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The Generosity of God

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

One of my favorite books was written by Philip Yancey and is entitled, “What’s so Amazing About Grace?” The title alone captures me emotionally, stirring an almost incalculable amount of hope and gratitude for the blessings God pours upon us through Christ. The book itself does not disappoint, birthing a greater appreciation for the unmerited generosity of God toward we who are his children.

The word “amazing” when attached to the concept of grace brings to mind so many other words, each filled with endless treasures of possibility. Lavish, unending, overwhelming, breathtaking, and scandalous certainly arise. Each descriptive word about grace deserves to be mined deeply, and when we do, we find that the treasures grace holds are inexhaustible.

The apostle Paul wrote in Romans, chapter five, that faith in Christ unlocks grace for us. The image suggests that we have been given the key to a treasure room, or secret garden, where we can rest and abide in the peace and lavish care of our Father. We do not earn this key, and we can never over spend what is in the treasure room, all because of the love of God in Christ Jesus. I deem it best to simply harken back to the words of John Newton, who penned the lyrics, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

For many years I have heard speakers use the phrase “grace upon grace” when referring to the generosity of God. It evokes images of ocean like waves of blessings breaking down upon us, one after the other, each arriving with more power and lavishness. An acronym has emerged, “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” Grace bestowed comes to us because we believe, have faith in, the redeeming work of Jesus, who came that we might be the children of God.

Grace, God’s grace, actually has a purpose: the transformation of our lives. Grace is given so that we might live out of who we are in Christ. Its purpose is not simply to bring us abundance, but to enable us to embody the confidence that comes with being a child of God. Grace comes to us as blessings, not to be hoarded, but to be passed on as blessings to others. All to say, there is a formative dimension to grace. Can we come to give thanks for that dimension of grace-work as well?

John Newton included a line in his classic hymn that deserves our consideration. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved.” Notice the tension here, revealing the formative work of grace. It was, for Newton, grace, the generosity of God, that surrounded him with holy awe and terror regarding the life he was living as a slave trader. This discomfort, even darkness of seeing his own culpability, was a dimension of grace many do not assign to the work of grace, simply because it feels so horrible. Yet, it was grace, a lavish gift of God, that taught his heart to fear, which then enabled him to feast on the grace his fear relieved!

It would do us all well to embrace the truth that grace might arrive in our lives through that which is difficult, even undesirable. It does so in order to accomplish a level of transformation that nothing but difficulty could bring.

Recently I have faced a new journey not of my own choosing. One that holds rather sobering possibilities. This circumstance is replete with potential potholes and losses, each of which does not engender feelings of lavishness or generosity. Yet grace it certainly is, of a dimension I would not have previously considered as the face of grace.

In the midst of the early days of this struggle, I came upon a phrase in the Gospel of John which grabbed and would not let go. Where most versions of scripture translate it “grace upon grace” my NIV reads “grace in place of grace.” It suggested not waves of grace, as “grace upon grace” does, but a different face of grace. Grace in disguise, hiding behind what appears to be the face of difficulty, even loss. A different kind of grace, a grace that may appear to take rather than give, often appears as difficulty rather than relief, presents itself as affliction as opposed to blessings. And yet, grace it is just the same, demanding our surrender, even gratitude.

My thoughts go to the Apostle Paul. Paul had walked for years with incredible gifting and power. Miracles testified to his ministry, and the anointing of the Spirit poured through him to so many others. That is grace as I like it! Power grace, healing grace, lavish grace. But in 2 Corinthians, Paul is in a bad way and asks that the abundance of miraculous, power grace now be applied to him. Jesus responds that Paul would not experience that type of grace. It would be grace in another form, grace much different than the kind of grace his ministry experienced. This grace would not relieve the problem, as had happened for so many people Paul served. It would be a grace that would work through weakness, not healing; through Presence, not deliverance. Difficulty would do a work strength could not accomplish in Paul, and so Paul needed to boast in weakness as a seed bed for grace to do a deeper work.

My current situation does present challenges that can easily topple my confidence. Yet it is in the midst of this difficulty that I have come to see it as grace in disguise. My “affliction” if you will is doing a work I have needed for many years: staying in the present moment with the Lord. The problem has initiated a necessary change, a transformational work that lavish blessings has never accomplished. To borrow from Newton, “it is grace that forced me to face the fear of unknown possibilities, and it is grace that is enabling me to rest in the present moment.”

Grace is amazing. Possibly never more so than when it arrives in disguise, as difficulty, discomfort, pain, even heartache. While all of us would prefer the power grace, miraculous grace, lavish grace that we so often associate with the word grace, may we come to see that the dimensions of grace are as varied as the expressions of God’s love, and each of those faces of grace hold incredible promise for our transformation.

Just maybe we will one day say with the Psalmist (119: 67,68)

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. You are good and all that you do is good;

Terry Wardle

President, Healing Care Ministries

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