The best-known definition of “grace” is undeserved favor. This thought opens the mind's eyes to the oceans of love, mercy, and kindness that have been expressed by God toward mankind. It is the door by which we may enter into a saving relationship with him. But this grace is much more than a willingness to receive us and to pay for our salvation. It is also the divine influence upon the heart to enable one to do the will of God. This is the kind of grace that is spoken of in the greeting or closing of 18 out of 22 epistles to the early churches. "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ." These people needed the enabling power of grace to walk out their new-found faith in the face of hostility from their ungodly cultures.
An encouraging glimpse of the power of grace is seen in Voyage of the Exiles by Patricia Hickman, the first in a series of novels based on the deportation of English prisoners to Australia to found the first English colony there. Subtly, a story of grace unfolds in the lives of the principle characters. One of the convicts, George Prentice had been arrested as a pickpocket. He had resorted to that lifestyle when the bottom had dropped out of his livelihood. In the extremity of life on a prison ship, and intensely longing to be reunited with his wife and daughter, George tentatively turned to God. When—to his wonderment—his prayers were met with a sense of God’s presence and peace, he continued to speak to God and began to take delight in reading the Bible. Humbly grateful for God’s love and help, George desired to be a better man than he had been—to be strong enough to do what was right even when the odds seemed to be stacked against him. A series of encounters with ruthless elements on board the ship was the crucible in which George grew to be a man of integrity, courage, and forgiveness.
Rachel, a young woman whose life had been marked by misfortune and degradation, was cast into a holding cell in one of the prison ships with Becky, a political prisoner who believed in God. Over time, Rachel became convinced there was something to her companion’s faith and became a believer as well. As the influence of the Word and the Spirit of God grew in her heart, her character and perspectives on life changed. A moment of truth in her new life came during a violent storm. As her cell mates in the bowels of the ship wailed and screamed for God’s help, Rachel’s heart overflowed with thankfulness and joy as she recognized the absence of fear and sense of well-being that God had worked in her.*
By the enablement of the grace of God, George, Rachel, and others on the voyage were becoming heroes of the faith. Perhaps it was the horror of their lives that caused them to avoid the trap of becoming “bless me” babies.** They did not think that their new relationship with God entitled them to nothing but blessings. Instead, they responded humbly to his call upon their hearts to please him and to bless others.
Perhaps experiences such as theirs are what prompted James to make the stunning statement
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James :2-4).
Apparently, it is not being shielded from trouble that brings the greatest joy to the Christian. It is the developing of one’s faith and character to the point of becoming able to meet whatever life brings with love, confidence, and joy.
I want to be like them. I want to “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). And I CAN, regardless of who I used to be—because GRACE enables me.
*Patricia Hickman, Voyage of the Exiles (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995). To learn more, visit http://www.patriciahickman.com/.
**We could not live--or thrive--physically or spiritually without God's blessings. Confidently expecting our Father to abundantly care for us is one of the foundations of our walk with God. It is perhaps part of what Jesus meant when he said that one must be like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. However, only a spiritual infant believes that main focus of their relationship with God is "me" or "blessings."