Freedom and Grace
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal 5:1)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
A few years back I was living in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I had legitimately difficult circumstances with a lot of things pressing on my time, but it seemed more than that. You see, I worked a regular job in downtown Calgary, which involved a fairly lengthy commute. This meant I was up early in order to catch a bus at 5:45am. I usually got home at night after 6pm. I still had my family with 3 small kids to take care of... and I was leading a church with all of the meetings and preparation that entails. However, I knew that my fatigue was only partly due to how busy I was.
For a while I thought how I felt was due to stress, or various difficult circumstances that were coming my way. After all, my job environment was undergoing rounds of layoffs, there were various ongoing marital arguments that my wife and I were trying to work through, and the church wasn't quite going in the upward trajectory that I had hoped it would. The problem with thinking this way was that when I finally had moments where I should have had peace (such as when I was on vacation or having time off), I still had none and was still tired. It seemed like nothing could curb my fatigue. I never felt like I had enough sleep, enough rest, or felt content with where I was at.
So I decided to talk to God about it and ask His opinion. I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to ask… perhaps it just never occurred to me. I seem to regularly take for granted that God is always right with me ready to listen and talk with me.
I can remember clearly that one day while I was out for a run on my lunch break. I was in the middle of my usual route and I heard God say to me as clear as day that He wanted me to stop running, turn off my music, and listen intently to what He had to say. I did. For the next 5 minutes He proceeded to tell me that my exhaustion had nothing to do with what I thought it did. His first words were "You're out of grace".
Basically, what I had been doing in every sphere of my life was to do the best job that I could, but in my own strength. I was trying to perform and be seen to perform well. I was looking for others to approve of me and the work that was doing and basing my satisfaction in life on that. Obviously, I never felt like I measured up. When I felt that way, I'd try even harder but still fall short. Life seemed like one endless stream of requirements that I inevitably felt didn't go as well as I had hoped that they would and there was always something more that needed to be done.
With tears streaming down my face, I repented of my heart attitude. I apologized for my wrong thinking and received again the grace that Jesus gives. In that moment I felt lighter than I had in years; like a burden had been taken off of my back. That moment changed how I look at my life and how I live it. It brought peace and contentment back into my heart and gave me back the ability to actually feel rested. None of my circumstances had changed, yet everything within me had changed.
You see, Jesus has given grace to all who receive and accept Him. It is forgiveness of sins and acceptance into God's family completely regardless of how good you are or what you've done. It's not something that you can earn. It's not something you deserve based on how good you are. Your acceptance is not based on whatever rules you keep or how hard you try. It's based on Jesus dying on a cross for you and giving up His life for yours.
However, even though we've been given this grace, we still have the choice of whether we accept it or not. Do we live in freedom, not needing to live by religious rules and expectations of behaviour or do we live by striving and trying to measure up with everything we do? Is there a list in your mind of things you "should" do or "ought" to do in order to be good? Do you worry that you won't be accepted unless you act a certain way or say certain things? That isn't the way of Christ. Christ's way is freedom and acceptance for who you are, submitting yourself to Him to be changed into a new person.
I'd love to tell you that I've stayed in grace ever since, but I can't. There's been several times since that moment where I've found myself having to repent for striving and doing things in my own strength yet again. However, I'm learning and growing to stay in grace longer and longer. Whenever I get back to that feeling of regular exhaustion, this is what I check with God. Feeling like you constantly have to perform is wearying, but I give thanks to God for accepting me just as I am.