“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, and who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103: 1-5).
I’ve said at various points that I’m convinced that God called me to the ministry because I’m the kind of fool who needs to be reminded of God’s grace constantly. Some men have uncontrollable desires to preach. Some men are called from very early ages, others have fairly dramatic experiences where God grabs their attention and calls them to shepherd His people. But my experience has been far less dramatic and far more humbling. I’ve had all of my most important experiences at the bottom of pits I dug for myself. I’ve drawn the closest to God in the dark, but that’s not really something I’m proud of. And now for the last nine years of my life, I’ve been preaching and counseling and teaching and baptizing and serving men and women and children the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But the only way you actually love and shepherd sheep is by entering in to their struggles, their pain, their sin, their loss. And the Lord has seen fit to continue to give me and my family hard things. And I’m still a serious piece of work.
Sometimes I imagine what it’s like to read the Bible and understand a lesson and then apply it to my life. That must be a real gift. I’m the sort of fool who has to have God set His Word in sharply-raised braille-like letters on a long, spiral staircase and shove me down the stairs hitting my head on every single step along the way, until the point is engraved in high relief in the knots and bruises and scars on my face. I’m that sort of fool. That’s how I have learned grace.
I’ve ask the Lord about this arrangement, and I feel quite sure He’s fully capable of teaching me His ways of grace in other ways. But so far, He seems to be saying the same thing He told Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
So with Paul, all I have is this kind of grace to boast in. All I have to boast in is my weakness because that’s the only way I’ve ever known the power of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9). “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
As I look around at my life, all I see is grace piled upon grace, blessing piled upon blessing, and the really crazy thing is that the only way I can tell it all apart is by the shadows of my sin and weakness. I supplied the shadow, Jesus supplied everything else. All of the best stuff, my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my congregation — I get to enjoy all of it in the rearview mirror. That’s not their fault; I’m just that kind of slow. And I see myself in the rearview mirror too. And God’s grace is there too. I see His grace enabling me to do what seems impossible, close calls, near misses, and sometimes even shining victories. And I can’t do the math. It feels like I’m a blind man driving down the highway doing eighty in Seattle traffic, and all I can see is what’s behind me and somehow there aren’t skid marks and pileups everywhere. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t really know how to explain it. If you’re watching and wondering, let me assure you that I’m just as confused as you. All I know is that as long as I can remember when I have felt lost, alone, afraid, ashamed, guilty, Jesus has always been there – in the dark, in my blindness. It isn’t me. It’s Him.
So, looking in my rearview mirror this morning, I see my wife. She’s smiling slyly, like she does. She’s also probably been chatting me up. And I’ve probably missed three questions and two important suggestions while I’ve been wondering how I ever convinced her to marry me. I see my children. They are probably singing or dancing or chasing each other in the living room. I love their antics. I love their quick wits. I love their tender hearts, their loyalty, their smiles. I see my other part-time children with them, a daughter and a son, with the bright morning sun of the Savior burning the dark shadows behind them all away. I see my own parents smiling, affirming, pointing me to Jesus, and my brothers and sister and their families eating and drinking, singing and laughing. I see my congregation loving, serving, encouraging, praying, and yes, they’re laughing too.
And I’m laughing because it really is hilarious. Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits. And I’m holding up my bucket that’s more like a sieve full of memory holes in this downpour of grace, trying not to forget all His benefits. And now my face is twitching a little. I lift my eyebrows and move my mouth around and take a deep breath. I sort of get the feeling that I’m on a landing, staggering forward with my hands out in front of me. And I grin a little because the first step down always takes the wind out of me.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. And see you at the bottom.