My Thoughts: A Walk in Grace, by Catherine Martin is an excellent book. I am still in the process of reading it. I have made it part of my daily devotion time. Catherine Martin wrote the book to help her readers grow in God’s divine grace. I have found much wisdom and blessing between the covers of this book. Don’t take my word for it though, scroll down and read the first chapter of the book. You will find a blessing in the words and if you’re at all like me, you aren’t going to want to stop reading.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karri James of Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***
Catherine Martin is a graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary, the founder of Quiet Time Ministries, the director of her churchâ€™s womenâ€™s ministries, and an adjunct faculty member of Biola University. Her many books include Six Secrets to a Powerful Quiet Time, Set My Heart on Fire, and A Womanâ€™s Heart That Dances.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
In the Garden of Grace
She stood behind the open door, her eyes fixed on the English missionaries who had come to visit her in-laws. Hidden from view, she stared at their gentle faces and felt deep sobs welling up from a place inside she did not care to reveal, not even to herself. No, I canâ€™t entertain the hope I see in these people. How could I have possibly arrived at such a despicable life, with no way of escape? Trapped in this house, forever doomed. At 19, she was already a widow with a childâ€”a most desperate position for any woman in India in the late 1800s.
Buried in her memories were earlier years of tender love from parents who regarded her as their greatest treasure, naming her Ponnamal, meaning â€œgold.â€ Her parents showered her with every possible advantage, blessing their bright young daughter with a good education. Then, as was the custom, she was given in marriage to an older man. Clothed in silk, decorated with beautiful jewelry, high-spirited and gentle Ponnamal left the warmth of her fatherâ€™s house to marry a professor at the mission college. Her marriage brought disillusionment, but the birth of a child brought her joy. And then came the sudden, shocking death of her husband only a year after their wedding. Ponnamal had journeyed from safety to sorrow and now to despair. Widows were outcasts in India. What would she do? Where would she go?
â€œWeâ€™ll take you in,â€ responded her in-laws with disdain and resignation ringing in their voices. Ponnamal realized her place in their home. They never let her forget. â€œYouâ€™re only here because of the child. No, you canâ€™t change your clothes. Youâ€™re a widow. Only soiled things become you. No, you canâ€™t have a comb. You are no good. Youâ€™re a burden on us. Even if you work all day, it wonâ€™t be enough to repay all we have done for you.â€
At first Ponnamal thought, Surely they donâ€™t know me. When they see how hard I work and how much I want to help, theyâ€™ll be kind. Theyâ€™ll change. But the more she tried, the worse her situation became. Sinking into despair, she began to believe their lies.
One night she thought, I cannot endure my lot in life. I hear the well calling me as it has called others in the past. I can end my suffering with death. She waited for her mother-in-law to fall asleep and then grasped the doorâ€™s iron bolts and slipped out into the darkness of the night. She felt relieved to escape as the open air and vast starry sky soothed her heart. She stood by the well, ready to throw herself over the edge.
But then she remembered something she had read long ago. Wasnâ€™t there an Indian widow who actually accomplished a great deed for her country? I know I read that somewhere. If she could accomplish something worthwhile, then why canâ€™t I do the same? Maybe there is hope for me yet. Fleeting excitement simmered within and drove her back to her bed, where she lay for hours, thinking wishful thoughts until dawn.
The next morning her eyes sparkled with anticipation of unknown adventure. And now, only days later, standing behind a door, invisible to all but God, she listened intently to Mr. and Mrs. Walker, missionaries committed to sharing Jesus with others in India. They asked about the wild-eyed young girl they had noticed. â€œWho is the young woman living with you?â€
â€œShe is the widow of our son,â€ replied Ponnamalâ€™s in-laws.
â€œWeâ€™d like to invite all of you to attend church,â€ replied the Walkers.
Surprisingly, Ponnamal was allowed to attend church on Sundays. The preacher gave deep, vibrant, Spirit-filled messages with rapid sentences in the complicated Tamil language. He may have thought only the men were understanding and hearing the message. But Ponnamal discerned the meaning of those words better than all others in attendance. This Jesus is the one I have been longing for all my life. I never have to feel alone again. Transformed, Ponnamal entered into new life in Christ and was filled with a supernatural joy and peace. Outwardly, she endured the same trapped, hopeless existence, but with newfound serenity, she performed the drudgery of duties in a strength and triumph no amount of reproach could weaken.
