Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace
By Dawn Kelley, NLW Director of Community
There was a lady I once worked with that I judged fiercely for not buying enough milk for her family to drink throughout the week. At some point during the work week – every work week – she would come into my office and say she was going to use her lunch hour to go to the grocery store to buy another gallon of milk because her boys went through it so quickly. I know it sounds petty of me because who really cares what someone else does on their lunch hour and teenage boys can go through a lot of milk. However, I value competency, so my first thought was always: Why doesn’t she buy enough milk to last the whole week while she’s already at the grocery store getting her weekly groceries? I was seriously considering taking a look at her schedule and pointing out some inefficiencies I had noticed… to help her out, of course.
One day, I decided to ask her about the extra trips to the store and she replied, “Milk is so expensive. I just hate spending that much money.” I quickly responded, “You’re buying it anyway and wasting more money in fuel, wear and tear on your vehicle, and spending your valuable time on frequent trips to the grocery store.” She was – obviously – not impressed by my advice.
After my husband committed suicide, getting out of bed and showering was too much for me to try to accomplish in one day. But we needed food to survive, so I often found myself rushing to the store two minutes before they closed to purchase one item which cost less than the gas my vehicle used to get to the store. As I stood in the checkout line, judging how inept the cashier was at bagging groceries (I don’t need 5 bags for 2 items, Karen…), I was judging myself more severely for being unable to keep the basics in my own fridge, running through this internal dialogue: It’s such a simple concept, Dawn… When you see something running low, write it down on the note pad you stuck to the fridge door and buy it the next time you go to the store, Dawn.
My purpose in sharing such inane details about how I think people can be more productive grocery shoppers is because, through my shopping habits, God revealed spiritual habits I’d formed that made me spiritually inefficient. Whether my metaphorical fridge was fully stocked or completely bare, I spiritually lacked the ability to accept God’s grace. When my life was together, I didn’t need God’s grace because I believed I was fine. When I couldn’t get out of bed for days much less buy groceries for an entire week, I didn’t know how to accept His grace because I’d never needed it so much before. Either way, there was no grace for me if it only depended on me.
Being in this condition reminds me of the interaction between Simon and Jesus in Luke 7:36-50. Simon invited Jesus over to his house for dinner and it seems Jesus was well-fed at this dinner; however, Simon was a terrible host. In this culture, it was customary to offer guests water to wash their feet, but Simon did not. I’m assuming this would be equivalent in our culture to not allowing guests to wash their hands after using the toilet. Gross… but that’s the point Jesus was making. What good is a well-stocked pantry if you keep getting sick from contaminated food?
While this conversation between Jesus and Simon was occurring, a woman who lived a shady life came to Jesus in her brokenness and washed his feet as an act of kindness. She had committed some wrongs in her life and she was grateful Jesus did not hold those wrongs against her like everyone else. I think it’s important to notice Jesus did not dismiss her wrongs; he acknowledged them fully by fully forgiving her. It’s equally important to notice the chain of events: she came to him first, realizing her need and his provision. Her act of love for Jesus did not earn her forgiveness from him; her act of love was a response of believing he could forgive her, something she knew no one else could – or would – do.
Just like Simon and this woman, we all usually fall under two categories: not realizing our need for Jesus or being keenly aware of it. If your transgressions are many, like this woman, please don’t get your chain of events out of order. Don’t try to turn yourself into a Simon first because you’re tired of being this woman. Doing good and not doing bad doesn’t earn us grace; it dismisses our need for grace (a place we definitely don’t need to be in)! Accept your brokenness – as you are right now – get yourself to Jesus first and tell him you need him. He will never turn you away. And do this every moment of every day because Jesus is our goal, not Simon.
If you have it all together; you never run out of milk and you allow your guests to wash their hands before meals, then praise God for the work of grace in your life! (Can one of y’all do some grocery shopping for me?) However, if you find yourself looking down on others who always run out of milk or have filthy towels in their guest restrooms, you might be a Simon. To this I would say, stop comparing your abundance to another’s deficiency. Again, Jesus is our goal. If you don’t realize your need for forgiveness, at some point, in some area of your life because your life looks better than everyone else around you, you will never experience God’s grace. And that should scare you.
Whatever your metaphorical fridge looks like: when our fridges are full, we need God’s grace; when our fridges are empty, we need God’s grace. It’s not about being in the right or in the wrong; God isn’t calling us to perfection, he’s calling us to realize we can’t be perfect unless we trust, rely, and rest in the perfection of Christ (which is wonderful cause I’m tired)! When we realize this and turn to Christ, there is grace upon grace, upon grace, upon grace…