“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11
My internship with International Justice Mission finished up on Wednesday with the end of the first annual Northstar conference in Atlanta, GA. The conference was initiated by IJM’s Student Mobilization team for the purpose of equipping college student leaders with an interest the work of justice/the modern-day abolition movement. During our last evening session, I was sitting next to Gary Haugen (IJM founder) as Louie Giglio took the stage and began publicly thanking Gary for his faithfulness in IJM for the past sixteen years. I just sat there, glancing back and forth from Gary to Louie and having this weird out-of-body experience, thinking to myself, “HOW did I get here?”
What’s true is that there is no explanation for the things I’ve done, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and the things I’ve experienced other than the gift of God’s grace. Let me say that again – it is by God’s grace that I’ve ever done anything noteworthy. When I look back on my life and trace God’s hand throughout it, it is so clear that I’ve had little to do with anything.
I had nothing to do with so many of the things that have made me who I am. I had nothing to do with the fact that I was born into a loving, whole home and raised by parents who love Jesus and love each other really well. It had nothing to do with me that I was given the opportunity to be educated. It had nothing to do with me that my parents taught me the importance of hard work and helped me believe in my abilities. I’ve just tried to do the best I can and squeeze a lot out of live as God directs my steps. Sometimes I do that with a pure heart, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ve run from what he wants for me and doors have slammed in my face. Sometimes I really screw things up and forget the purpose for which I was created, and try to make life about achievement.
I like this quote from Dallas Willard:
“Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).
Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (2 Cor. 15:10) The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.”
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect. Until a few years ago, I felt pretty good about getting what I want and doing things myself without ever really, truly understanding my need for God. That’s a problem for many reasons, but especially when it comes to grace. You see – we need grace, and without it, we’re doomed to a life of never meeting the expectations we set for ourselves. But we can’t rest in grace until we realize we need it.
God wanted to show me some things about His grace this summer. He wanted to show me that walking with Jesus is different from working for Jesus. So he put me in a community of people who valued intimacy with the Lord over worldly success, over popularity, and over charm. He put me in a community of people who live as if what they believe is actually true; people who are desperate for God because they’ve put themselves in positions where they are sure to fail unless God shows up. People who were exercising faith, not just struggling to have faith – “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. Most of what we think we see as the struggle OF faith is really the struggle to act as IF we had faith when in fact we do not.” (Willard)
God chose to put me in such a community, and he chose to do it in the world’s most powerful city. Have you ever been around people like that? In case you’re doubting that they exist, here’s some of them:
God used these people to sharpen me in the Proverbs 27 iron-sharpens-iron kind of way. My friend Laura taught me the incredible value in having a friend who is willing to gently call you out on the junk in your life and won’t let you justify your way out of it. My friend Katrina taught me a lot about thoughtful question asking and active listening as a way to draw people out. My friend Kevin was an amazing example of someone who knows how to have A LOT of fun while still taking intentional time to think through and reflect on (and write out) things that God places on our hearts. My friend Hannah taught me a lot about the value in being vulnerable and real and asking yourself hard questions. My friend Michael taught me a lot about being intentional with people and seeing how “inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). My friend Nathaniel taught me a lot about what a kind, solid, wise man looks like and was a great example of humility and integrity. My friend Ellen made me better by being one of the most genuine, authentic people I’ve ever known.
I could go on and on, but I’m leaving in an hour and a half for Las Vegas, so this post will have to be continued at a later date, or on a later plane.
To end, I’m so thankful that God put me in D.C. this summer, that he surrounded me with the most amazing community I’ve ever witnessed, and drug me through some challenging stuff this summer. I am thankful that he closed other doors, that he didn’t let me come last summer, and that he didn’t let me breeze by just going through the motions of life. This summer I was built up in faith, surrounded by people whose lives demonstrated God’s love, and who will have an influence on my life for many years. And on top of all that, I learned something about my career and what jobs I might be good at…which hilariously seems so secondary. He certainly made this summer beautiful and immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.