One day, Mrs. Walker, with characteristic gentleness, asked, â€œCould Ponnamal stay an extra hour after the Sunday service to teach Sunday school?â€
Again, surprisingly, her father-in-law responded, â€œYes, she may.â€
Ponnamal excitedly thought, I can hardly believe I have this open door. But I will walk through it. And walk through it she did, teaching women of all ages.
Ponnamal was teaching one Sunday when she noticed a slight, gentle-faced, dark-haired English woman watching her. I wonder who she is? She seems like someone with whom I could pour out my soul.
The English woman watched Ponnamal teach and thought, What strikes me is her power over them. There is something quite unusual about her. Ponnamal is a woman set apart. Later that morning, the woman walked up to her and said, â€œIâ€™m Amy Carmichael.â€ Ponnamal could have never guessed how one meeting would alter the course of her life.
Amy intently watched Ponnamalâ€™s in-laws at church. One Sunday, she saw the father-in-law crush a butterfly against the church wall during the service. She thought with disgust, How symbolic the crushing of that insect seems. The only one he has within his power to crush is Ponnamal. Amy began wondering, What can I do? and then What must I do?
Amy knocked on the in-lawsâ€™ door, determined in her purpose. Winsomely, knowingly, she approached in the way God had shown her, finally asking permission for Ponammal to come with her for just one afternoon. â€œI would like Ponnamal to accompany me on visits out on the mission field.â€
The father-in-law assured her, â€œName the afternoon, and she may go.â€
Ponnamal, on hearing those words, felt the prison doors open. This is the day of Jubilee for me. Life will never be the same. And she was right.
When Amy arrived at the in-lawsâ€™ house, she scanned Ponnamalâ€™s face, looking into eager yet powerfully controlled eyes intent on answering Godâ€™s call. Amy thought, Yes, Ponnamal, we will serve the Lord together in His love and power. Together they walked out of that oppressive house into an afternoon of service for the Lord.
Some time later, Amy boldly asked the in-laws, â€œI would like Ponnamal to join me in ministry and travel throughout India, serving the Lord.â€ Miraculously, they agreed. Thus began the adventures of Amy Carmichael and Ponnamal, coworkers in the missionary work of Dohnavur Fellowship in India.
In Ponnamalâ€™s story we see a tremendous rescue and restoration of a soul. What made her rescue possible? Graceâ€”Godâ€™s pure and powerful grace. Ponnamal was helpless, unable to save herself in her life situation. She seemed to be doomed to a life of drudgery and despair. Then, amazingly, she experienced spiritual transformation. She was given a life of ministry with one of the greatest missionaries of all time. Grace benefits the least likely and showers the unfortunate with unimaginable gifts, producing results that are almost too good to be true. God, because of His grace, finds invisible people and pours out His gifts of grace: new identity, beauty, strength, provision, new life, forgiveness of sins, and more. Ponnamal received the touch of Godâ€™s grace and lived forever after in its warm embrace. And you and I must do the same.
Grace is seemingly a mystery. To many, grace is a theological term, not an experiential reality. When asked to define it, most cannot find adequate words. But you and I need the grace of God. Without Godâ€™s grace we cannot be saved, thrive, grow, or live. We depend on Godâ€™s grace every waking moment. More often than we care to admit, we donâ€™t realize the miraculous work and wonder of Godâ€™s grace.
A number of years ago, during a busy time of ministry, I remarked to myself, I want to grow deeper in my relationship with God. I wonder what God wants to do in my life? A phrase came to mind then that I could not stop thinking about: Grow in the graceâ€¦ I thought, That must be part of a verse in the Bible, but I have no idea where it is. Finally, when I dimly began to wonder if God might be trying to speak to my heart, I pulled out my trusty concordance to see if I could find it. Sure enough, I found 2 Peter 3:18: â€œGrow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.â€ I read that verse as though for the first time. Although I had not yet plumbed the depths of it, I felt I had discovered one of Godâ€™s secrets in the Bible, a truth reserved for those who will open the pages of His Word and regard seriously what He says. I knew the secret was related to grace, but I also knew I couldnâ€™t give a good definition beyond what Iâ€™d heard others say about it.
