Grace for Thorns

Idealism is always deflated by pragmatic reality. Perfection scuffed and scarred with imperfection. Resolutions crumble over time. It’s the way of the world. Always has been.

Should such revelation lead to despair? By no means. Perhaps a more constructive path is found in humility, awareness, acceptance, and grace.

The noisy talk of our time bends toward excuse, blame, accusation, self justification. We tend to see ourselves as the center of truth. We declare that we are in the 21st century, wiser, tech savvy, evolved, more diverse than ever. Our standard for that truth is rooted in subjective experience and feelings, what everyone else thinks and does, how many votes, whatever is expedient. Life has to work and flow on our terms, we have no tolerance for thorns, hence no room for grace.

Snatched from our relativity we may discover, if we choose to look, a greater realm of reality than merely that which is revealed through our eyes, ears, senses, and personal journey thus far. Gazing beyond ourselves we glimpse the collective wisdom of history, insights sourced beyond ourselves, voices that speak of what we never knew or even considered. Life is rich and vast, stretching way beyond the horizons of the familiar homestead of ‘me’. For some that would be a great relief, while for others it is frightening.

Consider the mold pressing into the clay. For the new object to emerge – restriction, pressure, and definition are the ingredients to produce something new from a formless lump. The external presses in where the subjective resists in fear of the unknown or the loss of the status quo. Truth is like that. Eventually the witness of history, the relentless rub of life, and perhaps even the breath of God has its way.

We should think twice about placing all our faith in what we think, how we feel, and what we have experienced thus far. By all means those ingredients are important and color our world. But they are not solid as bedrock, reliable and trustworthy beyond question. In our self-designer world we have created multiple choices for gender, for parenting, for self-fulfillment, for almost everything. The only condition is that we don’t bump up against restriction, limits, correction, or personal challenge. But such an expectation of life and the way things work is an illusion that will inevitably crash.

When God was revealed in the person of Jesus our subjectivity and personal views were gatecrashed by the Creator of the Universe knocking on the door. “There’s more to life than you ever comprehended or imagined.” On witnessing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus many breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God, I always thought something was missing.” Others dismissed his intrusion scoffing, “Who the hell does he think he is, raining on my parade?”

Paul was definitely a man who voiced the latter phrase with passion and utter contempt. He was a zealous religious idealist. He advocated perfection through adherence to the law, righteousness through believing ‘the right thing’, and sought change in others through force, decree, and intimidation. His world hit an earthquake of revelation when the inconceivably resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road. His horizons exploded, his mind cracked with expansion, his eyes were blinded. The encounter should have killed him.

Instead, grace flowed over his emaciated being that lay crumpled and quivering. His arrogant self belief shriveled to nothing in the presence of One so much greater that he. Truth pressed in, history and objective wisdom surrounded him, love and grace picked him up and breathed new life; creating a new man.

Years later Paul reflected on this struggle between idealism, righteousness, and his irritating human frailty and imperfection. No longer filled with self justification he expressed his reality. “I am not perfect and I have tried my hardest to be the best I can be; still, I keep failing. I have these thorns in my flesh I cannot find victory over.” The voice of the One he first encountered on that Damascus Road whispered encouragement. “Paul, my grace is sufficient for you.”

Grace for thorns is ground for hope, love, acceptance, and living with the imperfection of ourselves and others. Thorns only exist when we are self aware and humbly acknowledge truth and wisdom beyond ourselves. There can be no grace without acknowledgement of failure or struggle (not the same as license or self justification). Just as there can be no forgiveness without confession. The very irony and paradox of our life when God breaks through is this: in weakness we are made strong, and in our very incompleteness and human imperfection we become whole. As we gratefully step into that realm of being we discover grace easily overflows through us to others. We can only give away what we have first received. Then others will know God loves by what they experience when they encounter us, cracked and even manifesting our imperfections. It’s much more profound than mere words and the sounds we make. Just ask Paul.

We all desperately need more grace in this thorny quest of life.

“Rescue Story”

There I was empty-handed
Crying out from the pit of my despair
There You were in the shadows
Holding out Your hand You met me there

And now where would I be without You?
Where would I be, Jesus?

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story
Lifted me up from the ashes
Carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

You are, You are
You are my rescue story
You are, You are

You were writing the pages
Before I had a name
Before I needed grace, oh
Singing songs of redemption
‘Cause every time I ran away
You were louder than my shame

And now where would I be without You?
Where would I be, Jesus?

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story
Lifted me up from the ashes
Carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony, ooh…
You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony, ooh…
You never give up on me
Oh, You never give up on me
Oh, this is my testimony

Oh, You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story
Lifted me up from the ashes
Carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
‘Cause You are my rescue story

You are, You are (You are my rescue story)
Oh, You never gave up on me, never gave up on me
You are, You are
Yeah, You are my rescue story

John Cox

Christian Author

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