Have you ever screwed up so badly that you knew the only way it’d get fixed was if God did it? I have. Just a couple weeks ago, actually. And then there was the matter of one of my best friends dying.
I failed my friend repeatedly during the last months or even 1-2 years of his life. But what hurt the worst was knowing that I was doing more for him than all but four or five other people, when I further knew that I was doing so little. I had been telling others who were close to him for months that they needed to go see him. And finally I told them it was their last chance. When my friend finally did pass away, I heard that one person was shocked by the news. He thought he had more time. But we never know that, do we?
If you know who my friend was, then please know I did not write that last paragraph to bring you guilt or sorrow or pain in any way. But I did write it to say that when we don’t live intentionally, we might be surprised to find some day that all of our chances have slipped away and there are no more opportunities left.
The thing about living intentionally – especially for other people – is that it’s so easy to let it slide. In fact, it is far, far easier to brush it off than to embrace it. I wish I could say that I am much better at doing it than I am. Unfortunately, I am writing this from a place of failure rather than victory. I try. I try a lot. But it is much easier for me to work a little longer or watch another show than to check in on someone who needs to hear my voice. Even my recent massive screw up was caused not by poor actions per se, but inaction – I let something slide. And then my family had to deal with it.
Maybe it sounds like I’m being too hard on myself. But am I? Sure, I could make excuses all day long for myself: I was busy. I had a project. I was tired. But is that just me deluding myself?
We are so obsessed with performance and production today. It’s not about the people around us, but the big things directly before us: our career. Our employers. The organization. The dream. Even at a church it can be this way. Do we serve for the entity? Or the lives in that entity? Do we volunteer out of duty? Or out of love? I know that, personally, I have come down too many times on the wrong side of that answer. I have done it because it was expected of me. I have done it because I was coerced, or guilted into it, or because it was my job.
When we speak to others about Jesus, do we see that person as a victory for the kingdom? As a soul secured and a loss for the enemy? (In other words, a notch on our belt?) Or do we see them as a beautiful, quirky, fleshed out, broken person who we love fiercely? Who we would be willing to die for?
Jesus lived intentionally. He died intentionally. And he did both for other people. While he did have a goal – establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth – he saw that kingdom as people. He saw the hurting, the broken, and the downcast. He saw the hopeless, the abandoned and the rejected. And he completely subverted everyone’s expectations for them. The Messiah had a very well-defined role in Jewish thought. He was supposed to be a military leader who crushed Israel’s enemies, re-established Jewish authority, and cleansed the nation. But instead he became a servant to all, he openly disdained Jewish authority, and he hung out with prostitutes and national traitors. And he intentionally forgave them. Which is what gives me hope.
When we think of God’s grace, I think we often think of it as this blind, gauzy thing that is available in some ethereal state for all of us to try to grasp at as we see fit (if we can, and if it’s really available when we need it.) It’s this big, nebulous, sappy thing that we sing about and dance for and hope that it falls on us. But that’s not how it is at all. God’s grace is as purposeful as a targeted bullet. To put it another way: was the way Jesus forgave his murderers on the cross gauzy or ethereal?
God sees our failings and our faults, and he purposefully extends his grace to us in that place of brokenness. Even when we didn’t visit our dying friend. Or utterly failed to take that elephant of a problem into account. That’s my take at least. And I think it’s a biblical one.
Now it’s our job to marvel at that grace, to stand speechless as it is applied to us, and then to turn and give that same intentional grace to others. To show others the love of God. To make a point of proving to someone else they’re worth it. And to pray for God’s intentional grace to cover us again every time we fail.
But what about that problem I mentioned earlier? It was fixed by someone living obediently and intentionally, who was listening to God’s whisper and decided to be God’s instrument to his own hurt. He became God’s intentional grace toward us, without us discussing one word with him. May we all be willing to do that.
This post is dedicated to everyone who intentionally loved my friend during his last days, even to your own discomfort and hurt. You know who you are, and so does God.