Since my college years, Iâ€™ve known grace as Godâ€™s Riches At Christâ€™s Expense. This acronym helps me remember part of what Godâ€™s grace does for me, but I wanted to know more. What is grace, really? And more importantly, how relevant is grace to me? Why do I need grace, and how can I get it? So I began living in this one simple verse, thinking about its meaning for my own life with the Lord.
The lessons Iâ€™ve been learning about growing in the garden of grace and receiving Godâ€™s gifts of grace form the substance of this book. Grace grabbed my heart and enlarged it, enabling me to powerfully experience more of the presence and person of God Himself. The more I realized the truth about grace, the more I experienced true freedom in life. What Jesus says is trueâ€”the truth will make you free (John 8:32). More than anything, we need to know the truth about grace, for grace unlocks the door to blessed freedom in Christ.
Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God. You canâ€™t earn it. You donâ€™t deserve it. Grace is at the heart of all God does toward you, for you, and in you. Grace finds you, saves you, and keeps you. Grace gives you everything you need, more than you could ever want, and places you in an eternal, secure, favorable position forever. You stand in grace, according to Paul the apostle (Romans 5:2).
A.W. Tozer writes in The Knowledge of the Holy that grace is the â€œgood pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving.â€ Chuck Swindoll, in his book The Grace Awakening, points out that â€œGod helps the helpless, the undeserving, those who donâ€™t measure up, those who fail to achieve the standard.â€
The foundation of grace is the New Covenant, an unchanging, binding agreement made by God, ratified by the blood of Christ, and guaranteed by promises that can never be broken (Hebrews 8:7-13). The Old Covenant was based on the law, which could be broken (James 2:10). When we receive Christ, we are forever under grace (Romans 6:14), and our future is secure, for the covenant can never be broken because Christ guarantees its fulfillment. The fulfillment of the New Covenant of grace never depends on us, only on God.
The apostle Paul is the perfect New Testament expositor of the grace (Greek, charis) of God, for he knew grace perhaps better than most in the first-century church. He was a Pharisee and knew the finer points of Godâ€™s law. He hated the church and persecuted those who loved and followed Christ. And yet Jesus met him on the Damascus road, loved him, saved him, forgave him, and gave him everlasting life. Paul knew he did not deserve salvation, yet he could not deny his experience on the road to Damascus that day. He met Jesus. He personally knew the manifold grace of God. Grace became one of Paulâ€™s favorite words. In fact, he loved describing grace with additional words like much more grace, abundant grace, superabundant grace, abounding grace, reigning grace, exceeding grace, exceeding abundant grace, glorious grace, and sufficient grace.
John Newton, the slave trader turned preacher, joined in Paulâ€™s practice of elaborating on Godâ€™s grace gift. For Newton, the free, unmerited favor of God was â€œAmazing Grace.â€ And grace is amazing! Hereâ€™s why. Paul explained that salvation is not possible any other way but by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Again, you canâ€™t earn what God freely gives. You can only receive Godâ€™s grace-filled gift. Paul referred to â€œthe surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesusâ€ (Ephesians 2:7). Throughout the New Testament, Paul constantly attached grace to every aspect of our experience with God.
The effects of Godâ€™s grace in our lives are endless. Joseph Cooke, in his book Celebration of Grace, describes grace as â€œnothing more or less than the face that love wears when it meets imperfection, weakness, failure, sin. Grace is what love is and does when it meets the sinful and the undeserving.â€â€Š Donald Grey Barnhouse, a twentieth-century expositor and preacher, explained the relationship between Godâ€™s unmerited favor and love when he said, â€œLove that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace.â€
I like to think of grace as Godâ€™s love in action. When you think of grace, think of Godâ€™s arms open wide to you, regardless of what you have done. Grace opens the floodgates and allows Godâ€™s endless love to pour into our lives, moment by moment, on into eternity. You have grace for today, grace for tomorrow, and grace forever. Now thatâ€™s an extravagant, outrageous grace. Cathleen Falsani, in her book Sin Boldly, describes grace as â€œaudacious, unwarranted, and unlimited.â€
At the heart of grace is a gift. I recently read a friendâ€™s Facebook page, and he mentioned his own thankfulness for his sonâ€™s recent university scholarship. He wrote, â€œWe are thankful to God, for it is a gift of grace.â€ My friend earned a doctoral degree in theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, so his words are highly credible. He understands, in the deepest theological sense from Godâ€™s Word, that everything we receive from God is a gift of His grace. God gives and gives and gives some more. His gifts are the overflow of His grace because giving is what grace does. In understanding grace, we need to imagine a huge box wrapped in a big beautiful bow. And when we pull the bow off and unwrap the gift, we find infinite, unending riches from God.
