Posts Tagged 'Side benefits of grace'

7 Side Benefits of Grace, Part 3

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Most of us are familiar with this definition of “grace”: God’s unmerited favor. That’s a good, solid, simple definition, and again most of us relate grace to God’s treatment of us in salvation. God saved us – He forgave us – when we didn’t deserve it and He continues to treat us better than we deserve. True enough. But most of us don’t think about grace much in our day-to-day lives. I call these “side benefits” of grace, but they really aren’t “side benefits” at all. Each of the seven is a big deal to the beneficiaries of them. Each of the seven helps us to live a fearless, courageous Christian life.

So far, we’ve looked at four of the seven:

  • God names each of us by a name of His choosing. He knows us that well;
  • God is so aware of us and He is so close to us He actually has the number of hairs on our head numbered;
  • He watches us so closely He has our very steps counted;
  • He pays such strict attention to how we talk about Him, He not only records our words but He has written our names down in His big black book in Heaven.

Those are all marvelous side benefits of God’s grace.

Let’s continue with the final three side benefits of God’s amazing grace.

God bottles our tears, Psalm 56:8 KJV

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? (Psalm 56:8 KJV)

Psalm 56 has been called “the cheerful courage of a fugitive” by Old Testament scholars. David was a fugitive for part of his life; he didn’t always live the easy life on the throne in Jerusalem! While he was a fugitive, he had it bad –

Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. (Psalm 55:5, 6 KJV)

That’s the cry of a man on the run; pursued by a relentless enemy bent on his destruction. David, the mighty warrior-king-poet, was for part of His life, a scared man hiding out in caves, behind trees, and in ditches. And he had good reason for be fearful. King Saul wanted him dead, the enemies of Israel wanted him dead, or alive so they could torture him and make sport of him. In Psalm 55, he’s a man with his back against the wall, but in Psalm 56, he’s writing with some conviction. What he wanted in Psalm 55, he received in Psalm 56. He’s still surrounded by the enemy. He’s still in mortal danger. But through all that, David realized that God was still by his side. In fact, God was more than just with him – God had been delivering Him every step of the way.

The historical background of this psalm has to be noted. David had been captured by the Philistines in Gath. He was in the worst possible place a man of God could find himself in: more or less helpless, surrounded by the enemy, with no way out in sight.

Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. (Psalm 56:1, 2 KJV)

What David wrote here, while poetic-sounding, was really happening to him. He was surrounded – literally covered up – by the enemy. What can a believer do when the forces of Satan are arrayed around him? David tells us –

I will trust in thee. (Psalm 56:3b KJV)

David was afraid. Fear is a very real thing that every believer has to deal with from time to time in life. Anybody who says they are never, ever afraid lies about other things, too. Fear is real. But, at the same time, no believer ever has to fear. When those real feelings of fear come on you, you don’t have to entertain them. When the fear hits, do what David did: trust in God. Each of us must learn to do this because fear and faith cannot exist in the same person at the same time.

Love contains no fear—indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. (1 John 4:18 JBP)

Love casts out fear. But it’s not just any kind of love. It’s not the love between husband and wife or parent and child, it’s God’s love for you. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s you taking your eyes off yourself and the thing that you fear, and appropriating God’s perfect love.

Verse 8 tells us that God knows “your wanderings.” Yes, He knows where you’re going and where you’ve come from. God never stops keeping track of your comings and goings. Sometimes your wanderings get into trouble – you get into deep water. When that happens, then this happens:

put thou my tears into thy bottle…

Regarding this verse, John Bunyan notes:

God preserves our tears in a bottle, so that He can wipe them away.

We cry for all kinds of reasons. We get angry, and we cry. We get sad, and we cry. We get scared, and we cry. Those are the tears God wants to wipe away, bottle up, and get rid of. A side benefit of God’s grace is that God cares when we hurt. This really is a phenomenal statement of God’s unending compassion. No believer needs to carry any burden. Let that burden go – in the form of tears, if you like – and let God bottle them up and take them away.

God takes our hands, Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13 TNIV)

That’s a verse of tremendous comfort to Christians, and it is an incredible side benefit of God’s grace. No non-Christian can enjoy this close relationship with God. Only you can, if you have made Christ Lord of your life. But when you understand this verse’s historical context, it becomes even more incredible.

In Isaiah 41, the prophet shouts out a challenge to all the idolatrous nations surrounding Israel.

Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment.” (Isaiah 41:1 TNIV)

So, God has a word or two for those heathen nations. But God calling out these nations occurs within the context of His deliverance of Israel from Babylon. The instrument of His deliverance is revealed in verse 2 –

Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service ? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. (Isaiah 41:2 TNIV)

God is talking about a man all these heathen nations would be aware of: Cyrus, King of Persia. He’s the one with Babylon in view and he’s going to be the deliverer of God’s people. What we’re talking about here is God’s sovereignty; His overruling purpose. That is, from time to time, God will use the people and systems of this world to accomplish His purpose for His people. Cyrus, as far as he was concerned, was wanting to extend the borders of his kingdom and that would entail conquering Babylon. But God had a greater purpose: He would use Cyrus and his ambitions to deliver his people from their captivity.

