A few years ago I decided to help a friend out. I can’t explain the situation without sounding judgmental so I’m just going to explain the situation and hope you’ll grant me some grace. I had spent a lot of time hanging out with this guy and I even told him to get a job where I was working at the time because I thought it would be cool to have a friend working there with me. Well, he worked there for a while and moved into an apartment with his brother as well. He eventually quit that job and got fired from his next one. Instead of saving his money he bought an Xbox 360. So, when rent time rolled around that month, needless to say, he was going to come up short.
Being the good friend that I was, I almost drained my savings account and loaned him $300 so that his brother wouldn’t kick him out of the apartment and to give him time to find a new job. After a few months we were no longer friends. I’ll spare you the details of the how and why because I don’t think it’s pertinent to this particular conversation. I will say I was extremely angry with him over the whole ordeal. So, I would continually harass him any way I could to get him to pay me the money he owed me. I would spam his Myspace blog whenever he’d post some new detail about his wonderful life as he actually got engaged, married and had a kid in the time this all was going on. I was relentless and I even had friends that would chime in from time to time because they felt that I was right in my pursuit of that $300 even a couple of years after I loaned it to him.
I had to ask myself the question recently as to whether or not that was really the right thing to do. But wait.
I know a guy who made a huge mistake after he got married and didn’t want to tell his wife. He and I had a conversation about it and I tried to get him to see that regardless of her reaction he would have to tell her. I knew in my heart the damage would likely be irreparable to his soul if he didn’t tell her and even more to so if he told her. We still discussed it and I don’t know that I got anywhere with him. So, I prayed. And thankfully my schedule kept me away from the situation. That sounds horrible but you have no idea how bad I wanted to help in a situation where there was no way I was going to help. Did I do the right thing?
Well, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I’m talking to this guy again. I raised the topic of whether he had confessed to his wife and to my shock he had told her and she made the most insanely stupid decision of her life.
She forgave him. Not only that but he told me she was getting him help.
But I’m not done.
I live with five other dudes in a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom house in a suburb of Omaha. We all pitch in on cost of rent, utilities, etc. and we try and hold each other accountable to those responsibilities because we’re all trying to be men of God. One roommate fell into hard times and lost his job and has actually been unemployed for 3 months. He had enough to cover the month where he hit this patch of unemployment and then the fun began.
Out of my pride and being the caring brother that I am I just covered his rent and utilities the next two months. I thought I could handle all of it by myself and could just live with it. I would get the money out of him because surely he would get a job soon. Well, that has proven to be difficult thus far because he’s leaving to go help with a missions trip to Romania in June. Telling someone during a job interview that you’re only intending to work there for a few months and then quitting tends to get your application put in File 13 pretty quickly. And I understand that issue now. But for those two months, I didn’t realize, but knowing that he owed me money made me so angry and I felt like a door mat.
That kind of anger only festers and grows. It doesn’t go away. Pride tells you you’re right and justified in being angry and so does everyone else.
But it’s toxic.
I realized the moment I approached him with this issue was that I was not really angry. I mean, I was, but even more so I was grieved. The thought that perhaps one of my best friends was taking advantage of me was fueling a sadness in me so great my instinct was to react to in anger because how dare anyone evoke such feeling out of me and by all things that I had been taught that money was mine to spend and not his.</p>
Did you know that the message of the prophets in the Bible is born out of grief? And in their message you will often see a fluctuation between critique and messages of hope (Brueggeman 10)?
That is how I decided to approach my friend. I actually learned about this in a week-long class on the prophetic books and it was one of the most intense weeks of my collegiate life so don’t think for a second I was smart enough to come up with this stuff on my own. I have Professor ESmith and the 4 other people in that class for such a beautiful experience.
But that is, perhaps, a story for another time.
So, if you’ve made it this far I’m sure you’re wondering how the story ended. Did my emotions get the best of me? Did I threaten to kick him out and tell him he couldn’t go to Romania? No. I did something infinitely more stupid and ridiculous. A decision of such monumental stupidity and idiocy that I thought it best to share it with the entire internet and whoever would choose to stumble upon what I’ve written here. Do you really want to know what I did?
I told him to forget about the money he owed me.
In that instant It didn’t matter. In fact, I decided if he didn’t get a job before he left for Romania I would forgive everything he owed before he left. And not only that, I would get our roommates in on the deal. This would become our way of supporting him in his mission because I believe that is what God has called him to and there was no way in the literal hell that I would do that. And in that moment I felt as if I had vomited out all the negativity that I had been carrying for at least the last two months. I was cleansed.
So what is my point?
There is an underlying theme to the stories I told above. But to get to the point I feel like I should return to a comment I made earlier. The prophet’s message begins in grief. This is made clear in the paradigm given by Moses in the story of the Exodus.
During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew. (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV, emphasis mine)
Out of the grief of God’s people comes the well known story of Moses prophesying to Pharaoh to liberate his people, to liberate them from a life of oppression into a life of freedom with YHWH. You can read the story for yourself to see the parallels. What I want you to know and see is in all of these stories God put me in a role of grief and out of that grief I reacted in critiquing the situation and trying to give hope. In a sense, i see the story of the prophets in my life and perhaps rightfully so. As you can see I handle them with varying degrees of one common ideal. But there’s one part of the message that finishes out the story. And it’s beautiful because what begins in grief ends with something incredible.
