I wish you could join me for a church service in the prison I visit regularly. Together we’d experience praise that’s loud and joy that’s overflowing. We’d see worship that’s raw, transparent and vulnerable.
An outside guest recently shared his testimony. “I was a stone cold drunk for 20 years. Sometimes I’d be driving on the expressway and I’d be so drunk I’d roll down the window, throw up and keep driving. I did crystal meth. I was into pornography, adultery, thieving.”
I cringed at the raw and ugly details of a life so obviously devastated by sin. And I marveled as he proclaimed God’s redemptive and transforming grace.
In the broken places of this world I continually hear similar testimonies from people who had hit bottom and literally had nowhere else to turn—except to Jesus.
Sometimes I get serious spiritual whiplash going from the active, out-loud faith in the prison to the cautious, silent faith in the suburbs.
In a community Bible study I attend, most of the upper-middle class women are seeking faith and have been part of the group for years. Yet even though they’ve heard lots of solid biblical teaching, it seems few have grown. Requests for personal testimony are usually met with uncomfortable silence. Many still seem to hold Jesus at arms’ length.
You and I don’t have to literally be in jail to be imprisoned. We can be locked behind bars made of things stronger than steel. Things like doubt, fear, hurt, anger, pride, jealousy, insecurity, worry, guilt. The list goes on.
In suburbia the greatest barriers to life-changing faith might be the comfort and materialism of our affluent lives. Who needs a savior when we live in kingdoms of our own making?
Plus, we’re not wretches. At least not like the man who shared his testimony!
Or are we?
While our depravity may be less obvious than inmates’ and addicts’, our sins are just as offensive to God. And our need for a savior is just as great—no matter how hard this truth is to accept.
Jesus doesn’t offer two kinds of grace—Grace Fully Loaded for the really messed up people who need a total makeover; and Grace Lite for folks who just need a “sprucing up” of their already decent lives.
There is one kind of grace, and we all need it. It redeems, restores and transforms. And it’s given freely on one condition…
…that it’s received with open hands.
Hands that don’t cling to comfort, control or convenience. Hands that humbly offer their owners’ brokenness and weaknesses to lay at the foot of the cross. Hands that come not with a teaspoon, but with a barrel expecting to receive. To these, grace holds the key that sets them free.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
At the next Bible study, I shared what I’d experienced in the prison. The ladies and I talked honestly about Jesus and His grace. We prayed about the things we cling to that keep us from receiving His gift of transforming grace. The Spirit was present in a way I had never experienced with this group.
That morning, I saw with fresh eyes that there is no greater place to be in all of creation than at the throne of grace—with empty hands, ready to receive.
Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace. — Dr. Jerry Bridges
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
(image credit/Creation Swap)