Grace Wins

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In 1849 a young Russian named Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested and imprisoned.
He was charged with being part of a group that read books that appeared to be critical of Czar Nicholas I.
After awaiting trial for eight months in a festering jail, Dostoevsky and his fellow “criminals” were led outside three days before Christmas into the frigid air.  They were horrified to hear that they had been sentenced to death.  There would be no trial and no possibility of appeal.
And no opportunity even to prepare for the last moments of life.
The men were tied to stakes.  A clerk recited Romans 6:23 to each prisoner, “The wages of sin is death,” and held out a cross to be kissed.  Drums rolled.  The execution squad raised their rifles.  The commander lifted his sword and shouted, “Ready…aim…”
And then, at the last possible moment, a messenger appeared, carrying word from the Czar himself.
He would mercifully commute their sentences to 10 years of imprisonment.  They were spared.
Dostoevsky learned soon enough that the whole affair had been a cruel prank.  Nicholas had wanted to teach these wannabe rebels a lesson they would never forget.
He certainly accomplished that.
One of the prisoners suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered.  Another sank to his knees and wept aloud, blessing the Czar.
Dostoevsky, who wasn’t yet 30 years old, experienced what can only be described as a resurrection.  One moment he was resigned to his own tragic and meaningless death.  The next moment he felt alive as never before. 
Dostoevsky and his fellow prisoners were shackled and sent on a dreadful 18-day journey to Siberia.  There he endured incredible sufferings, including four years of hard labor and six years of exile. 
During his imprisonment he never received a single letter from his family. 
All the ingredients had come together for despair.  Or bitterness.  Or vengeful obsession.  But somehow Dostoevsky emerged from his ordeal overwhelmed by the sheer joy of being alive.  He had virtually memorized the only book he had been allowed to read while in prison: the New Testament.
He went on to become perhaps the greatest novelist of all time. Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov are turbulent, multi-layered dramas exploring the meaning of life and the stark reality of suffering in a fallen world.
But they all have the same bottom line:  Grace wins. 
What Dostoevsky learned, when tied to a post on a bitter winter day, is that his “first life” had been given to him as a sheer gift.  So was his “second life” that followed the reprieve. 
He never got over the wonder of having yet one more day to experience life as God’s child.
God willing, none of us will have to face an execution squad this weekend.  But here’s a prayer that can help us realize, like Dostoevsky, the depths of amazing grace:
Lord, help me seize this day – this day that is a gift from you.  Open my hands and my heart to receive whatever you have prepared for me.  Help me rejoice in the fact that I am alive right now, and that by your grace I can live for you…one day at a time.  In the name and for the sake of Jesus your Son, Amen.