Read: John 6:28-29; Matthew 11:28-30
A picture, it is said, is worth 1,000 words. Thankfully, I am old enough that no Instagram or Facebook pictures will ever emerge from my college days, especially any photos from that long ago class, gymnastics and tumbling. However, this week, I realized that I had received a precious picture of God's grace through that class, and until now, I didn't even know it.
It was my last semester in college, and I had to take 21 hours in order to graduate. I needed to take one P. E. class, but why in the world did I choose gymnastics and tumbling? I could have taken swimming. After all, I already was a decent swimmer, but no that wasn't what I chose. Instead, I thought something different would be interesting, and I chose gymnastics and tumbling. The problems began right away. As I recall, most of the young women who also were taking that class already were good at gymnastics. We started with the uneven bars, or was it the parallel bars? Already, you can tell that I was out of my league. I was supposed to pull myself up and do some kind of movement after that, but I was totally lacking in upper body strength. They didn't know what to do with the girl who couldn't even accomplish step one, never mind moving ahead to step two. On to the trampoline. Yes, I had a spotter, and a flip was on the agenda for the day. However, that unpleasant cracking sound coming from my back when he grabbed me, unnerved him, and it was on to another activity. I couldn't vault. Something about a fear that I might harm myself as I tried to jump over it. You get the idea. I was pretty much confined to the mats for simple somersaults, and I wasn't great at that either. Oh, why hadn't I simply opted for swimming.
At this point, it is important, as part of the sweet picture of grace that I saw this week, to tell you about another P. E. class that I took a few years prior to my "adventure. Bowling. I took it one summer, and in spite of my efforts and the instructor's patience, I never improved. First, I would gutter to the right and then I'd gutter to the left. At the end of the session, grades came out, and I was shocked to have received an A. Why did I get such a high grade? The teacher said it was because I kept trying. Effort alone. Go figure.
Back to that last P. E. class and my very different attitude. As I discovered my inability in pretty much every area of my final P. E. class, I started skipping. No, not the happy little step we learn in childhood that is a part of dance. I have never been able to do that, but that's another P. E. disaster story. Too frequently, I didn't go to that last P. E. class, and all of a sudden, it hit me. Grades would be coming out, and attendance was important. What could I do? Unlike bowling, I hadn't even really tried to improve. It was time to talk with the teacher, and I could offer no excuses or reasons for mercy from her. I needed to simply ask for undeserved kindness. I did the only thing I could do. I admitted that I didn't even deserve a D because of my poor attendance and my lack of either initiative or performance. I told her I needed that one credit to graduate, and I basically asked her for an undeserved passing grade. Thankfully, she did give me a D. So, I worked hard at my bowling and received an A for effort. Then I didn't work hard, but I asked for undeserved mercy and received a D. Those two grades picture two ways people might approach God.
My bowling performance pictures someone who tries to please God by what she does. She works hard and believes that God will look at her effort and be pleased. That effort might be anything from going to church to helping those in need. Good activities, isn't that true? Doesn't it make sense that God is like that bowling instructor? Wouldn't He be pleased with our efforts?
Jesus gave His listeners the answer in John 6:28-29 when they asked Him that very question. It is there that He gave what was undoubtedly a surprising answer to some of His hearers. They were to believe in Him, the Holy Messiah that God had sent to offer salvation to them. He didn't tell them to complete a list of dos and don'ts in order to please God. He didn't admonish them to keep trying each day in order to earn God's favor. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said this same thing another way. Men, women, boys and girls were to come to Him. It was not those who felt that their efforts to please God to be noteworthy that He called to Himself. Rather, it was the ones who felt burdened down. Those who knew they couldn't present their efforts or good things to Jesus. They were the ones who were weary from trying so hard; so, they were invited to receive the rest Jesus offered.
My gymnastics grade pictures the person who has no good thing to offer Jesus. He knows that he can present nothing to Him that can warrant His acceptance. He knows that what he receives from God will come to him only because of Jesus' mercy and grace. Beautiful truth, but it is at this point, as is the case with most examples, that this picture breaks down. I received an appreciated and undeserved D, but what God gives is so much sweeter. I passed, but only barely. When I came to talk with the gymnastics teacher, I had no way of knowing whether or not she would extend kindness to me.
How different it is when we run to Jesus for His undeserved favor. He is the One Who initiated the offer of grace, having planned the way of salvation, even before He created the world. He referred to Himself as having come to earth in order to seek and save those who are lost, Luke 19:10. He longs to be merciful if we will only cry out for it. In the scriptures we are told that when we stop trying to please God by our own efforts, that we receive God's righteousness and that we will stand before Him holy and blameless with great joy, Jude 1:24. When we come to Him, not claiming any righteousness of our own, we become His dearly loved children, Colossians 3:12; 1 John 3:1. We receive grace upon grace, John 1:16-17. God lavishes His love upon us when we realize, as the apostle Paul did, that anything we offer God is useless and worthless when it is compared with his perfect righteousness, Philippians 3:9.
Lord, Thank You for making it clear that we can't please You by completing a list of good things or trying hard not to do a list of bad things. Rather than what we do, we thank You Lord that You are pleased when we run to You for Your grace and mercy, Ephesians 2:8-9.