Accustomed to His Grace

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For more than 17 years I served on the same church staff as fellow pastor Scott Shelton.

One day I noticed a sharp-looking navy blue blazer hanging just behind Scott’s office door.  At the time I owned a navy blue blazer, too.  I pointed out that mine had definitely seen better days. 

“You can borrow mine any time you want,” Scott said.  “Really?” I replied.  “Of course,” he answered.

That was a gracious offer.  Guys, of course, typically don’t borrow clothes from other guys.  But Scott happens to be roughly my height and build, and maybe I would wear Scott’s blue blazer, you know, in case of emergency.  Or at least until I went out and bought a new one for myself.  I would wear it just once, maybe on a Sunday morning.

First, I re-sought Scott’s permission.  “Are you sure this is OK?  I’ll make sure absolutely nothing happens to it.” 

As it turned out, his jacket fit me better than my own.  It looked so nice on me that I decided to borrow it again.  And then again.  And suddenly I realized that I was no longer even going through the motions of asking for it.  I would arrive on a Sunday morning, sans sport coat, and hope (OK, expect), that the blue blazer would be hanging there behind the door. 

A couple of times Scott, of course, came to church on a Sunday expecting the same thing.  I was tempted to say something like, “Oh, so you’re going to be wearing our jacket for the first hour?  Could I put it on after that?”  On every occasion, Scott was exceedingly gracious.

Years went by.  I wore the blue blazer to officiate at several off-site weddings.  And for a couple of speaking engagements.  And on a few trips to other states.  And then to Turkey, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, and Romania.  But who’s keeping track? 

At one point my wife said to me, “Honey, is that Scott Shelton’s jacket hanging in our closet?” 

Oh, yeah.  I should probably get that back to him.  Soon. 

What had happened after all those years?  Like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, I hadn’t merely grown accustomed to Scott’s face.   I’d grown accustomed to his grace. 

At first his generosity seemed amazing and surprising.  You would really let me do that?  But gradually, imperceptibly, I began to take Scott’s kindness for granted.  Of course he will let me wear his blue blazer.  That’s simply what Scott does.

There are obvious and disturbing parallels to my relationship with God. 

When I first learned that God offers his love and grace to me, I couldn’t believe it.  I mean I literally couldn’t believe it.  There had to be a catch.  Why would God care about my misguided life?  What would prompt him to invest time and energy in my future?  How could there be a never-ending reservoir of hope and good will in God’s character that would call me, again and again, to pursue a relationship with him?

After choosing to believe that God was entirely serious about blessing me, I was overcome with grief the first few times I disappointed him.  Is our relationship finished, Lord, or can we still walk together?  It’s hard to overstate the wonder of discovering his forgiveness.

But soon enough I grew accustomed to God’s forgiveness.  I became accommodated to his grace.  I stopped feeling the sense of wonder and gratitude that had permeated the earliest days of my life with Christ. 

Would God continue to love me, even if I should obstinately make decisions that would break his heart?  Well, sure.  That’s simply what God does.

And that’s the attitude that has the power to snuff out a Spirit-powered life.

Human beings have the unimaginable privilege of enjoying God’s grace.  But God’s love and forgiveness are not entitlements.  We cannot presume upon them, else the very capacity within us to receive such love and forgiveness begins to die. 

All we can do – humbly, and with a sense of brokenness and wonder, just as we did when we first heard that God might truly care for us – is to place ourselves before him and say, “Thank you.”

Before I departed the church where Scott and I had served together, I brought his blazer back to the office and hung it behind his door.  “Thank you,” I said.  “It has meant so much that you’ve let me borrow this so many times.” 

Scott responded with his usual grace.  “Any time, Glenn,” he said.

Which got me thinking. 

Do you know anyone who would let me borrow their car this fall?