photo (exerpt from Resisting Grace)
By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet I, but the grace of God that was with me.—1 Corinthians 15:10

If we understand what God has done through means of the death and resurrection in Christ, the foundation of transformation in our lives is laid. This continual process is dependent upon understanding how God imparts grace to us throughout our journey with Him in this life, knowing that He has purpose and intent in His daily involvement with us. So what does grace look like? And how do we receive grace rather than resist it?

We know God uses various means of grace, from Scripture, circumstances, a still small voice, and other people. Grace comes from the reading of the written Word of God as well as the inner hearing of the words of the Holy Spirit. Grace comes from God-given light by the signs of the circumstances around us. Grace also comes through the words and actions of people around us. These are His instruments of grace.

Throughout the centuries, countless followers attested to the reception of grace through these various means multiple times throughout their lives. But what is He trying to do in our lives by using these, and what should we be looking for to see the Father’s work within us and others’ lives? His grace has certain techniques. With these techniques, grace seeks the results of providing illumination, awakening, determination, deconstruction, empowerment, and transcendence, all of which we will explore in further chapters.

The ongoing process of grace doing God’s good work within us can be seen in what I call breakthroughs, beauty, and the grind. In these three things I expect to find God working. These are the ways grace is given to us as change is produced within us. Grace gives illumination, awakening, determination, deconstruction, empowerment, and transcendence out of these workings of grace.

By means of His Word, His Spirit, His people, His Creation, or even His providential oversight of circumstances, God’s grace may be using an approach of a breaking through, providing beauty, or taking us through the grind of life, so as to illuminate our minds, awaken our hearts, bring determination to our wills, disable our props, empower our hands, and transcend our spirits. Breakthrough, beauty, and the grind are the techniques of how He imparts grace. Illumination, awakening, determination, deconstruction, empowerment, and transcendence is what God in His grace is imparting to us so to bring about the great transformation promised to us.

Breakthrough—The Hammer
“And the walls came a-tumbling down.”

We expect God to act in our lives at times by breaking in and intervening through powerful demonstration. Throughout Scripture and history, we see God breaking through. Sometimes He does so with miracles of healing and sometimes with radical power that falls upon us. Second Samuel 5:19-20 says, “Then David inquired of the LORD, saying, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You give them into my hand?’ And the LORD said to David, ‘Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.’ So David came to Baal-perazim and defeated them there; and he said, ‘The LORD has broken through my enemies before me like the breakthrough of waters.’” Sometimes breakthroughs are obvious and powerful demonstrations. At other times they are subtle and barely noticeable except upon examination. The Spirit of God assists in helping us recognize that these things come from Him. God’s interventions most often are at important crossroads of our lives and when we are in need of a deeper understanding of Him.
In 1975, I was a new believer, barely a year into my faith. I was using the devotional book Streams in the Desert1 as my daily readings during prayer. I was eighteen and from my point of view, things around me were falling apart. Inside of me, looking back, I was seriously depressed, feeling alone and pretty hopeless. Yet for some reason—merely by grace—I remained somewhat faithful to this short time of daily reading of this book. On the night when I was feeling my darkest, as if everything had fallen apart and my heart was crushed in despair, May 7, I opened up to that day’s reading and it was entitled, “Wits’ End Corner.” The Scripture used was Psalm 107:27-30.
They reeled and staggered like drunken men;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.

These verses jumped out of the pages, striking my heart deeply. I felt surrounded in my little bedroom by the presence of God comforting me and marking my heart so deeply. “I am here. You can trust Me.” I sensed Him in that moment in that place. The message came through so clear! My young faith needed that, and the peace that passes all understanding came. This was a breakthrough of grace.

I have seen people I counsel have breakthroughs. Sometimes it is out of a structured activity I lead them in. Other times it is in a quiet moment between us where they have that “aha” moment. I once wrote simply in my journal, “Sometimes I don’t know how I had a breakthrough…that’s grace.” Sometimes grace falls on us like a hammer. At other times, it falls like a gentle wind.