The final part of the message is a doxology.
dox·ol·o·gy –noun, plural -gies.
1. a hymn or form of words containing an ascription of praise to God.
Let’s go back to the Exodus. What was the response to their miraculous deliverance from their oppressors?
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying,
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a man of war;
the LORD is his name.
“Pharaoh’s chariots and his host he cast into the sea,
and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea.
The floods covered them;
they went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble.
At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up;
the floods stood up in a heap;
the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
“Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.
“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
The peoples have heard; they tremble;
pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed;
trembling seizes the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Terror and dread fall upon them;
because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone,
till your people, O LORD, pass by,
till the people pass by whom you have purchased.
(Exodus 15:1-16; Exodus 15:17-18 ESV) You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,
the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode,
the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.
The LORD will reign forever and ever.”
(Exodus 15:1-16; Exodus 15:17-18 ESV)
A song of praise. You’re probably thinking, “Of course, you’re supposed to praise God when he does something huge in your life. And the Exodus is a huge deal. They probably couldn’t help themselves.” Probably. But the story after the Exodus is a sad one considering the story they had just left. But that’s not the point. Where am I going with this? I’ve been thinking about this narrative and all the stuff I have learned from the above experiences and I’m here to tell you. This. This conversation right here.
I guess this is my doxology.
This is my song of praise after watching one thing. A single theme has pervaded my days for quite some time and I just want to tell you what I’ve discovered is that I have an addiction. Addiction. That word has a lot of negative connotations and with a lot of great reasons. There’s a lot of programs and such out there to help one recover and clean up, stay sober. They want you to give up this terrible thing that has taken hold to your life.
This has taken hold and I don’t want to give it up.
The concept and the theme, the question that I’ve been asking thus far and that permeates the stories I’ve told you should be somewhat obvious.
I’m addicted to grace.
But like I’ve already mentioned, addiction is such a negative term with negative vibes. I say addiction and you think rehab. But this is an addiction that I can’t shake. My initial thought when I came to this conclusion was that perhaps it was bad to ascribe something so detrimental to a person’s life to something so fantastic. A free gift that covers all the horrible things, all the sins, all the evil if we choose to accept it.
Jesus paid for that.
And it’s evident in the scriptures, I think. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he tells the story of a thorn in his side that refused to leave him even though he asked the Lord to take it away. He couldn’t stand its effects but the response he received was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“My grace is sufficient”
He was told that, more than anything, he was weak and he had to rely on the grace of God to get through it. What’s another way of saying that we rely on something. In his first letter to the Corinthians he says:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV)
Just let that work in your brain. A man dependent on grace and it makes him work harder but that it really wasn’t him but the grace that is in him. I’m hesitant to draw the parallel but don’t we see people with addictions say that they function better with their substance of choice? Is it possible that, while grace is not detrimental it is definitely something we can lean on, hold on to and let course through our entire being? After my experience, my answer is decidedly, “yes”.
We’re dependent on it. Paul was told to be dependent on the grace of God in his weakness. Grace was the prescription to the pain that Paul was feeling. Dependence. It’s been my personal experience over these past few weeks that grace is something you give as well as receive. Maybe I had forgotten that or never really learned it or understood it which is why I hassled the person in my first story for years for money I had recouped by then.
But in the second story I really learned what grace was and that it could be given freely to many of those who don’t deserve it and it wasn’t by my actions. In fact, I stepped away so God could work in their lives. And He did in a way I never thought possible. Grace is poured out in peoples’ lives and it’s like an extension of the grace we have been given. I thought that I understood grace. It’s one thing to think that you have completely comprehended the work of grace.
It’s a completely different thing to see it worked out in the lives of people around you.
And in my third story I was given the opportunity to pour grace out myself. I can tell you that there was, in fact, an incredible rush from it. And Paul’s words earlier were true. My decision to pour out grace on my friend was an extension of the grace that was given to me and I can definitely say that the decision was not mine but it was put into my mind when I was exorcising my grief. And now I don’t think I can do without it.
So, what’ the point? Perhaps there isn’t one main point that I wanted to hit on. Maybe I just wanted you to see the story that I’ve been living out lately. Maybe I just wanted you to understand that my life has been affected both by a story of grief but by the beauty of grace. Grief is a common theme in my life and I’m not really ashamed or worried about telling people that. There are a lot of things that have happened that have made me skeptical of people and make me wary of extending grace to others.
You do, of course, know that when you pour out grace or love you give a part of yourself.
And sometimes that’s too close. How do I know this? Because it’s been my story for too long. And that was my grief when I started writing this. I critique myself freely that I’ve failed at grace multiple times. The hope, the energy is that I’ve discovered that grace is addictive and now I am in love with it.
And all of this is just the beginning. This week I admitted to myself and am trying to realize that I don’t have to live life like I was. That also gives me hope.
This is only the beginning but I want you to know that this…
This is my doxology.