(This is Part 2 in a blog series about Extending Grace to Others. Read Part 1 here!)
What does it mean to be strong in grace?
I looked at 2 Timothy, and noticed that Paul was encouraging Timothy to stay strong in his teachings, specifically grace, even under persecution and hardship. In 2 Tim. 1:14, Paul says, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you.” In context, the good deposit is the gospel, the story of God’s grace (v.9). He then says in 2:1, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
My experiences over here in Thailand have taught me so much about extending grace to others in ways that I hadn’t quite imagined. There are tons of good blogs out there right now about revamping and revitalizing our methods in missions and humanitarian work to be more effective. I’m all for that. At the same time, I’m right in the midst of the hard realities. I know that these realities exist, despite many well-intentioned people helping, because they are incredibly difficult to address.
Let me tell you a real-life story: A boy showed up on our doorstep over the summer. He was dirty, scared, and alone. He had scars. He had bites and infections. He had no place to sleep. I know that it’s not necessarily in his best interest to become the “great-western-saviors” and immediately give him all he needs, but what do you do? He’s still 13. He’s still about to sleep outside on your doorstep. He’s still in tears.
It would be easy and justifiable for someone to jump in and say, “Inviting him into your house, giving him new clothes and a shower, and befriending him for a week before you leave the country isn’t meeting a long-term need and is probably on some level psychologically damaging as you repeat patterns of rejection and abandonment.”
While nobody has expressly said this, if they did… I would agree. They’re right and I know just how right they are, because after 3 days of searching and investigating his very difficult and unique story, we found him a home. I know they’re right because when we dropped him off at his new home, he screamed. He screamed for me and Christin. He screamed for the love he thought we were going to give him day and in and day out. I know they’re right because in that moment, my heart fell out of my chest. I know they’re right because he kept trying to leave his new home to be with us. But what else was I supposed to do?
I’m not the most experienced missionary. Street-kids and their unique dilemmas are not a specialty. But late at night, when the kid is sleeping on my doorstep, and all our outside help can’t come until the morning; I have to make a decision with all my knowledge and resources. This was the best decision I was capable of making. What I need as a missionary facing unacceptable realities and making difficult decisions outside my realm of knowledge and expertise is an extension of grace. What I need to extend to other organizations, NGO’s, and missionaries making equally difficult decisions with the best of intentions, is grace. In the midst of trying to find this boy a home, so many well-intentioned and loving organizations turned us away. They had good reasons, but it would have been easier to point fingers and blame rather than extending grace and understanding.
As the body of Christ, I see so much disunity when we could be stronger together. This organization is upset with how this one operates. Bitter words, backbiting, and “staking claim” on ministry locations and ministry with certain people begin to develop. “We work with this group because we care more… or we care more and do it more correctly.” You hear rumors, “Did you know? I once heard that so-and-so did this. Now the whole village won’t let anyone come in and help. Can you imagine?” It’s not exclusive to the mission field. This happens with churches, ministries, and businesses at home as well.
Grace doesn’t exclude tough conversations about methodology and doesn’t overwrite feedback and correction given in love. Still, without grace, questioning “how things are done” and if that’s representative of “best practices” has the potential to turn judgmental very quickly. This is just one of the consequences of not being strong in grace. Remember, that was the admonition Paul gave to Timothy. Be strong in grace. Find the balance of grace and loving feedback. Grace comes first, and it’s followed by correction.
The problem is that if I’m unwilling to extend grace, the opposite posture is one of judgment. Jesus talked to his disciples about judgment in Matthew 7:1-5. Basically, don’t do it.
Judgment is the evaluation of evidence to make a decision. Judgments, in the courtroom, are final decisions. When I judge somebody else, I take in and evaluate the evidence I have at hand, and make a final decision about that person. I decide how I see that person from this point forward based off the evidence I have collected. “Oh, they are prideful! They are hot-tempered! They are idiots! They are legalistic and law-based.” Judgment leaves little room for grace.
My friends and spiritual community talk about Heb. 12:15 all the time. It says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” When we talk about the verse, we talk about the end result: being offended and defiling others. We talk about our caustic and stained views of someone else based on passed judgments. Those caustic views then overflow in my talk and my actions to others who pick up the same stained view and judgment. This is defilement.
But look…. look what caused this to happen in the first place; not extending grace. “See to it that no one misses the grace of God…”
Without Grace we are left with judgment. Judgment is rooted in bitterness – it offends and it defiles. This is where we begin to see disunity. There is an inability to cooperate, to maintain relationship, to work/serve/live together, and thus the quality of relationship, overall authority, and potential effectiveness of a group is diminished. I don’t want this to happen on the mission field, in my church at home, in my workplace, or with my family and friend.
It’s necessary to extend grace. It’s essential that I stand strong in a posture of Grace no matter the situation or circumstance. While I can evaluate and honestly asses the world around me, without starting from a place of grace I’m only left with judgement. Without grace, I paint my mark on the world and my relationships in dull, uninviting colors.
(*This is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here, and look for Part 3 soon!)