With verse 8, God turns and talks to His people –

But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” (Isaiah 41:8, 9 TNIV)

In spite of their present circumstances and dismal future prospects, God had in no way forgotten His people. He chose them. He had called them from all over, bringing them together as a nation, and they were chosen and assembled to serve Him. He never gave up on them. In fact, God thought so much of His people, that He steps in and overrules in human history just to help them out. He still does that today.

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19 TNIV)

The omnipotence and sovereignty of God. Knowing the future is God’s prerogative, not yours. You don’t what the future holds. You may think you’ve got a lock on your job and your retirement, but all it takes in one downturn in the economy to wipe out all your plans. What will you do then? This incredible side benefit of God’s grace is almost too good to be true. God will step in, move the world to help you. And His promise is that He will hold your hand. He will see you through. He won’t let go.

God supplies our needs, Philippians 4:19

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 TNIV)

This must surely be one of the greatest verses in the New Testament. Anybody who’s ever come up short by the third week of the month always remembers, however vaguely, that Paul wrote it to the Philippians. Sadly, most Christians get Philippians 4:19 completely wrong. And so they’re always disappointed when they not only come up short, but remain short until the next paycheck. So let’s look at what Paul was really saying here.

There is a real danger that Christians living for Christ and content in their own circumstances – even if those circumstances are difficult – might become careless about the needs of others. And that’s the context of verse 19.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12, 13 TNIV)

So Paul was content with his lot, but he was no stoic. He wasn’t into deprivation. For Paul, going without wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Suffering for the sake of suffering was not necessary, and Christians who are indifferent to the real needs of others, thinking that their bad circumstances are God’s way of punishing them, are totally wacked out in their thinking. That’s why Paul wrote this –

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. (Philippians 4:14 TNIV)

Sure, Paul would have been content to be stuck without two pennies to rub together, but he was grateful for the thoughtfulness of the Philippians who helped him out. And the Philippians, not a wealthy church by a long shot – hadn’t only helped him out, but they had generously helped out other churches and other believers in dire need.

I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (Philippians 4:18 TNIV)

These poor folks in Philippi, who had so little, gave so much to others in need. So much so, now they were in need. And it was to those generous, impoverished believers, that God gave this side benefit of grace.

You see, God puts a high premium on loving, thoughtful gifts given to those other believers in need, especially to those who are serving and ministering for Him in less than desirable circumstances. The fact is, our stewardship in temporal things is very often a barometer of our spiritual condition, and thoughtfulness in sharing with others and in relieving their need is all part of fulfilling God’s will for others and for ourselves. God doesn’t always use a Cyrus. Sometimes He uses you.

The side benefits of His grace aren’t meant to stop just with the one who has received them. If you’ve been blessed by God, turn around and bless another.

7 Side Benefits of Grace, Part 2

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To say that God has His eyes on you would be an understatement! Think about what this verse says –

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9a TNIV)

That’s one of the most remarkable verses in the Old Testament. And it’s a profound truth; God’s eyes travel all over the world, continually, giving strength to His people. It’s a comforting verse. It can also be terrifying verse. Let’s note the context before diving into the third side benefit of God’s grace.

Before we read about the eyes of the Lord, we read this –

At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.” (2 Chronicles 16:7 TNIV)

It’s a fascinating story that you should take the time to read, but in sum, the prophet Hanani took King Asa to task for trusting Syria (man) instead of God. His rebuke went like this: God once delivered the Egyptians into your hands; why couldn’t you trust Him this time?

Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand. (2 Chronicles 16:8 TNIV)

King Asa’s big problem here was his inconsistency. He trusted the Lord one time but not the next. He experienced a great victory when he trusted the Lord, yet he turned right around and instead of doing the very thing that guaranteed victory, he chose to trust man instead of God. Asa was so mad at the prophet, he threw Hanani into prison and oppressed those who didn’t like it.

We can denounce Asa and decry his behavior, but we need to look in the mirror. How easily you and I forget the power of God brought to bear in the great crises of life, but fail to trust Him in lesser decisions. Yet through it all, God is ever faithful to those who are faithful to Him. We don’t have to be perfect, just faithful.

The seven benefits of God’s grace work like that. They work as long as we are faithful to God. The first two side benefits of God’s grace are wonderful:

• God names His people;
• God numbers the hair on your head.

However wonderful they are, they only work when you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ. As long as you are in that relationship, God’s grace manifested in those two benefits will flow to you. But you’re out of luck if you’re out of that relationship for any reason.

Let’s turn our attention to side benefit number three:

God counts our very steps, Job 31:4

Does he not see my ways and count my every step? (TNIV)

Job was a man, you’ll recall, who had suffered greatly. He had such a great life.

