Napoleon, the great French dictator of the nineteenth century, is reported to have had a very important person on his staff who was a marginal idiot. Before every military conquest, Napoleon would write out his commands for the assault and would give this piece of paper to the idiot and ask him to read it and tell him what it said. If he could tell him what it said he would give it to his commanders and proceed with the assault. If not, he would re-write the orders.
Grace is a concept that the simplest of minds can understand. Yet, we have been guilty of making it much too complicated. Grace is the most basic element to salvation. It means gift. It is God giving us something we don't deserve. Through faith we except this gift of salvation from God.
We have expanded the basic meaning of grace. We observe a graceful pirouette by a ballerina. We admire people who gracefully carry themselves with charm and poise. We envy the ball players who gracefully make their moves when they waltz into the end zone. Music's most delicate notes are tagged with the word grace.
Listen to these words about grace by Frederick Buechner:
After centuries of handling and mishandling, most religious words have become so shopworn nobody's much interested anymore. Not so with grace, for some reason. Mysteriously, even derivatives like gracious and graceful still have some of the bloom left.
Grace is something you can never get but only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberry and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.
A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace.
A crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do. There's nothing you have to do.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing will separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you.
There's only one catch. Like any gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it.
Maybe being able to reach out an take it is a gift too.
Grace is God snatching us from a barren place, snatching us from a dry, desolate life of sin and setting us to eat from the bounty of his table. It is undeserved and unrepayable... it is free.
Nestled in the Old Testament in Second Samuel 9 is an example of grace. It is the story of David and Mephibosheth, Jonathan's lame son. David patterned his heart after God's by extending acceptance and mercy to a shriveled soul. It was a refreshing rain of grace to Mephibosheth.
In this story we find some characteristics of one who lives a graceful life. The grace of God so affected David's life that he lived a graceful life. He gave the gift of grace to others which he had received from God. What are the characteristics of grace that David had in his life? If you have received grace from God which characteristics do you lack? Let's take a look.
The first characteristic of grace is loyalty. Still enjoying a peaceful interlude, David begins to reflect on the promises he made to Saul and Jonathan before he was crowned king.
In eastern dynasties, when a new king took over it was common for him to kill every member of his predecessor's family. When Jonathan first heard that David would succeed his father to the throne, he asked him to spare his descendants. So David extended a hand of grace and made a covenant with Jonathan. Jonathan says:
Thou shalt not only while I live to show me the kindness of the Lord, but also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house forever... (I Samuel 20:14-15)
David did not have to keep his promise to Jonathan. Jonathan was dead and no one would have ever known the difference. Yet, the grace of God so permeated David's life he could not be anything else but loyal.
Loyalty seems to be very rare at times. A soldier who defends his/her country in the easy times and deserts in hard times is not loyal. A husband and father who loves his wife and children when all is well and runs away for "greener grass" is bad times is not loyal. A church member who always seems to hunt something to pick at and criticize is not loyal. Loyalty means that whatever comes and whatever happens I can be depended upon.
There is one prime example of loyalty. The example of loyalty that is provided by man's best friend, the dog.
While practicing law, George G. Vest, a former United States Senator from Missouri, defended a farmer whose dog was involved in a minor damage suit. Here is part of his speech:
The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man has in a selfish world, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.
If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies.
And, when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in his embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter, if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside, will be found the noble dog, his head between his paws, his sad eyes alert and watchful, still faithful and true even in death.
With this impassioned plea, Vest won a favorable verdict from the jury.
The second characteristic of grace is it is unconditional. A person of grace does not show partiality.
David called one of Saul's servants, whose name was Ziba, and asked him an intriguing question:
Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God. (II Samuel 9:3)
Notice that David asks for anyone. Not anyone worthy or anyone qualified, but is there anyone? David's kindness was unconditional and free.
Ziba said to the king, "There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet." Between the lines of Ziba's answer lies some cautious counsel. "You'd better think twice before you do this, David. This guy is not very kingly; he doesn'treally fit the surroundings. He's a crippled, David... he's on crutches"
So the king said to his servant, Where is he? And Ziba said to the king, Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar." (II Samuel 9:4)
God's grace had been extended to David unconditionally so that David wanted to give this grace to someone unconditionally.
There is a tradition that Jonathan Edwards, the third president of Princeton and one of America's greatest religious thinkers, had a daughter with an ungovernable temper. But, as is so often the case, this infirmity was not known to the outside world.
A worthy young man fell in love with this daughter and sought her hand in marriage. "You can't have her," was the abrupt answer of Jonathan Edwards. "But I love her," the young man replied. "You can't have her, "said Edwards. "But she loves me!" replied the young man.
Again Edwards said, "You can't have her." "Why?" Said the young man, "Because she is not worthy of you." "But," he asked, "She is Christian is she not?" "Yes, she is a Christian, but the grace of God can live with some people with whom no one else could ever live."
The third characteristic of grace is that it is unexpected.
Let's briefly at the background of Mephibosheth. In Second Samuel 4:4 we first hear the pitiful story of Mephibosheth's injury.
And Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son who was lame in his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled; and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
Mephibosheth had now grown to be a man. He lived in the area call Lo-Debar which means a place without cedars or a barren place. More than likely, he was in hiding from the new king who would execute him. After all, he was a "shameful crippled". He deserved nothing more than death.
But, something unexpected happened. He received grace from the new king. As Mephibosheth approached the king he heard these words:
Fear not; for I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan, thy father's sake. (II Samuel 9:7)
Listen to these words by Julie Martin:
I was that Mephibosheth
Crippled by my twisted pride and
hiding from You in a barren place
where You could not find me
where You would not give me what I deserved.
But somehow You found me and
I don't understand why but You
gave me what I do not deserve
You not only spared my desolate life but
You made it bountiful
And here at Your table
I will thank You my King
The fourth characteristic of grace is that it takes a chance. Not only was Mephibosheth Jonathan's son, he was Saul's grandson. Would he be a loyal friend as was Jonathan or would he be a raging as was Saul. Nevertheless David took a chance.
God took a chance on me. He accepted me into His family not knowing if I would remain a friend or if I would become an enemy. Do you know what? He's still taking a chance on me!
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt. Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured, there where the blood of the lamb was spilt. Grace, grace, God's grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.
Frederick Buechner, "Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC" (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers), pp. 33-34.
Charles Swindoll, "David: A Man After God's Heart", Insight for Living, pp. 98-99.