Insufficient Grace

For the past few decades I have complained at times about what I call ‘insufficient grace’. I have complained to the Lord and shared my disquiet with people of God from time to time. Let me share my thoughts with you too.

Apostle Paul tells us that he faced an ongoing challenge of a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him to keep him humble, because of the great revelations he received on a visit to heaven.

“To keep me from being conceited because of the unequalled greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” 2Corinthians 12:7

The work of this messenger of Satan caused enough distress to Paul that he cried out to God multiple times to take the thing out of his life.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” 2Corinthians 12:8

God’s answer was the God’s grace would carry him through, since God’s grace was enough, or ‘sufficient’ for the challenge.

“But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2Corinthians 12:9

I like that word from God about His grace. It is sufficient. It is enough. We don’t need more than that. It is not part of the answer or a weak prop in our difficult times, but it is all we need, completely sufficient for the task.

When I pray that God’s grace be released to people I am not wishing for them a temporary moment of relief, or the effect of one glass of water on a hot day. I expect God’s grace to be wonderfully complete and to meet their need, solve their problem, lift them through and carry them all the way to the end of eternity. There is nothing else to use than God’s grace, so it had better be enough.

We are not saved by grace AND something else, but by grace all on its own. 

“It is by grace you have been saved through faith” Ephesians 2:8

We are saved by grace and grace is all we need. Grace is sufficient. I would actually suggest that grace is superfluously, abundantly more than we could ever possible need or consume. That’s why it is going to take the ‘ages to come’ for God to fully show off the amount of amazing grace He prepared for us in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might make a display of the surpassing riches of His grace, demonstrated by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6,7

OK, so that’s the background. Now here’s my problem.

I have seen people over the years receive God’s grace, through salvation, or through answers to prayer, healing, wonderful transformation of their circumstances and so on. I have seen people moved to tears as God has turned things around for them. That’s what I would expect from God’s grace.

But in some cases I have seen those who God has touched go cold and walk away from God’s blessing in their lives. For example, I have seen marriages healed and people back on the right track, only to discover some years later that their marriage unravelled and they are getting on with life without any walk with God.

To my mind that’s ‘insufficient grace’. What they received from God did something wonderful for them, but did not bring them all the way through. That, to my mind, is tragic.

And here’s another part of that ‘insufficient grace’ issue. I have seen people wonderfully touched by God, lifted up and given the privilege of serving God and seeing God work through them, yet they have still had areas of their life which are an offence to godliness.

For instance they may be very impatient, or critical, or given to depression or jealousy. They may have weaknesses, selfishness, wilfulness or the like, or pride, greed and lust.

That is also tragic. They have tasted of God’s grace, but the work of grace has been ‘insufficient’ in their lives. For some, their positive testimony is smeared by the areas where they have not displayed the freedom or victory Christ has for them.

Now, I know that God’s grace is not insufficient. It’s the only power source that can carry us into eternity and keep us in the centre of God’s blessings. So I am not blaming God or His grace.

So, what is the problem?

One suggestion made to me relates to grace being accessed by either faith or humility, as the Bible explains.

“It is by grace you have been saved through faith” Ephesians 2:8

“But He gives us more grace. This is why it says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

Maybe people who taste God’s grace fail to keep accessing it because they don’t keep living in faith and they don’t stay humble before God. And maybe that’s a part of the problem.

But then I reflect that back on the preachers, since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17

Maybe preachers are failing to preach truth that inspires faith and that draws people into God’s grace.

My passion is that everyone receive the fulness of God’s grace and that it is never ‘insufficient’ in their lives. My passion is that everyone can confirm what God said about His grace, that it is completely enough in every situation.

And so, to each of you, I pick up the oft repeated blessing from the New Testament writers, conferring the blessing of God’s grace onto you.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:7

And may you readily find that God’s Grace is fully Sufficient for you in all the matters of your life.

I Can Do All Things Through Christ

I have often heard Christians quote the words of Apostle Paul when he declared that he can do all things with Christ’s help.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

In context Paul was speaking of how at times he has abundance and at other times he suffers limitation. He asserted that he is not disturbed by either option since Christ enables him to endure and live with whatever comes his way.

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Philippians 4:12

Like many things in the Bible there can be several applications, including the literal and the figurative, as well as the surface meaning and the Spirit inspired application.

Paul’s statement does not seem to be a faith declaration but a simple statement of fact. Paul had learned to find Christ’s sufficiency in every situation.

However, we can take that word and make it a word of faith, a faith declaration of our own. We can speak into the face of a challenge and declare our confidence that Christ will enable us to deal with what confronts us. This is the application I often hear from Christians.

It is wonderful to know that, with Christ’s help and God on our side, nothing can overpower us. We can endure, press through and experience God’s blessing, no matter what is served up to us.

“What, then, do we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

“And Jesus said to him, If you are able to believe! All things are possible to the one who believes” Mark 9:23

God often calls us to step outside our comfort zone in order to achieve the things He is making possible. Gideon had to step into a place where he felt very insecure, so he asked God for multiple confirmations. Barak was called to go to a battle that he was afraid of. He asked Deborah the prophetess to go with him. Both of those men had the call of God but both felt challenged by the call.

It is in circumstances like that where Paul’s declaration becomes a great faith statement on our part. We look at the challenge, possibly with our knees knocking, and remind ourselves that with God on our side there is nothing we cannot face or endure.

