you try to separate it from personal experience.” Every experience you have is an opportunity to share grace with someone, whether the experience was good or bad.
I think the best example I have heard of grace over circumstances in a long time is the song My Story by Big Daddy Weave. The chorus says “If I should speak, then let it be of the grace that is greater than all my sin; of when justice was served and where mercy wins; of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. Oh, to tell you my story is to tell of Him.”
Acts 15:11 (NLT) says “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” It doesn’t matter what path we have taken in our lives, where we are from, what we look like, how much money we have, or the color of our skin. For each one of us, there is one path to salvation, and that is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s the same for people who grew up in church and have gone their whole lives as it is for the people who grew up never hearing about Jesus at all. None of us deserve grace, but it is a free gift, the unmerited favor of God, and it’s given to anyone willing to accept it. Let’s thank God for that.
We come again before You to thank You for Your unmerited favor over us. Lord, there is nothing that we can do to earn Your grace, and yet You never tire of giving it. Lord, I pray that anyone reading this who has never experienced Your grace would reach out and choose to receive it today. I pray that You would help us to be ambassadors of grace to the world around us, and that we would love all people the way You have called us to love. It’s in Your Holy Name we pray
As I said last week, if you have never heard about or experienced grace in your life, please feel free to reach out to us. We have a message button on our Facebook, or you can comment on this post, and someone will be happy to get in touch with you and help you to understand what it means to receive the grace of God through a relationship with Jesus. For those of you who have received grace, use your story to help someone else understand what it means to receive that amazing gift. Have a blessed week!!!!!