Surprising Bouquets of Grace
FROM Erik Raymond
I was pleasantly surprised recently while on a walk with my 4-year-old daughter. She pointed out a flower, stooped over it to smell it, and then turned back at me to smile. Armed with this cute smile that was framed by her curly hair, she made her request, “Come and smell this one, Daddy.” Being neither willing nor able to refuse her, I complied. And after smelling the flower I have to admit, it smelled surprisingly beautiful. The strange thing is I have walked up and down this street for years but never noticed this flowerbed. My little girl pointed it out and gave me the privilege of enjoying this moment with her.
Do you walk down the same road week after week in your worship gathering or personal devotions? Have you become too familiar with the scenery? Does the bouquet of grace fade into the background of life? As Christians we want to be regularly taken by the beauty and sweetness of the gospel flower.
This happened to me twice in the last few days. On both occasions it was while singing some of the most common hymns that we sing as Christians.
The first instance was during family worship while singing Amazing Grace. We are trying to teach the words to our two youngest (ages 4 & 2) while reinforcing the song to the rest of us. This results in us singing it many times on many consecutive days. As a result, we have great familiarity with a most familiar song. However, as we sang, I realized I wasn’t as familiar as I thought. I was arrested by a particular phrase:
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear And grace my fears relieved”
I crumbled inside when I sang these words. Do you see the diversity of grace? It carves up the hard heart of stone to make it responsive and reverently fear God. It is grace that initiates and sustains any real and true view of God as inflexibly holy and just. It is grace that gives us sight to see the God who, with a word, can calm the seas, and then make us tremble before him (Mark 4:35-41). It is also grace that draws us to God to find refuge in him. Isn’t that an amazing thought? It is grace that makes us see that there is no escape from God but there is rescue in God. As we sang I was undone by these all-too familiar words. I was drawn to the bouquet of grace and bidden to smell. What a glorious surprise to our soul when God graciously reminds us of truth.
In the second instance we were gathered for our Sunday morning worship. We sang the familiar hymn Holy, Holy, Holy. As we sang, I was surprised again. This was the phrase that did it:
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity!”
Do you see those two words nestled adjacent to one another? “Merciful and mighty…” These words don’t seem to go together. Mighty ones often demonstrate their might by not showing mercy. How many powerful men in history can we identify that are known as being merciful? And what of being merciful? When one is merciful isn’t it often because they can identify with the weak or otherwise pitiable people? With God however, you have infinite might and infinite mercy bound up in one being. There is no earthly parallel that can appropriately reflect God’s wonderful weightiness on either one of these attributes, never mind at the same time. But, this is what the song rightly says. It reminds me of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus. Speaking of Christ and this surprising explosion of perfections he writes:
“There do meet in the person of Christ such really diverse excellencies, which otherwise would have been thought utterly incompatible in the same subject; such as are conjoined in no other person whatever, either divine, human, or angelical; and such as neither men nor angels would ever have imagined could have met together in the same person, had it not been seen in the person of Christ.”
In the One being that is God there is more than a sufficient amount of fodder for the eternal bedazzling of our souls!
In thinking about the blessings of this last week I have a few items to help cultivate this:
- Pray for eyes to see and savor the surprising beauty of God.
- Expect to see this. If you go sightseeing at a zoo, new city, or out in the country, you expect to see something. After all, that is among the reasons for the trip. So too when coming to the Word of God or the preaching of the word, come to see. After praying, come with eyes peeled to see something of God’s manifold beauty.
- Slow down. My mind finishes familiar sentences in the Bible if I’m not careful. I can do the same with songs and books. In order to see the flowers and smell the bouquets we must slow down. Sometimes we are too smart and too rushed for our own good. Slow down and smell the roses.
- Respond in thanksgiving. When you are surprised by, or simply reminded of a truth revealed—stop and give God praise. After all, you in your flesh did not stumble upon that glorious nugget. Satan is not laying these before you. No, seeing and savoring the supremacy and sufficiency of God actually comes from God. So with a wide smile, heap praise back upon him. This too brings him glory.
Erik Raymond is pastor at Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and he writes regularly at his blog, Ordinary Pastor.