It is written in Corinthians that we are His letters. He writes into our lives for others to read. God is a great writer. He knows how to add thrills and depth in the stories He writes. Sometimes I don’t trust Him enough with the story He is writing in me. The part he writes now is not as I would write it. Maybe it is too painful, too lacking, too lonely. I want him to ease up, spice it up, or just stop and take a chapter break. But it is I who must stop and look back at the pages before and remember, He is good at it and He is good to me.

Beauty—God sending flowers
It was when I was happiest that I longed most…. The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.—Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis2

We can expect God to act in our lives by providing us wonders and delights that fulfill the soul. He has given us the beauty of creation. God saw all that He made and it was good (Gen 1:31). He has given us the beauty of the image of God within us. Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Beauty is in our fellowship with one another. Psalm 133:1 reads, “How good and how pleasant [lovely] it is when brothers to live together in unity.” And of course, beauty is given in Christ Himself as it says in 2 Corinthians 2:14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”

What is beauty? I put this question out on Facebook. Here are a few responses (I wonder why the only serious remarks I received were from my female friends!):
Jon Ido Warden: Tell me, what is beauty?
LH: Been pondering this since your first post…To me, beauty is any of a gazillion possible things or moments that arrests our attention and makes us realize there was an Eden and there is a Heaven. It is whatever transcends “ordinary” moments and shows me a taste of God’s perfection. It almost seems to be a moment that God is speaking to our passions or even “hobbies”. I love music. There are moments when music is “that” for me. But, not everyone likes or knows music so I get that I could play a song for someone and they would be completely uninspired. So that is why I think it is ‘individualised’ or ‘personalised’ as God intersects in the midst of the things we ordinarily do and sometimes our attention is particularly, or dare I say divinely, seized. Maybe this is where Romans 1:20 claims that “men are without excuse” because there isn’t one list of what is beautiful, but rather God works from our frame of reference and if we are fortunate that frame of reference expands as we live….
P.S. as you already know, none of this happens if you are going too fast ; )
LL: Jon, saw a movie about cheerleaders today…now i understand beauty 😉
T: Cubs winning the World Series!
Jon: Would you help me in this section of a book I am attempting to write? It is on beauty and grace. What is beautiful to you?
M: It is when someone comes alongside the “unlovely” and loves them.
J: Hands cracked and wrinkled from lifetime of caring for the underserved.
MJ: Driving up to Toronto on our honeymoon and up comes the sun and the song on our cassette radio plays “Where there is faith.”

Beauty is an object experienced. It is also a verb we engage in. We watch it. We hear it. We smell it. We feel it. We create it. We act in it. Beauty draws us to glory. It inspires and points to something beyond itself. It appeals to our deepest places. Yet beauty leaves us wanting. It itself does not satisfy. It fades. It is not lasting. It is incomplete. It changes from one perspective to another. Beauty, as great as it is, is never enough. We are left wanting more. C. S. Lewis in his great short work entitled, The Weight of Glory, wrote, “What more, you may ask, do we want?…. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”3 Grace must work through beauty and beyond it in producing something much greater in us.

Beauty has the greatest potential for idolatry. Perhaps more accurately the objects and process of beauty can become our idols. Idols are anything that takes the place of God in our hearts, mind, and lifestyles. It is anything you seek to give you what only God can give. Beauty is meant to move us to search for what beauty points to, but we settle and even obsess with the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1:25). We will look at the man Gideon in the second half of the book. But it is worth noting here that when God was calling him, tearing down the idols was Gideon’s first task toward fulfilling that call. Beauty is the attractions of life. Of course they can easily become obsessions.

Beauty in its truest intent is meant to provide refreshment and help along the way. Beauty, using psychological terms, can be a transitional object that helps us through the stages of faith and life. Whenever we travel my daughter always brings her Gigi, a stuffed animal she sleeps with at home. Having it in a new place helps her sleep in a different bed. It’s the object that helps her move from one place to another. On the journey of life, there are new stages of faith and grace. It may be exciting at times. Most times the transition from one to the next produces anxiety. Many times God provides something beautiful as a transitional object to help us through one stage of grace to the next.