The greatest gift the God of all grace gave you is Christ, who is full of grace. Brian Edwards says, â€œGrace is not merely Godâ€™s attitude towards undeserving rebels, it is ultimately and above all God giving himself to us and for usâ€”as the Man on a cross.â€ Christâ€™s death on the cross opens the floodgates of grace in your life. He died in your place, paid the penalty for your sin, and cleared the way for you to live with Him forever. In Christ, you are given manifold grace, riches, and an eternal inheritance. When you believe and receive Godâ€™s grace, you realize the best news imaginable is trueâ€”you are no longer alienated from God, but accepted and loved by Him forever.
The power of grace in our lives is seen in Peterâ€™s words, â€œGrow in the graceâ€¦â€ That little word in points to the place where we truly live once we enter into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Itâ€™s one thing to believe grace or even receive grace. But it is quite another thing to live in grace. Living in grace means being planted in the environment, breathing in the air, and thriving in the atmosphere of grace. Grace is like a beautiful garden where we may grow and flourish.
When I was a little girl, I enjoyed walking in my grandmotherâ€™s garden. My grandmother would spend many hours in her garden, caring for the flowers and vegetables she had planted. And so it is in the garden of grace. There in Godâ€™s wondrous garden, we meet with the Lord Himself and receive from Him everything we need for renewal and restoration. The garden of Godâ€™s grace is a place of security, abundance, provision, joy, and hope. Grace gives you what you need when you need it. Grace can make you grow into the woman God wants you to be.
God is the God of all grace. He wants to shower you with every grace-filled gift you need to growâ€”His provision for your needs, His perspective for your circumstances, and His presence for your journey from time to eternity. And so the most important aspect of grace is learning to receive all the gifts Godâ€™s grace-filled heart gives you. In fact, we are actually stewards of grace, which means we are entrusted with the responsibility of receiving and sharing Godâ€™s gracious gifts (1 Peter 4:10).
We often struggle to believe Godâ€™s grace is really extended toward us. We think, No, God canâ€™t really love me. Not after all Iâ€™ve done. I think about the day I first surrendered my life to the Lord. I immediately remarked to my college roommate, â€œHow can God possibly forgive me?â€ Godâ€™s grace is usually a surprise for the sinner, an undeserved gift waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed.
We are trained to earn what we have. And if an undeserved, unmerited gift is given to us, we often turn it down, reeling from the sting of our own guilt and pain. Many spend their lifetimes trying to earn or pay for what God has already given by His manifold grace. Many are pursuing something they believe is elusive, trying desperately to find God. What an eye-opening day when we discover that God is the initiator who seeks us out and extends the gift of His grace.
In Godâ€™s land of grace, we discover grace is received, not earned. David Jeremiah describes the discovery of the intoxicating light of grace as â€œfinding a knothole in the high gates of heaven.â€â€Š Grace washes away our guilt and shame and gives us forgiveness and eternal life. Eventually, Godâ€™s grace opens our eyes to our future and a blessed hope. Most importantly, we experience Godâ€™s plan and purpose in our lives when we recognize, receive, and enjoy the gifts God gives us out of His heart of grace. And so, letâ€™s resolve together that we will no longer try to earn or work for Godâ€™s grace. Instead, believe it, knowing that what God says is truer than what we feel. Receive it, daily unwrapping Godâ€™s abundant gifts of grace. And live itâ€”growing deep and thriving in Godâ€™s garden of grace.
A young man grew tired of living at home. When would his father die so he could receive his inheritance? All he could think about was the money he would receive and the freedom such wealth would afford. Finally, he could wait no longer. â€œFather, give me my share of what will come to me at your death,â€ he demanded.
