Monday, March 19, 2007

Stiff-arming God

"Tony, I stopped by to talk with you about my marriage. I am divorcing my husband. We just wanted you to know."

And so it ends. Spurning an offer for prayer and without even a backward glance she left my office and overturned her marriage vows. The reason? Irreconcilable differences.

This has got to be the most heartbreaking few moments of a pastor's life when a congregant stiff-arms God, rejecting the free offer of divine grace. Grace cannot speak to my need. Grace cannot help in my circumstances. Grace cannot undo what has been done. Grace cannot...grace cannot...grace cannot...

It almost causes me to fall to pieces when in the lives of born-again Christians that the same grace that miraculously saves cannot providentially sustain. Why is it so many Christians have no difficulty at all whatsoever trusting their eternal soul to God for salvation but cannot turn over to Him a relationship? Or a marriage? Or a job? Or a financial responsibility? Or an unruly child? Or anything of any temporal significance?

More often than not I have found among God's people that grace is insufficient. We hear a lot about trouble, but little about victories. We see much selfishness, but precious little sacrifice. We readily accept defeat but practically never celebrate having conquered through Christ. My conjecture is that we fail to see things that are temporal as having eternal significance.

"Tony, God wants me to be happy." I have heard that stated so matter-of-factly that even I am almost brought to believe it. Each time I have gently and lovingly responded, "No, God wants you to be obedient."

And this is the crux of the matter. Obedience costs. It crimps style. It gets in the way. It denies you of what you may want. However, it always gives you what you need. Rather than choose obedience, we would stiff-arm God. As He stands open-armed, ready to receive, we race by with arm out-stretched, side-stepping His free offer of grace and mercy to help in our time of need. Why? Because grace cannot...

Being brought to the place of obedience is not easy. King David attempted to stiff-arm God, but a prophet got in the way. We are all familiar with King David's sin, but forgive a preacher a few moments of Scriptural reflection.
So David's anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!" Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!"

So David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." 2 Samuel 11:5, 7, 13
God was not concerned one iota about David's happiness. God wanted him in the place of obedience. If anyone had seen the marvelous hand of God's grace move it was David. The unfavored son, small and insignificant, was chosen by a sovereign God to rule all Israel. When he was but a boy, he took up a sling and amidst the taunts of those whom he loved but with the power of God, he slew a giant. Pursued relentlessly by a crazed lunatic, he overcame and was anointed king; his adversary dead by his own sword. Yet in the heat of the moment, having given way to the lusts of passion, he stiff-armed God. David's happiness became his ultimate goal. In his heart, he conceded, "Grace cannot..." David, having been the recipient of grace unmatched except only in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself, was unable to allow grace to help him overcome a moment's temptation.

But isn't that what grace is all about? To overcome in life moment by moment? The temporal things do matter. My smile is vaguely temporary; but the smile of God is eternal.
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory...2 Corinthians 4:16-17

13 comments:

Tim A. Blankenship said...

Tony,
This article is excellent. Grace is amazing. You are absolutely right. We often do find grace effecient enough to save us from sin, but not enough to give us strength for the journey of Christian living.
Great thoughts.
Bro. Tim

Alan Knox said...

Tony,

Thanks for the article. I pray that God brings it to my remembrance the next time I choose to stiff arm Him. "But he gives more grace..."

-Alan

Heather said...

Tony -

You've written a good article here! Great points about our inability to sometimes see that God's grace is enough ... enough to save me and enough to sustain me. I only need to yield to Him. Amazing how much our pride and man-centeredness can get in the way of seeing that. Thanks for writing this!

~Heather

Elder's Wife said...

Tony,
This is something we all need to hear...and to hear often. We get so focused on the inward drama of our lives that we fail to rest in the Author of life. Maybe it's that old consumer nature getting in the way--we are never satisfied with the sufficient, and we seem to think we deserve more than what we appear to have.
Pride, greed, self...It ain't pretty.
Kat

Kevin Bussey said...

"God wants me to be happy" is a crock. Isn't that what Amy Grant said. Love isn't an emotion it is an action. I had the honor of re-marrying a couple in our church on Chrismas day. They had been convicted about their divorce from 7 years ago. It was cool.

BTW,

We homeschool too.

Tony said...

Tim,

Amen, grace is amazing. Thanks for stopping by.

Alan,

Your welcome! Thankfully He does give more grace.

Heather,

How terrible it is when our self-centeredness clouds our vision of Him. Sustaining power is just as strong as saving power.

