This past weekend I watched a mother and father lay the body of their precious 43-year-old daughter in the ground. Notice I said “body” because she is fully alive and in the presence of Jesus; she just changed her address because cancer got the better of her earth suit. On the saddest day of their lives, they still had joy.
Like you, my circle of people has experienced a lot of hard things this year. Some have heard diagnoses no one wants to hear; others have been battling ever more aggressive illnesses. Loved ones have had to make the move to assisted living facilities, no longer able to live independently. Many have lost loved ones to the final enemy, death. Not to mention the daily afflictions of living in a “post-normal” world – our crumbling political climate, media misinformation and outright deception, the abandonment of common sense and actual science, the fostering of division between ethnic groups, increasing immorality, rampant violence going unchecked, etc. etc. The current state of our world can be quite depressing and overwhelming.
Yet, I’m not depressed.
I’m not overwhelmed.
I’m sad for those who grieve, but not without hope.
I’m well aware that things will grow more difficult in the days ahead, but I have complete peace and unexplainable joy.
Well, actually it’s not unexplainable. Peace, hope, and joy are “symptoms” of today’s gift: the gift of grace.
Paul described his “state of affairs” when writing to the Corinthian church. Listen and see if you connect to how he’s feeling. Life in the first century wasn’t too different from life in the 21st.
2 Corinthians 1:8-11 – For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.
That word translated “favor” is charisma, meaning “gift.” Its roots are tied to the same word charis, which is more commonly translated “grace.”
When we go through difficult times – even life-altering or life-threatening times – our source of comfort, courage, and endurance which produces peace, joy, and hope is God’s grace, bestowed on us in answer to the prayers of His people. God’s favor sustains us.
When Paul prayed for God to relieve him of the “thorn in the flesh” given to keep him humble, God’s response was “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). How is grace sufficient? The Greek word is arkeō, to be possessed of unfailing strength, but is also rooted in the word airō, to raise a barrier, or “to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear.”
When God’s people pray for one another, God’s favor, His grace, is activated. He takes what we raise up to Him (our concerns, our fears, our feelings of being overwhelmed, our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual deficits) and bears it for us. When we “logically” should be falling apart, the Holy Spirit ministers God’s grace to our soul; it is the balm that heals and sustains us, lifting our burdens and replacing them with peace, hope, and joy.
God’s gracious favor is one of those intangible, immaterial realities that we can’t quite put into words; unless you experience it, you will never understand it. That’s why it’s the perfect Christmas gift. God’s grace came to us in the Person of Jesus – the whole reason for Christmas.
How do we partake of grace? It starts with restoring our relationship with God by confessing and repenting of our sin and asking God for salvation. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). We receive salvation by placing our faith in the finished work of the cross, believing that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins, and was raised from the dead.
Romans 10:9-10 – That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Have you opened the gift of grace this year? Thank the people who were praying for you. Then pray diligently for those in your life who need the gift of grace.