Such a request was insulting, and the father could rightly have chosen out of anger to disown the son. But then he would have no hope of reconciliation. And so the father, with a broken heart, said, â€œHere is your portion.â€ His older brother clearly resented his brotherâ€™s actions and responded with silence.
Normally the eldest son would step in and plead with a rebellious brother on behalf of the father. He would remind the young man of the fatherâ€™s love. But in this case, the older brother could say nothing, for he was in rebellion of another kind. And so the fatherâ€™s heart ached for two lost sons. They both rejected their fatherâ€™s grace, mercy, and love.
The younger son took his inheritance and left town in a hurry, not wishing to face the scorn of the entire community because of his actions. Iâ€™m out of here. Now Iâ€™m free to do what I want! he may have thought. He left his own country for a foreign land.
In a short time, he squandered all his money. Now what will I do? I canâ€™t go home. My brother hates me. And I cannot endure the reproach of the people in my village because of what Iâ€™ve done to my father. And I have insulted my father, so he has surely disowned me. The young manâ€™s bad situation worsened, and he became desperate because of the famine in the land. Iâ€™m starving. Iâ€™ve got to find something to eat! Iâ€™ll see if I can hire on with one of the wealthy landowners here in this country.
The landowner looked at this beggar asking for work. Who does this young man think he is? I know how to get rid of himâ€”Iâ€™ll offer him a job he would never even consider. Iâ€™ll let him feed the pigs.
â€œIâ€™ll take it!â€ replied the desperate young man. As he offered the food to the pigs, he thought, I wish I could stomach what these swine are eating. Iâ€™m so hungry. Even the pigs eat better than me. There is no mercy for me. Not a drop of kindness from anyone. Only disgust.
Suddenly, in his weakened state, he came to his senses with a new thought. What am I doing? Even my fatherâ€™s hired hands eat better than this. I can earn my way and eat enough by hiring on with my own father as one of his hired hands. He planned his words carefully. Iâ€™ll say, â€œI have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.â€ Yes, that will work, he thought as he began the long journey home.
The young man fully expected reproach from the community and a long wait before he would be granted an audience with an angry, estranged father. What the young man had not counted on was his fatherâ€™s heart. He thought his father was like all people. He didnâ€™t yet know his father was unlike all others in the world. His father did outrageous, out-of-this-world things because of one qualityâ€”extravagant grace.
Walking on the dusty road, approaching town, the young son grew more fearful, dreading the impending confrontation. What will happen when I enter the village? he thought. His head was down, his eyes on his feet as he trudged along.
But then he looked up. What is this? Who are these people running toward me? And then his heart lifted. What he saw was more than he could bring himself to believe. Could it be? No wayâ€”but it is! My father! Running toward me with his arms wide open!
The father, setting aside the cultural rights of estrangement and throwing himself into one act of humiliation, left the comfort of his home and raced out to receive the young man, not as a hired hand, but as his beloved son. The father would have nothing less than the very best for his recovered child. He paid the price of humiliation and loss of face and raced out to his son, thus settling forever in front of the entire town the nature of their relationship and full reconciliation.
Stunned by the outpouring of his fatherâ€™s love, the young son said, â€œFather, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.â€ Now he knew, as never before, what he had in his fatherâ€”the relationship, the love, the grace, and the greatness of his father. How could I have been so ignorant of my fatherâ€™s great love for me?
The father gave him no time for further thought. â€œQuickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.â€ The father restored their relationship in the presence of all. The robe signified restoration to sonship, the ring entrusted him with power, and the shoes symbolized his rank as a son, not a servant. Only the father could restore these things through his own gracious favor. The result of extravagant grace was reconciliation between father and son and the fulfillment of the fatherâ€™s steadfast, unchanging desire.
