Small acts and kind words have a huge redemptive impact
I was frustrated before I even picked up the phone to make the call. Yes, I am a pastor. Yes, I know better. Yes, I should not make phone calls when I am angry. But I did it anyway.
The airline I was scheduled to fly out on had randomly changed the departure time of my flight by 38 minutes. It might not have seemed like a big deal to them, but it messed up my whole travel plan. I had timed it to have exactly enough time to preach at our morning services, rush to the airport, get on the plane and fly from the West Coast to the East Coast for a commitment. Their departure adjustment threw my carefully planned schedule out the window.
I called the airline with the goal of talking to a real person and seeking their help in finding a flight that would still get me to the other side of the country in time. Instead of getting a human being on the phone, I got a recording and a request to wait. To help ease my frustration, the same irritating song played on a loop for almost 30 minutes. It didn’t work.
But something did happen while I waited. The Holy Spirit interrupted my growing testiness with a word: grace. I felt a heavenly nudge to be gracious to the person who would finally answer my call. They had nothing to do with the schedule change that had blown up my upcoming travel day. They were probably working remotely, living through the same tensions the whole world is feeling these days. This person did not need my snarky attitude, venting spirit and rehearsed diatribe. What they needed was what you and I need these days—grace.
Grace, Grace, Grace
God did a 180-degree shift in my heart and spirit. He reminded me of his love and grace toward me. The Holy Spirit captured my heart and changed my words. The grace of Jesus filled me as I listened to the airline jingle one more time and got ready for someone to finally pick up my call and try to help me.
When an airline employee came on the line, I was gracious instead of grumpy. I asked the woman who answered how she was doing. I told her that I know these are trying times and that I was thankful for her hard work and willingness to help me find a way to make it to the East Coast. I could tell she was happy to talk with a gracious person on the other end of the phone, and I suspected that this was a rarity for her.
We are all living in tense and tumultuous times. As a local church pastor, I have lost count of the conversations I have had with people who are dealing with broken and estranged relationships with friends, family members and fellow believers. Most people we encounter on a normal day (including the one we see when we look in the mirror) are feeling strained, depleted, maybe a few pounds overweight and a bit irritable. We all need a little grace—or maybe a lot of it.
“As we seek to extend the redemptive presence of Jesus, grace will be key.”
Consider speaking these words every morning as you wake up: “Grace, grace, grace.” The way people emphasized a point in biblical times was to repeat it. To maximize emphasis, things would be repeated three times. This is why God is called, “Holy, holy, holy!” (Rev. 4:8).
As we seek to extend the redemptive presence of Jesus in our embattled and embittered world, grace will be key. From our homes to our church to our community to the world, grace is always essential, but it is in short supply these days. So how do we learn to live in grace? Consider these three simple but challenging questions.
1. How can I extend grace to myself?
It is a dark and painful time in our world. Every one of us is feeling the division and tension that fills the air we breathe and the space where we reside. It can seem inescapable. In this season, we can find ourselves short with the people we love. We can feel weary and not know why. We might even need a little more sleep and still not feel fully rested.
In addition to social tensions, physical demands and relational friction, spiritual battles rage all around us. Satan loves to pile on and use hard times to discourage God’s children. We need to recognize the Enemy’s tactics and stand strong as the apostle Paul calls us to in Ephesians 6.
Here are a few ways to extend grace to yourself:
Sabbath well. Be sure that you are honoring the rhythm God has hardwired into your soul. One day out of every seven, be sure to slow down, fill up and breathe deeply. Take a nap or go on a run, whatever will bring refreshment. Sit at the feet of Jesus (longer than you do on other days). Turn off your phone (yes, that is allowed). Tend to your soul.
Learn to say no. Don’t feel like you have to do everything for everyone. Trust God to care for the needs of others and be ready to partner with him; just remember that God is always the senior partner. You might want to read my book No Is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted. Saying no to the wrong things frees you to say yes to what matters most.
Allow yourself to step out of the penalty box. In this confusing and exhausting time, we all have moments where we snap, get angry, wander into temptation or walk past God’s invitations to care for others. Let the grace of Jesus be enough and run back into the arms of your loving heavenly Father. Don’t force yourself to do penance and stay away from the God who offers amazing and infinite grace. Come home now. Receive grace. Feel God’s lavish love. Jesus paid the price; you don’t have to.
2. How can I be an agent of grace where I live and in my local church community?
Once you receive the grace of Jesus, full and free, share it with others. Look around your home and church and look for ways to lavish others with grace. If you are refusing to speak to someone because they have a perspective that rubs against your convictions over any of the many dividing points that are fracturing friendships and families, refuse to stay estranged. Call them. Hang out. Agree to be family or friends, and commit to stop fighting over what is dividing you. Don’t let the Enemy of your soul have victory. Be gracious even when you don’t agree.
“A helping hand can reveal the presence and grace of the Living God.”
Pay attention to the people around you. Keep your eyes and heart open. Who is hurting? Who is feeling discouraged? Who is in need of grace? As the Holy Spirit leads you, speak words of encouragement. Stop and pray with them. Offer a helping hand.
3. How can I share God’s grace with those I encounter?
Finally, tune in to each person you encounter, and invite the God of grace to pour through you. It could be a voice on the other end of a phone conversation who is sorting out a botched flight schedule, a receptionist trying to find you a doctor’s appointment, or some other one-time encounter. How kind can you be? How patient would God have you to be? How can you speak words of grace and extend actions of grace?
As you drive your car or wait in line at a store, can you pray for the people around you? Can you give a smile, a nod or a kind gesture? Small acts of grace can have a great impact. Kind words are like gold these days. A helping hand can reveal the presence and grace of the Living God.
In this confusing and conflicted time, commit to be a grace agent. Begin with yourself. Breathe a prayer right now. Lord of mercy, help me extend grace to myself. Move to the people right around you. Seek restoration where there is brokenness. Aggressively and intentionally look for ways to show kindness, gentleness and grace. Then, get really creative. As you walk into the world, commit to look for simple ways you can shine the light, love and world-transforming grace of Jesus to each person you encounter. As you do this, the redemptive and glorious presence of Jesus will shine his light into these dark days.