Wait, Has That Always Been There?

I once knew a man whose life embodied great complications and contradictions:

He was a preacher who declared the Word of God, strong and true; he was a preacher who failed to learn some of the great lessons of God’s Word for himself.

He helped a lot of difficult marriages hold together;  he failed to work at keeping his own from falling apart.

He loved to work with young people, and teenagers in many different places found in him a friend and an example; he often ignored his own children as teenagers, or yelled at them, browbeat them, criticized them, alienated them.

He easily made new friends all over the country, people who came to love him and admire him and look up to him;  he held grudges and perceived hurts so tightly that old friends were often driven away.

He was instrumental in bringing a great many people to find faith and peace and hope in the grace of God; he lived for years with the sense that he could never find that faith and peace and hope for himself.

One of his sons often seemed to be his favorite – the golden child – the one who, when he was talking to others, could do no wrong.  He was speaking at a conference one evening, and he said something like this: “You can hurt me, abuse me, cheat me, steal from me, do all manner of evil against me, and I won’t say a thing.  But if you so much as threaten my son, I can be across this orchestra pit in about two steps, and I will cloud up and rain all over you.”  Pretty neat, huh?  Wouldn’t you love to have a dad like that?

When talking to his son, though, it was very different.  The son tried, really did try, very hard, but it seemed that little that he did was good enough.  It could always be better.  He should be stronger, quicker, smarter, tougher — better.  He just wasn’t trying hard enough or caring enough or wanting it enough.  If he would just try harder – and so he did, for years.  But, eventually, he stopped trying.  He gave up on trying to make his father happy with him.  It just couldn’t be done.  The son was a young adult when his father divorced his mother.  The son was  finished with him.   They grew apart.  They stayed apart.

To the day the man died, they never said a word to each other about any of it.  The son had as little to do with his father as he could.  There was no grace to give him.  And now the time was gone.  The opportunity would never come again.

Now, let me to ask you a question.  WHEN should the son have offered grace and forgiveness to his father?  Should he have waited for his father to go to him, admitting wrongs and asking for forgiveness?  Or should the son have admitted his own failures, offering grace and forgiveness without waiting for his father to ask for it?  Before or after the father even acknowledged that he had done anything that needed forgiving?  When?  Before or after?

We often face situations where we have to answer questions of when and how to show grace to someone who doesn’t  seem to deserve it, someone who isn’t making any effort to be any different, who doesn’t necessarily even acknowledge any wrongdoing.  If the person involved is my friend, it’s even harder. WHEN should I offer grace?  Should I wait for him to come to me, admitting his wrongs and asking for forgiveness, or should I offer grace without waiting for him to deserve it?  Before or after he even acknowledges that he has done and is doing anything that needs forgiving?

And add to the problem that my fallen friend is a Christian, someone who knows better than to do what he’s doing.  How does THAT change your answer?  When?  Before or after the sinning stops?

Well, of course, it seems obvious.  We wait until he stops.  We wait until he confesses his wrong.  We wait until he turns himself around.  Until then, we treat him as a sinner.  We shun him.  We ignore him.  We stay away from him, and keep him out of our lives, because we don’t want to be contaminated.  We do what Jesus would do if HE were here, right?

Most of you would say, “You can’t forgive someone, you can’t offer grace to someone, until that person asks for it.  You can’t give forgiveness until that person stops doing what he’s doing.  You can’t give grace while the man is still sinning.”  And yet, most of you would also say that the son should have gone to his father and offered grace and forgiveness before the father ever admitted needing it.  The son should have made the effort to give God’s grace before the sinning stopped.

Do you see how difficult it is to know just how to handle grace and forgiveness?  We don’t want to jump ahead of the game and forgive too quickly!  That would look like we don’t think behavior is important.

But we serve a God who is waiting and longing to pour out grace and forgiveness to any one of us who needs it.  What do we find in the parable of the prodigal son?  A father who waits until his boy comes home and fesses up to all the wrong he’s done?  No – we find a father who, when he spies his son on the distant horizon, leaps from the porch and runs to meet his son, and doesn’t even give the young man a chance to apologize, but rejoices in him and hugs him and takes him back home.  Throughout the scriptures, from front to back, we find a God who makes grace and forgiveness his business.  YES holiness and YES obedience and YES the Godly life as the bottom-line standard for His people.  But when holiness and obedience and the Godly life are not measured up to, we have a God who covers our failures with GRACE.

Our ways are not God’s ways.  The scriptures tell us that, in Isaiah 55:8-9, where Isaiah writes, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.   I would encourage you to read Isaiah 55.  When you do, you’ll find that God is talking about how much more He is willing to do to draw a sinner back to Himself than we are.  We wait for a person to deserve our goodness, our acceptance.  We say, “Get yourself right, and then we’ll see what we can do for you.”  God says, “Hey!  Why will you die?  Don’t you know I’m trying to give you life?”  And this God doesn’t just stand on the porch and say that we have to get good enough and right enough to warrant his further attention – He doesn’t WAIT for us to come to him – – He leaps off the porch and runs to embrace us, to bring us back to Him, to do whatever it takes to make us part of Him again.