But the father had yet another son who needed his grace. This son had troubles of a different kind. He did not know his fatherâ€™s love any better than the son who left home. The older son had rejected the father in perhaps a deeper way, having refused intimate fellowship while living in the same house. Equally estranged, he was aloof and distant from the father. He didnâ€™t understand that he had broken his fatherâ€™s heart as much as the younger son had. Standing outside the house, the older son asked one of the young servants, â€œWhat is going on? Why is there music and dancing?â€
The servant quickly responded with excitement. â€œYour brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.â€
â€œOf course! Typical. My father throws a party for a worthless son but has never thrown one celebration for me. What has he ever done for me? I have done everything right and yet received nothing for it. Iâ€™m infuriated that my father wouldnâ€™t make such a terrible son pay for all he has done against the family.â€
Standing outside the house, the older sonâ€™s anger rose to a boiling point. He refused to enter the house or engage in the celebration. In their culture, his aloofness and absence from the party would have been considered an insult to the father and the guests. Once again, the father could have chosen to reject and disown a rebellious son. But again, he responded with extravagant and outrageous grace.
Just as the son was thinking about the celebration, he looked up to find himself face-to-face with his father. Not afraid to lose face with his guests and suffer the humiliation of lowering himself to quell unjust rebellion, the father left the party to reach out to his son.
When the older son saw the father, he became more obstinate. â€œLook! Iâ€™ve been serving you for a long time, and Iâ€™ve done everything you told me to. Itâ€™s not fair. Your younger son doesnâ€™t deserve the partyâ€”I do. But youâ€™ve never thrown a party for me!â€
The father loved this son and wanted him for his own, not estranged, but in fellowship. And so he did what no other would do. He did not walk away, but reached out in grace-filled love. â€œSon, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live and was lost and has been found.â€
How did the older son respond? What did he say to such grace offered in the face of callous hatred?
A hush most likely moved across the crowd of listeners, and palpable tension may have filled the air when Jesus told this story. Through the windows and rooms of every detail and character, hard-hearted Pharisees were encouraged to see themselves and others anewâ€”with eyes of grace. Jesus invited them to enter into a relationship with God and share His heart of love expressed in grace-covered actions. When He heard them say, â€œThis man receives sinners and eats with them,â€ He was compelled to show them Godâ€™s magnificent grace through the art of a pointed, passionate story. He gave them this parable of the prodigal son, a beloved tale of hope for every sinner saved by grace.
But really, this grace story encompasses two sons who desperately needed Godâ€™s unconditional love and unmerited favor. Both were in a hopeless state, unable to help themselves in any way, completely reliant on their fatherâ€™s mercy. We know the rest of the story for the younger son. But what about the end result for the older son? That part of the story is unfinished. God seems to leave all who listen, including the Pharisees of Jesusâ€™ day, with a question: â€œWill you set aside your prejudices, resentments, sins, despair, and despondency, and step into the garden of My grace? Live here in My grace and share in My heart of love.â€
The highlight of Jesusâ€™ story, looming larger than any of the details, is the fatherâ€™s heart. His actions were unexpected, nothing like human responses to sin and rebellion. And that was His point. God seemingly says to us at every turn, â€œKnow Me. Understand My heart. I love you and want you in close relationship with Me.â€ He wants us to know Him not as we think He is or want Him to be, but as He really is. He is always more than we think He is and more than we know Him to be. There is always more to know of God and His infinite, eternal, magnificent grace.
Godâ€™s grace is outrageous and a huge surprise for all who receive it. We can relate to the younger son, who squandered opportunities and needed forgiveness for willful sin. Sometimes we are like the older son, caught up in pride and arrogance, stepping out of the grateful appreciation of Godâ€™s grace-covered gifts in our lives. Often, we donâ€™t even realize Godâ€™s grace and mercy acting on our behalf because we are so focused on ourselves. Through a poignant word-woven picture, Jesus extends the invitation to enter into the land of grace and enjoy an intimate relationship with the Father.
Jesus shows us the Fatherâ€™s heart. If you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus, for He explains God (John 1:18). The more you watch Jesus in relationship with others in the Gospels, the greater you will realize, experience, and understand His grace.
Jesus, in telling the parable of the prodigal son, confronts legalism with love and grace. We can know by looking at Jesus that we cannot earn favor; we can only receive His grace. We can receive Godâ€™s grace because Jesus died in our place on the cross, receiving the full penalty for every one of our sins. His death was enough for every sin.
