Jesus has ushered us into a world of grace where everything is received as a gift rather than by human achievement. Grace is absolutely necessary for life. It’s grace or nothing. I’ve always found this to be tricky. Grace is an invisible reality that saturates everything. I wasn’t used to living by invisibles. I was used to the conditions found in a world of ungrace where I made things happen and got things done using my own smarts, hustle and drive. Where, when things got tough I would hunker down and muscled my way through by sheer determination and guile.
How I experience grace is a funny thing. It’s counterintuitive, sort of like water skiing. Any reasonable person who passes a hand through water can see that it won’t hold a person up. Yet water skiers are able to skim on top of it. In the same sort of way, followers of Jesus are propelled through life by grace – an invisible medium, beyond human perception, too mysterious for nonbelievers to make sense of. Too thin and flimsy to keep a person afloat in the stormy ocean of life.
So how have I learned to keep afloat especially in the face of adversity and pain? I’ve acclimated myself to the counterintuitive conditions of grace in much the same way I learned to water ski…
I had never tried it before. How hard could it be? I got down in the water, slipped on the skis and grabbed the towrope. But when the boat took off I was yanked violently forward. Water crushed over me, churning wildly. I couldn’t see a thing. The torque from the rope was so strong I thought my arms were going to pop out of their sockets. As the boat accelerated I strained to get into a standing position but my effort only made things worse. I lost control tumbling headfirst into the water. I held on for dear life refusing to let go and was dragged across the lake like a water logged rag doll.
It wasn’t until after several more unsuccessful attempts and I was dead tired that I suddenly became buoyant and began skimming on top of the water. I had inadvertently discovered the secret of water skiing: In order stay on top of the water I had to stop working so hard, relax, lean back and let the skis and boat do the work. It’s called acquired passivity. “Acquired” because it doesn’t come naturally, you learn it. Sometimes the hard way like I did.
That’s the way it is with grace. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… I cannot participate in a life of grace apart from willed passivity. Self-reliance and elbow grease makes things worse. I must constantly relax, lean back, give myself up to Christ and let him do the work. For this to happen I’ve had to become passive and abandon independent self-reliance and self-effort because grace only works on the dead tired – those that have died to self. Prayer has been instrumental in this. And when I’m willfully passive and able to trust God I suddenly, miraculously, like water skiing, become buoyant, staying afloat even in the storms of life.