Friday, November 21, 2014

The Slow Simmer of Grace

Chris Webb is a 20 year old senior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in Criminal Justice. He enjoys leading his Chi Alpha small group, watching movies, and reading books that enrich his faith.  In his recent blog post"The Goodness of the Lord in the Land of the Living" from This Mortal Body Has Grown Weak, I Need Sustenance, he writes: "my academic achievement had done nothing to address my deep-seated insecurities" and how gaining a true understanding of God's grace changed his life. Currently, he is working on his first crime fiction series.

When I started attended my community college four years ago I had one goal: graduate with a 4.0 (and thereby with a better GPA than my older sister, cause I had pride issues like that). I studied day and night, and outside of one classmate and playing a final year of high school basketball (which I was doing for very limited and selfish reasons), I didn’t really have a social life.  

Freshman year ended with a net total of 11 A’s, two new friends, lots of sleep deprivation and stress, as well as a second place finish in the HSPN East Coast championship game that led me to not pick up a basketball for months. I had obtained my academic goal (for a year) with rigorous self-effort but I had no joy.

My sophomore year, I was vice president of the Christian Student Fellowship at my community college (because that’s what extremely successful christian students do) and I continued to collect as many A’s as possible. I succeeded. To the outside, I was the poster child of success but my academic achievement had done nothing to address my deep-seated insecurities. I felt like a hypocrite because I was a Christian that struggled with addiction and couldn’t beat it with willpower (all you perfectionists know how much that sucks). I knew facts about God but I couldn’t have told you who He was to me. All I could do was obtain good grades and even that failed me when I didn’t get a full ride to VCU like I thought I deserved. 

God was distant, my athletic goals had gone up in flames, and when it came to the area of relationships it seemed the universe was conspiring against me. But God had a plan.

Fast forward to today. Getting me to stress about school is like trying to get me to go swing dancing (as in really, really hard). I have the closest group of friends I’ve ever had in my life and God and I talk everyday (I still do 75% of the talking but hey, progress is progress). I still have a 4.0 but I now understanding that it’s a blessing from God that He was generous enough to give me because I asked for it, not something I “earned” because I was smarter than everybody else.  

I’m still single (despite my best efforts) but I’ve had weeks where I truly understood what it means to experience a peace that transcends all understanding.

What caused this radical change, you ask? Grace. Gaining a true understanding of what God’s grace really is and what it means for me. It means that God loves me independent of anything I’ve ever done, am doing, or will do--a revolutionary discovery for me! It means that I have God’s unmerited favor impacting every area of life just because I’m His son and I’ve been adopted into His family. It means I’m greatly blessed, highly favored, and deeply loved. It means that I’m a successful person simply because God is with me. It means I’m holy, just, and good, not because of what I do but because I’m a new creation in Christ.

Now, this change didn’t just happen overnight. As I’ve learned, when God uses his grace to change you, it works really, really, REALLY, slow. But when grace changes you, it’s permanent. It starts with changing how you think waaaaaaay before it changes how you act.

Some of you might be wondering why I decided to share this in a public forum. Well, Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life”. Up until recently, I could only relate to the first part of this scripture; I was an expert in heart sickness, because I had it. But now, even though many of my hopes are still deferred, I’ve seen desire come and it truly is a tree of life.

I know far too well, what rock bottom looks like: despair, doubt, fear, anxiety, stress, shame, the whole nine yards. I have been intimately acquainted with them. You might think I can’t relate to what you’re going through or have gone through, and you’re right to some extent. I may not be able to relate to the details of your story because it’s your story. But trust me on this, when it comes to the aforementioned emotions…I get it. I wish I didn’t…but I do. 

I just want everyone to know that hope is out there, and you can always find it in Jesus. I know the change I experienced was not of myself because I tried changing myself for years and it didn’t work. If effort and hard work were the only factors, I would have done it (trust me, I have the Upwards Basketball Program blue stars to prove it). My problems seemed insurmountable, but to God they were like grains of sand. He is SO much bigger than anything we’ll ever come up against! He’s the beginning, middle, and end of my story and without him I am nothing.

Now, to be clear, I don’t act perfectly and I’ve not yet learned the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of God’s love for me (although I know much more than I used to). I don’t expect what I’ve written to change anyone’s life, because honestly, it wouldn’t have changed mine based on where I was four years ago. But here’s my hope: that in reading this, at least one person will come to a sense of peace about where they are in life, warts in all. If even one person reads this and comes away with a sense of relief that they aren’t responsible for changing themselves, it will have been worth it. No, the change won’t be instantaneous and yes, you’ll still struggle with stuff a lot longer than you think you should, but it’s OKAY. God has you and when God has you, EVERYTHING will be okay. As I end, I just want to leave you with this: In regards to Christianity, it’s not about what you do, it’s about "whose" you are. So "whose" are you?

 Philippians 1:6 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”.

Psalm 27:13-14
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

14 Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!”