God has promised to be with us, even to the limit. So He will be with us in all of our extreme circumstances. We are not alone or left on our own.

“Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20

Life presents us with some hefty challenges at times, especially around health threats, financial struggles, spiritual battles, relational upheavals, stress and striving in many situations. We can feel afraid, or pressed to our limit, challenged by uncertainty, or just overwhelmed by what confronts us.

Yet even in the valley of the shadow of death your good shepherd is there to guide you, protect you and comfort you as you journey through.

I also like Paul’s focus on the Lord. We are able to endure or press through anything and everything that comes our way, but not in our own strength. Paul did not say, “I’m made of tough stuff, so I can do all things.” Instead he said he could endure “through Him”, through Christ.

Your greatest danger in challenging situations may be to rely on yourself or think you can get by on your own. The Lord knows the way through the wilderness, so let Him lead you. Don’t go rushing off on your own reliance.

While Paul focused his comment on his physical and financial situation, we can apply his statement to every situation we are likely to confront. So don’t be afraid to start applying it widely and freely in your life.

Can you get through your present family challenges, or you health challenges, or your financial challenges, or your feelings of inadequacy, or your sense of being overwhelmed?

You don’t have to get through anything on your own. “Through Christ” you can get through, not through your own wits, talent, personality, training, resources or the like.

So take a moment to think about where you are right now and what is challenging your life, your heart or your mind. Consider the thing you need to get through and then commit it to God. Then, relying on God, make the quiet declaration that “I Can Do All Things Through Christ.”

The Wonder of Powerlessness

Human pride draws us into visions of our own grandeur and ideas of our own ability to make things happen. We like the idea that we can learn a skill, make a deal, figure things out or otherwise see things turn out the way we want them to go, by some innate capacity of our own.

The Bible repeatedly deals with our pride and calls us to humility, such as reminding us that we don’t have anything we did not receive, so we don’t have room for personal boasting.

“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” 1Corinthians 4:7

“As good stewards of the manifold grace of God, each of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10

I recall many years ago that it became popular to preach about the ‘keys of the Kingdom’, such as Jesus promised to His disciples.

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 16:19

However it quickly became apparent that people liked the idea of holding keys in their own hands, as if that empowered them to do things or get things done at their will. People were looking for personal empowerment, rather than dependence on God.

I want to extol to you the wonder of powerlessness and the importance of catching it and living in the wonder of needing God to be our champion in every situation.

USA President Donald Trump rallied American people with the call to ‘make America great again’. That was a call that resonated with many people. Yet it is a notion that inherently sees human capacity and power at its heart. The suggestion is that the people can make America great.

The question Americans might have to think through is whether it was the people who made America great in the past, or the blessing and grace of God. If the people have abandoned God by and large, then they will be trying to repeat what God did, without God’s help.

Powerlessness stops us thinking we have the power, or the keys, or the resources to achieve anything, and it makes us humbly rely on God and call on Him for answers, solutions and blessings.

While most Australian’s don’t seem to care about such things, it is wonderful to note that the Australian Constitution includes the words ‘humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God’.

Powerlessness, then, is wonderful. It enables us to rise far above what we can achieve by ourselves and allows us to experience things that only God can do.

Of myself I can do nothing. I don’t seek to develop my own power base. I don’t try to become powerful. Instead I strive to remind myself to rely on God and to look to Him, not myself.

Here’s a silly simple example. Over recent years I have enjoyed buying food bargains on a daily basis. It’s been a bit of a sport to me, hunting the bargains just for the fun of it.

Several stores clear out perishable foods each day and, under the right circumstances, I can often buy food at greatly reduced prices.

In some stores I developed very good working relationships with the staff and found it easy to get good discounts. Then my contact would be moved on and someone else put in their place who might not be so happy to give me favourable discounts. Several times I was warned that my bargains would dry up. Rather than get anxious about that I learned to remain relaxed, thanking God for the bargains I have been able to enjoy, even if I never get such bargains again.

Each time there has been a change or upheaval I have found a fresh connection, new store, or other development that provided me with continued bargain hunting fun, and some good discounts.

I recognise I am powerless to control the connections. I often enough encounter people who are determined to not give discounts. Yet, time and time again God allows me to find a fresh connection or situation that provides discounts again.

So I enjoy being powerless. I enjoy not having to make it happen.

Similarly, I recall a young lady in my church many years ago who told how she had learned to commit each new day to God. When she began doing that she found things working out nicely each day. Then one day she didn’t bother, or maybe forgot to commit the day to God and it turned out to be a rather messed up day. She assured me she would always remember to commit her days to God, since things always went much better when He was in control.

Have you practiced being powerless? Do you know how to admit you can’t do anything useful of yourself? Do you readily tell God how much you depend on Him and His blessing? I do those things regularly. It’s a whole lot less demanding than being clever and in control.

A year or so ago a chap who began attending my church began to tell me how clever I was and how well I planned things in advance. He mistakenly thought that things working out so well and coming together so effectively had to be a result of my cleverness and planning. I assured him my successes were God’s doing, not mine, but he didn’t believe me.

It’s nice that others can see the fruit of my reliance on God and my powerlessness, even if they don’t believe it.

So let me encourage you to let your powerlessness shine through. Get good at admitting it and relying on God to do for you and through you what you are powerless to do on your own. It’s so much fun to see God work things out, even in small and insignificant ways, when we commit to trusting only in Him. My prayer is that you quickly learn to enjoy the Wonder of Powerlessness.