Oh, for the days when I was in my prime… (Job 29:4a TNIV)

I guess anybody over 40 or 50 has said that. We look back with great fondness to the “good old days,” when we had hair and didn’t need glasses; when our knees didn’t hurt or our hands ache in the cold. But poor Job had it real bad. He had such a good life, but then it all went bad.

Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud. And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest. (Job 30:15 – 17 TNIV)

This man was in bad shape; he’d lost his family, his reputation, and his health, and he was getting no help from even his closest friends. That’s often the case, by the way. When you suffer, you often suffer alone because honestly, no matter how sincere a friend may be, in the end, humanly speaking, you’re on your own. But Job never really gave up on God. At times it sounded like he did, but he continued to pray and plead his case before God, which is always a good thing to do.

Job was positively sure that he had done nothing to deserve the suffering he was experiencing, and that’s the whole theme of chapter 31. He goes through all kinds of sins or categories of sin that might have been the cause of his problems, but he solemnly swears he’s completely innocent. Of course, nobody is completely innocent, but in the midst of his declarations of innocence, Job manages to utter a deeply profound and meaningful theological truth: God counts our every step. That’s a real poetic way of saying that God sees everything you do and everywhere you go. Within the context of what Job is saying to God, that’s more than a comforting thought. Remember, Job was pleading his innocence before God –

I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. For what is our lot from God above, our heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong? (job 31:1 – 3 TNIV)

The certainty of his innocence is based on the fact that he knows God knows what he’s been up to; that God sees all and knows all and He punishes only the wicked.  And he’s not wrong about that. Job, in the midst of his misery, hit the nail on the head.

Does he not see my ways and count my every step? (Job 31:4 NIV)

Yes He does! There is nothing about you that you can hide from God. Good thoughts, bad attitudes, questionable relationships, and quiet compassion; God sees it and God knows it. It’s a side benefit of grace, that God takes such notice in your comings and goings.

God records our thoughts, Malachi 3:16

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. (NIV)

This is a very personal, little insight into just how closely God pays attention to us. But let’s take a quick look at the context and you’ll see why it’s the fourth side benefit of God’s grace.

What everybody knows about Malachi is this –

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10 NIV)

That’s right; Malachi is all about tithing, right? Wrong. It’s actually a very prescient little book that ought scare the devil out of Christians. It was written to a very specific group of Jews who lived thousands of years ago, but it describes the way too many modern Christians are. What prompted God’s challenge to tithe was the people’s arrogant attitude towards Him. Just read this exchange –

Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’” (Malachi 3:8a TNIV)

And so it goes. God accuses His people of something and they come back with a smart aleck retort. That takes some nerve, doesn’t it? How about this exchange –

You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” (Job 3:13 – 15 NIV)

“Arrogantly” is another way to translate the more obscure “stout,” as seen in the KJV. It refers more to an attitude than just words. Their arrogant, skeptical attitude resulted in their vocal criticism against God. Of course, they have their smarty pants response to God’s accusation ready: “What have we said against you.” That word, “said,” means “talking together.” In other words, these people seemed to be in the habit of talking together about God and the state of their lives and blaming Him for their unhappy state. They commiserated together about the apparent futility of serving God. They basically said that serving God and worshiping Him was a total waste of time. In the end, this attitude manifested the height of their selfishness: there was nothing in it for them. There was, in their worldly minds, no profit in serving God.

And if that doesn’t describe a lot of Christians, nothing does. Many believers think that God owes them a good life simply by virtue of their confession of faith. This kind of Christian may openly appear to serve God, but inwardly they have little or no relationship with Jesus Christ, yet they blame God for every bad thing going on in their lives. They have no joy in the Lord. God sees that arrogant attitude and He hears their false statements about His character.

But not everybody was like that in Malachi’s day, and not every Christian is like that today. Thankfully! And that brings us to the fourth side benefit of God’s grace. Just as He hears and takes note of those who carelessly talk about Him; who impugn His character; who play fast and loose with what He has revealed about Himself to man, our God pays attention to those of us who love Him and serve Him when we talk about Him.

In the prophet’s day, the godless in Israel complained about God and dissed Him among themselves, but then the godly did the same, except that their conversations were positive and right. What these pious people said was not recorded for us, but we can guess. Perhaps their conversations about God were like this:

I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. (Psalm 34:1 – 7 TNIV)

Yes, in a way we don’t understand, God keeps a scroll, or a book of remembrance dedicated to our conversations about Him. We may debate the literalness of this passage all day – is this a real book or a symbolic one? To waste our time doing that is to miss the whole point of what Malachi is trying to get across, which is profound one.  God pays attention to what we say, and when we get it right, our names and His thoughts concerning us are permanently, divinely recorded. This message of permanence to a people who were constantly facing threat after threat to their very existence must have been so comforting. To any of us today, facing our own threats – threats to our health, our livelihood, to our way of life, we should be comforted as well. God is an eternal Being, and that means His thoughts, His care, His concern, and His plans for us are also eternal. This is just another side benefit of His amazing grace, available only to those who love Him and are serving Him.


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