Kat,

You are one insightful lady! Consumerism and materialism has ruined more than one relationship. We think that when we want something we must have it now. Our attitude of self-entitlement and immediate self-gratification fosters an animosity toward God, that what I have is not enough. "And God, if you won't give it to me, I'll just get it myself."

God is in the character-building business, not the grant every wish business.

Kevin,

It is a crock! How many Christians get their theology from Amy Grant and other pop artists (Left Behind, bleccthh) instead of God's Word. It has fostered such a shallow view of God.

I preached from 1 Corinthians 13 two years ago, a series on "Loving the Way God Loves," and if I remember correctly, there are fifteen action verbs to describe what love does, not what love is.

Thanks for stopping by, Kevin. Always glad to meet a fellow homeschooler. Perhaps we can talk shop sometime.

Thanks to all for the comments.

Heather said...

Okay, normally I am not one to say things like this, but don't get me started on Amy Grant. I simply cannot listen to her music because of her statement that God just wants her to be happy. I find it sad - for multiple reasons - but mainly because I wonder how many she has led astray by her comments.

Tony said...

Heather,

Feel free to wail on Amy Grant here.

Anytime.

selahV said...

Tony: Grace is indeed sufficient. God says so. People simply reject grace as well as their commitments to Him and to others. Why? SIN. They want what they want, when they want it. They have been coming to the decision without God in the center of their decision making. They know their decisions are not of God, but they do not care. They simply walk away from Him to follow after their own desires.
When my son was served divorce papers for irreconcilable differences, he was destroyed. For a solid year he would not sign any papers submitting unto man's law to dissolve what God had joined together. After the final decree was made, he still didn't sign the papers. He knew he would have to and had resolved in his heart that there was no reconciling the relationship. But he prayed God would intervene. He was killed before the divorce was ever finalized. Since then, we have faced multiple problems. Dealt with monumental hurts, bitterness and anger. But through it all, I have found God's grace sufficient to meet my needs and pray for His grace to meet the needs of those who wronged my son, robbed him of valuable time with his two little girls and continue to hold him in low regard. I count myself blessed for the grace God has given me to sustain my broken heart and heal my mind. I've made my peace with everything...God has changed my bitterness with His love, my anger with His gentleness, my reason with His wisdom. I pray for those poor souls who've come to you to report. They are getting ready to walk through the bowels of hell. Their families will be singed, scorched and burned. I pray there are no children involved. I truly do. May God give you wisdom and grace beyond any you've ever had as you deal with this. It has only just begun. selahV

Gordon Cloud said...

Tony, this is an excellent article that really resonates with me. I have experienced many of the same frustrations you described here.

In the first church I pastored I was discussing a personal conflict with one of the members. I asked him, "Don't you think the grace of God is capable of healing this situation?"

His reply was, "No, Gordon, I don't."

Can you believe it? (I know you can or you wouldn't have written this article.)

Thanks again for posting this.

selahV said...

Gordon: I think we all believe God's grace is sufficient to meet any need we have, but sometimes we just don't believe He WANTS to meet our need with His grace. We think ourselves unworthy, destined to suffer for some unknown purpose He has in mind to accomplish a certain set of circumstances in another's life. (Or even in our own) Do you have any idea what I mean? selahV

Tony said...

selah,

You are a true testimony as to the true point of this post, that God's grace is sufficient to meet all our needs. Thank you for that bittersweet testimony. I honestly don't know how you have made it, except by the grace of a loving and almighty God.

To be fair, the incident I illustrated the primary thrust of the post with happened over two years ago.

If I may respond to the question you posed to Gordon, we are all guilty of having this "wait until the other shoe drops" mentality about God. The fact is we flatly do not deserve God's grace, but He grants it to us when we ask, no matter how heinously we have behaved.

I have heard so many use Job as the primary example of what you speak; "I am suffering as Job did." No, the only one that suffered worse than Job was Christ Himself.

The point most miss is that Job was satanically tried, at God's behest, as a type of Christ. Job did not know why he was being tested, but what he did know was that His redeemer lived and one day he would meet Him in his flesh (Job 19:25-26).

Suffering is an enigma but yet the fire that Christ often refines us through. You are a blessed lady.

Gordon,

Thanks for the gracious words yet again. It boggles my mind (and my spirit) that good Christian folks would turn their backs on God's grace so willy-nilly. Nice to know I'm not in the boat alone!

Gordon Cloud said...

Selahv, what you say is entirely true. And then there are those times when we don't want God's grace to solve our problems because, as Tony pointed out, we think God's way will interfere with our happiness.