Legalism places the burden of performance on man, not God. But if we could do anything to earn Godâ€™s love and acceptance, then Jesus died needlessly on the cross. Bill Bright used to say that legalism is the greatest heresy of Christianity. You canâ€™t earn Godâ€™s favor or love, but you can receive it. Stepping off of the performance treadmill is a challenge for any child of God. And sometimes, even in the church, grace is a missing element. There are always those who pull you into a legalistic way of approaching God. Philip Yancey says, â€œOddly, I sometimes find a shortage of grace within the church, an institution founded to proclaim, in Paulâ€™s phrase, â€˜the gospel of grace.â€™â€Šâ€
I grew up wanting desperately to be accepted by my classmates in grade school. Without a doubt, I was one of the great people pleasers of all time. I would often think, If only I have the right clothes and get the best grades, I will be part of the in crowd. Meeting Jesus changed my whole approach to life because I became assured of His love and acceptance. He pulled me into a whole new environment with Himâ€”the garden of grace. And living in the grace garden, breathing its atmosphere, walking and talking with Him, I realized God loves to bestow gifts of grace on undeserving sinners. His love changes us as He transforms us on the inside, makes us beautiful, provides for our needs, and sets us free to love, worship, and serve Him. In the garden of grace, we find ourselves in the perfect environment to thrive and grow.
Have you ever traveled to another country? I remember my first trip to Europe. My husband chose Italy for our destination. I thought, Oh, I canâ€™t wait to get off the plane and visit this new place Iâ€™ve heard about but never seen! I studied books about Italy and learned about various tourist attractions. But nothing prepared me for that first moment when we boarded the vaporetto (a boat) and traveled on the water to the Hotel Danieli in Venice. I had never been to a place where people traveled by boat to reach their destination. With time in Italy, I grew familiar with the ways of the people and their customs, and I even learned some of their language.
The garden of grace is like a new country, a place unlike any you have known before. We need to learn the ways and language of grace because grace has a unique vocabulary unlike what you will hear in the world. Hereâ€™s how Joseph Cooke describes it:
Grace is not the kind of thing that you can study once, and then conclude that you have it nailed downâ€¦Grace needs to permeate deeper and deeper and deeper into our minds, attitudes, feelings, relationships, behavior, service for God and others. It needs to go on and on changing us. It needs to become an ever more vital, motivating force in our lives.
You can always spot those who know life in the garden of grace, for they act with unusual mercy and love, and they speak out of kindness and compassion rather than resentment and vengeance. They are selfless and are filled with loving, compassionate actions. And those who have never known grace are touched and moved by it. And if their hearts are open, they are changed forever.
One day while D.L. Moody was preaching, a homeless man, starving and bitterly cold, wandered into the meeting room. Moodyâ€™s message that day encompassed the grace of God. Afterward, the man walked up to Moody and said, â€œI didnâ€™t come to hear you. I came to get warm. But my heart is broken. Do you think the grace of God can save meâ€”a poor, miserable, vile wretch like me?â€
Moody assured him, â€œYes, definitely!â€ Moody later remarked, â€œIt was refreshing to preach the gospel of the Son of God to that poor man.â€
Moody prayed with the man and found him a place to stay for the night. But Moody didnâ€™t stop there, for grace gives and gives and then gives some more. The next day, Moody arranged for someone to retrieve the manâ€™s coat from the pawnshop. This man, without a hope in the world, wandered into a warm meeting hall for protection and found the secure love of Jesus in the garden of Godâ€™s grace.
Moody, one of the greatest evangelists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, influenced thousands of men and women and understood grace better than most people. He used to tell his audiences, â€œI have had more trouble with myself than with any other man Iâ€™ve met.â€
Ponnamal certainly discovered the power of Godâ€™s grace when God found her tucked away in a far corner of India. Who could have guessed that God would give her the gift of ministry with Amy Carmichael? And the story of Godâ€™s grace continues through your life and mine.
Friend, as I write these words, I wonder if you have discovered the magnificence of life in the garden of Godâ€™s grace? Do you hear Godâ€™s invitation to come and live in His garden? Do you know His love and acceptance as a reality in your own life? Do you realize you can do nothing to earn His favor? If so, itâ€™s time to throw a party for those who are lost have been found. And the adventure has only just begun. Letâ€™s step into the garden and discover the lifelong, always-new, incredible experience of growing in Godâ€™s amazing grace.