Golf was my transitional object. Up until I turned forty I was very active in sports and working out. I liked having goals in my workouts, going every Thursday night to shoot hoops with the guys (the same guys for twenty years) and various seasonal activities. Then I was hit with an illness that cut my lung capacity in half and left my muscles and joints always aching. I couldn’t run up and down a basketball court. I couldn’t even walk a few blocks with the dogs without getting winded. It was a huge loss for me. Then I came across golf. The inflammation in my lungs had died down a bit. So though I couldn’t run, I could walk leisurely. Something about the game was wonderful. I would even venture to say beautiful, for me. The outdoors, the companionship, the tweaking of my swing were all a part of filling the hole left behind from sports. I admit I got obsessed with it, even a bit idolatrous, but it was definitely a gift of the grace of beauty that helped me through a difficult transition. Eventually my joints couldn’t continue playing, so I get out once a year now at best. I pulled out my guitar and started up that again after a good ten-year layoff. That also was a transitional gift of grace. When my fingers got stiff from arthritis I tried the slide guitar. That’s also a gift. Lately it has been woodworking in my garage. If my current battles with my eyesight and glaucoma continue to worsen, I will probably lose woodworking. But in this transition, it is a gift. Flowers come and go. What gift of beauty will be given next? I do not know. Lately I have been able to improve in my daily exercise in little steps. Will that continue? I do not know. He gives and takes away. Blessed be His Name.

Fourth century mystic Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “The infinite beauty of God is constantly discovered anew.”4 Through this lifetime and the next, beauty will be revealed continually and continually we will be finding it in new places and in new ways if our eyes of faith lead. Beauty is the nourishment of grace along the path of transforming grace. It is the essential component to help us through the grind.

The Grind—God’s sandpaper
Squeeze me.

We can expect God to act in our lives by means of our struggle to develop something much deeper than relief in our lives. Preacher John Piper tells us that “Hardship and suffering can enhance self-knowledge, strengthen character, loosen sin’s grip on our lives, deepen our relationship with God, cultivate empathy for the misfortunes of others, give opportunity for the advancement of the kingdom.”5 Romans 5:1-5 states, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

The grind is the biggest stumbling block of grace. Many cannot reconcile suffering with the existence of a good and powerful God. It usually isn’t the intellectual arguments that make people turn away from faith. It is the grind, the question of suffering and evil. People may doubt the possibility of breakthrough. People corrupt beauty. But people stumble over the grind. But for me, the grind only makes sense in the context of grace. Reading Romans 5 reminds me that though the world and ourselves are broken and we suffer because of this brokenness, God uses it to bring about the grace that changes. Out of the three techniques of grace, the grind is the clearest molding process described in Scripture. Suffering in the grind is accepted only when what we live for is worth the pain. If we live for the present pleasures, it is not. If we live for the glory offered us, we can bear it, even rejoice in it.

These things I want to see in the beliefs, expectations, and activities of the church: the hammer- breaking through of God (listening prayer, the prophetic, revivals, and healing); the flower- the beauty of Christ in the life of the people (worship, creativity, awe, and joy); the sandpaper- the grind of finding Him through the disciplines and support through trials (Bible study, meeting together, Communion, prayer, serving the world, evangelism, loving one another). As I wait for breakthroughs I look for beauty and I trust Him in the grind. My feet are moving as I push the plow, my nose is sniffing as I smell the fragrance in the air, and my hands are lifting as I appeal for the skies to open up. Some emphasize one over the others but in living in grace, you have got to have all three. Spirituality isn’t all waiting for breakthroughs, though He does give them at times. It isn’t all pushing through the grind, though we must. Nor is it all experiencing beauty, though there is plenty. Sometimes breakthrough, beauty, and grind happen together and sometimes alone. We must keep our faith eyes open to look out for any or all of the three. God, help us see what you are doing.