The Gaze of Grace

Some thoughts, after I cried tonight when I heard these tender lyrics:

Jesus bends to hear you breathe
And His tender hands are holding you tonight
And His heart is ravished when you look, when you look at Him
And oh, the endless mercy in His eyes

It's alarming yet immensely comforting that there is nowhere I could go to escape His presence.

I've come to realize that one of my biggest fears is that of being pursued, chased. I admit sheepishly that my heart rate increases and chills run down my spine when I feel someone running, or even walking close behind me. Granted, if a person chased me with the intent to harm me, then the reflex to run is probably a safe one. But my heart hurts when I realize that I do this to God Himself.

His closeness is chasing me. And I run. I know I've mentioned before that I fear intimacy. There remains this fear of turning around and looking directly into His eyes -- the endless mercy in His eyes. Why does it hurt so much, His tender gaze? Because deep down within, my pride is burning in a painful demise.

In worship, whether I'm singing on a stage or in the quiet corner of my living room, I am always given those moments to turn and gaze. Actually, worship literally means to "turn and kiss." So we not only turn around in moments of worship to face His visage. Worship entails action: adoration, connection, vulnerability, surrender.

Maybe it's falling. Releasing clenched fingers of pride and self-sufficiency which cling so desperately to the ledge of merit and will, and falling into His arms of grace. Grace is so humbling. It's certainly unfair. I could be a Pharisee my entire life, yet all of my pride built upon religious ritual would melt beneath it's warmth and light. A grace so glorious.

I never had a "conversion" so to speak, a dramatic turn from sin which thrust me suddenly at the foot of the cross. I have always known who God is, who Jesus is. I lamented to Jesus one night, "God, why don't I have a testimony like so many others? I need a radical conversion." But He whispered gently into my ear, "You don't need a radical conversion, Noelle. You need only to experience my love and grace full-fold." It has been such a gradual process to adopt this idea of grace, even throughout the years of remaining close to the truth of Christ. But the older I get, the more I recognize the sinner within myself, the more I recognize my need for grace the same as anybody else.

Maybe Grace is something we will wrestle with our whole lives, something that we may never understand while we are trapped in this fleshly vessels so prone to prideful ways.

This verse rings loud and clear ever and always: By grace we have been saved, through faith. We didn't earn it ourselves -- it's a gift from God. It's not of works, even if we are tempted to think so.

I think that the more we make a heartfelt, honest attempt to grasp grace, our eyes will be opened to His hands that are holding us, to the beaming smile of the Father of lights, to the endless mercy in His eyes. Grace is freedom from hiding and shame. Its fervency chases us. If we understand this great grace, our natural response would be to turn and kiss, to worship and embrace, to hold onto the joy that it brings and never, ever let go.

Oh Abba, thank You for Your great grace!

** Lyrics from "Little Light" by Matt Hammitt
   Verse a paraphrase of Ephesians 2:8


I Shall Not Want

A hymn that has been speaking to me (or rather, speaking for me) lately,
performed by the beautiful vessel that is Audrey Assad.

"When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want ..."



Because of the strong urging of a friend tonight over coffee to go home and write something, I'm going to oblige and share very briefly (or maybe not so briefly) a few verses that have spoken rather loudly to me in this season:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials ...

In a study through the book of James that my women's small group and I are going through, we were asked to read through these scriptures, taken from I Peter 1:3-6 in regards to experiencing trials. James had said that "blessed" is the man who endures great trial -- how is that? Well these verses above tell us.

I'll be honest -- these past few months have been some trying ones for various reasons. My church body and women's group have all been experiencing trials simultaneously, and we have been in need of some comfort. After reading these verses however, we were simply blown away at what comfort there is for us.

For those of you reading who are struggling with various trials (note Peter says various -- there are so many different trials that can come our way), please take heart with me in the incredible promise we have in Jesus, the resurrected Lord of all who has defeated death (please pause and fully embrace what that statement actually means for you) and right now keeps a place for you in His heaven.

 His mercy is great. Our God is one of compassion -- always. He is mercy and He is hope. There is hope for you, oh saint! When Jesus rose from death itself, He becomes now and always a living, breathing hope for us! He lives forever and waits for us to join Him in eternity, where He can hold us close in a fervent, fixed embrace.

 We have an inheritance. Because God has chosen to call us His children, we have the inheritance of eternal life. Think of what that means! We don't have to fear death anymore, and we have a vast amount of heavenly wealth stored up for us in Christ. We didn't earn it, so we don't have to worry about losing it. It remains because of the grace of Jesus, our Savior.

God's power guards us. Guess what, believer? We are protected by God Himself! We are guarded through the faith we have in His goodness, and by Jesus' gift once and for all, we have salvation -- which I do not think we will fully recognize until we reach heaven. That is why we will be floored and want to worship Him forever and ever ...

And so we rejoice in all these things promised to us!! But Peter acknowledges that, yes, we will be grieved by trials. He doesn't say that we can avoid them, nor does he say that we will necessarily walk through them easily. Trials are grievous. They're hard. Jesus knows that. He endured more pain, emotional and physical, than I think we realize. He embraced it. He didn't stop himself from weeping at his friend Lazarus' death, nor did he stop the sweat from pouring as He prayed anxiously in the Garden. He felt. He grieved. What makes us think we are above Him as to not be grieved in the same way? It's okay to grieve and go through pain. We are humanity living in a fallen world.

But, for the joy that was set before Him -- that heavenly storehouse waiting for Him to return to -- He endured (Heb. 12:2). As we are called to endure. And He did so to death -- even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). We, His servants, are certainly no greater than our Master. If He endured trials, so must we. And as He rose from death, so will we -- when we leave this place, we will be called to our real home, that great Home in God Himself which gave our Jesus the strength to keep persevering.

Beloved, we serve a God of mercy. We have a living hope. We will partake of a glorious inheritance. We are guarded by the power of God Himself through our faith. What cause to rejoice! Be encouraged. We will walk through trials, but there is One who has walked the road before us who to this day chooses to walk with us. You are loved, child of God!
"Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."  -- James 1:12