Yes to Grace. No to Fear.
Finding grace amidst fear
Life is unpredictable.
From birth we are constantly facing comings and goings that shape our personalities. At every step, a new lesson, at every disappointment a new wall for defense; at each victory, a new prize to hang on our walls. I have lived many years of my life building walls and hanging new prizes and until recently I couldn’t see the effect those walls and prizes had on my relationship with God.
Those were all part of a fortress of self sufficiency where I hid in fear separate from God.
But despite of my fear, in His goodness, God taught me a priceless lesson about embracing grace and not fear in my life decisions. During this process in which I had my walls broken then given something else, God taught me a precious lesson using two distinct passages in Scripture: the poetic Ecclesiastes 3 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25–34.
Everything is meaningless!
Ecclesiastes is one of the biblical poetic books and overall the book of Ecclesiastes feels like a book of painful and torturing reflection as the author spends the whole book trying to make sense of life.
In chapter 3, he talks about how there’s an appointed time for everything in life and how the human heart yearns for eternity. Then, at the end of the chapter, after that beautiful poem about time, he surprises the readers with the following (Ec 3:18 -19 NIV):
“I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath[c]; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.”
The author is tortured because he can’t find the meaning of his own life because both animals and humans have the same fate, death. Later he reflects that it’s better for humanity to simply be content with the work of their hands, for there’s nowhere else for humanity to find meaning to their lives.
Seek first His kingdom
Then comes this guy, Jesus, a couple of hundred years after the dramatic poet, bringing the gospel to the people of Israel. The people of God were waiting for a militar leader that would come to restore their pride and former territory by dismantling the power of the Roman empire and then becoming their king just like how it happened during the time of king David. But over time it gets obvious that Jesus wouldn’t be the kind of person who would lead an army against the Romans for what He did in his days was basically to hangout with 12 misfits and heal people around declaring the coming of the kingdom of God.
Jesus taught many things to the people who surrounded Him. The verses on Mt 6:25–34 is one of those many teachings in which He is talking about not worrying about the mysteries of tomorrow because God takes care of us (33-34 NIV):
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
There’s no need for us to be worried about what will be of our lives as long we seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness. Jesus promises that if we do so, everything will be provided and in its appointed time.
The answer to an old question
Can you see the connection between these two passages?
The first in Ecclesiastes shows a man tortured by his pursuit of meaning in his life and the only answer he found at the time was to work and let work define who he is.
Later, Jesus comes teaching that before anything, even before working for your needs in life, you shall seek first the kingdom of God.
The first addresses a question and the second an answer:
Q: “What is the meaning of life?”
A: “The kingdom of God.”
We spend our whole lives trying to do something to become someone.
The first years of our lives are spent studying to learn a craft to then turn it into an occupation so you can proudly say, “My name is Arthur, I am a writer”. Just like the author in Ecclesiastes said, we spend our lives looking for a definition, for a meaning to our lives by doing.
To the unconverted mentality, this is the ultimatum of their lives. To feel good by doing something and then becoming someone.
Have you ever found yourself trapped in a routine of waking up, working, going back home, sleeping and starting all over again? If you did, chances are you had already wondered if this routine is really what life was supposed to be and why it feels this empty.
Then you stand and think, “Maybe I need a new phone/girlfriend/car/etc.” only to find later that the emptiness remains.
It feels like this simply because, just like Jesus taught, meaning is not found in the process of doing then being, but in the process of being then doing.
What is the Kingdom of God?
To many, even to people who had spent their whole lives at church, the idea of the kingdom of God can be very abstract. The first thing that can come to your mind might be the idea of a city built on clouds with everything made of gold. I can’t blame you for thinking so, I still carry this very idea in my head too.
Honestly, I am not 100% sure of what the kingdom of God truly is despite being seeking it for many years of my life. I am still not sure because I have learned that it is not only a place, but also a state in which God’s presence is manifested without reservations.
Still sounds vague? That’s OK. I still think that my own understanding of the kingdom of God is vague and needs more. But I can tell you about how seeking it feels like.
The pain of seeking the kingdom
Just like I mentioned before, as life happens we build walls and hang prizes on it. We do it because it’s part of our instinct to respond to things that frightens us. Walls to defend from attacks and prizes to alert people of how dangerously superior we are. Those exist in every single one of us and these are all there to defend us from our fears. But what happens to these defenses when what is behind all those walls and prizes is transformed into something that respond to the grace of the cross and no longer to fear?
The thing is, when we are converted, our inner ‘self’ hidden behind those walls is transformed, but it doesn’t mean that those walls and prizes suddenly disappeared.
Those walls are still there and the fear of destroying them when they are no longer needed is exactly what keeps many Christians from living their lives to the fullest. This is what turns the lives of many Christians empty and somewhat meaningless, differing almost nothing from “worldly” people.
Those prizes need to burn and those walls need to crumble at the feet of Christ.
In the past 5 years of my life, despite being converted for 10, God has been bringing my walls down and burning my prizes. One by one as I resisted and fought against Him.
Despite of what I declared with my mouth I didn’t want to let my walls down and lose my prizes.
I was afraid that without those, I would be no one.
You could be thinking, “If the process was so painful, why did you keep going back for more?”. Experience proves that God doesn’t take away without giving something else.
As He destroyed my walls and took away my prizes, He gave me better things. Things that are way more valuable than anything that I have owned in the past.
He gave me Himself and His reality. The more was taken away, the more I received from Him. He gave me His kingdom and ever since, I have never been the same.
Because of the kingdom that was given to me, I have been living life at its fullest, without reservations neither regrets, overflowing in meaning.
Yet, the journey still isn’t over. Life is unpredictable and still my first instinct is to build new walls and to hang new prizes.
It’s still up to me to say ‘yes’ to grace and ‘no' to fear.
How do I seek the kingdom?
Well, I guess this is not something I could ever tell you, for the kingdom is presented differently to each one of us. But I can guarantee that if you seek Him, the way will be shown and then you will be able to tell your own story on how God brought your walls down gave you His kingdom.
Do you have story? Share with me on the comments! I’d love to hear it!