Why is Grace So Difficult to Receive?

Why is grace so difficult to receive?  Early this summer, I was challenged with this question in a profound way.

As a pastor, I often challenge people from the pulpit to care for their neighbors and strangers, to demonstrate the love and grace of God that has been shown to them.  There are people all around us every day that need to be shown the grace of God through our actions, and God has placed us in their lives for a purpose.

This sounds right, is often convicting, and challenges us to think outside of ourselves.  But, it’s not often that I embrace being the recipient of the love and grace I call people to demonstrate to others.  My weekend experience revealed in my heart an often theoretical understanding of the love and grace of God through the kindness of others, but truly embracing grace means I have nothing to give, and that is a difficult pill to swallow.

My family and I were driving the 450 mile trek from Chattanooga to Raleigh, following a week at our denomination’s annual pastor’s gathering (General Assembly), when the battery light came on the dashboard.  After several days of meetings, I was eager to get home, so I stopped and prayed that it was a fluke and that God would get us home in due time.  God had a different timetable than I did.

As we wound through the mountains on interstate 40, just west of Asheville, our van became less like a vehicle and more like my stubborn dog, when it doesn’t want to be led by her leash.  The harder I pushed the gas, the more noise the vehicle made, but it refused to shift, and my wife said the words I did not want to hear – “You need to get off this exit and find a place to park.”

Soon we found ourselves in West Asheville, NC, sitting in a Subway restaurant connected to a gas station, frantically working the keyboard on my laptop and the keypad on my iPhone, trying to find a mechanic who could see and fix our van at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.  No one was open, and no one we talked to knew of anyone who could do the work that day.  Next step – Find a hotel!

Back to the laptop and iPhone, but the more we looked the more we felt like Mary and Joseph – there were literally no rooms in the inn throughout the city of Asheville.  Evidently, finding a hotel room the weekend of three city-wide events in a tourist-driven town like Asheville is like finding snow in Raleigh in July.

In the midst of my frustration, my wife tapped me on the shoulder.  “Honey, you’re probably going to say no…”  “No is right,” I said in my most gentle tone.  “I’m not staying at anyone’s house.  I’m not putting anyone out with us and three kids.  I won’t do it.”  I had overheard Bethany talking with a friend whose parents live in Asheville, and I had deciphered that they had kindly offered to let us stay in their home.  While I was touched by their invitation, I knew if I just looked a little longer, something would turn up.  I was wrong.

30 minutes after that “NO!” a sweet couple had arrived at the West Asheville BP and Subway to pick up my family for the weekend.  The first words out of their mouths after introductions were something to the effect of, “Now, we want you to know that we are very happy to have you stay with us.  There is no need for you to feel bad or awkward, or like you are putting us out.  God has given us this opportunity to help you out.”  Throughout the weekend, they had to remind me on more than one occasion that not only were we NOT a burden, but any apologies on my end would rob them of the joy of showing kindness through the resources God had so richly given them.  We were truly shown the love and grace of God through the hospitality of this couple.  We got to enjoy their company, their beautiful home, and the majestic view in the mountains of Asheville.  And yet, throughout the weekend, I had to wrestle with the unsettled feeling that somehow I had to repay their kindness, I had to earn my stay, I had to buy out what was freely given.

How often do we do this with the grace and kindness of God?  The gospel is the story of the love and grace of God extended toward broken-down, stranded people, who literally can offer nothing back to the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  The apostle Paul reminds us It is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves (it is the gift of God), not of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9).  In Romans 3:24, we are reminded that our justification before God is by the free gift of grace.  This is the drumbeat of grace throughout the Scriptures.  We don’t deserve it, yet God gives to us out of his riches – and yet, we often act as though we can earn on the back end what has been freely given.

So what should be our response to the grace of God?  Can we earn what has been freely given?  Our rightful response is that of faith and gratitude.  In other words, God’s grace enables us to embrace what has been freely given (Rom. 3:25) and live in the reality that we have been set free from our brokenness to live in light of eternity (Rom. 6:22-23).  May we live lives of faith and gratitude for the free gift of God’s grace!