Who of us would refuse more grace? When we have reached the end of our own personal resources which one of us would say "no" to God's promise of more of his sustaining grace? Surely no one. Yet, we often do communicate that to God, even though we may not be so bold as to actually say "no" to him. Usually our "no" is when we come to him with clenched hands rather than empty ones. These hands are clinging to ideas and events and people and hurts that have become idols to us. When we cling to idols we forfeit the grace that could be ours.
There's a back-story. May I relate it? Years ago I entered a time of personal study of the Prophecy of Jonah. Harriet and I were dealing with a ministry decision that took us through the dark wilderness of uncertainty and indecision. Surely you've been there too. One day a dear and trusted friend presented me with a gift. It was a delicate, clear, blown-glass figure of a whale with a little man inside, Jonah inside the whale. A note was attached: Jonah 2:8. So, being adept at reading between the lines I looked up Jonah 2:8. The prophet had written: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (NIV). Now, I had just studied these words and was preaching through the book but had missed this critical point in the narrative. It was the lesson Jonah learned in the fish. Evidently Jonah's plan to go opposite of Nineveh was an idol to him, a god that was greater in his heart than being obedient to the Lord God. While clinging to that idol of self Jonah could not receive the grace God had reserved for him.
On the night we learned of Brian's murder James 4:6 landed on me like a life-preserver: "But he gives more grace" (NIV). Already the shocking realities of his death had drained us and the promise of more sustaining grace lifted and comforted us. Then, later in the dark night, the glass figurine of Jonah came into my line of sight. Once again Jonah 2:8 scrolled across the screen in my head. Harriet and I both prayed that our hands would not be filled with any worthless idols as we sought to comprehend the horrible events that now defined us. We didn't want to forfeit the grace he had for us in the aftermath of our son's death.
I didn't notice the idol in my hands for several months. It wasn't until a suspect in Brian's murder was arrested and charged that the idol of unforgiveness became clear in me. When I first saw the young man in court I hated him. He was a street thug, a product of the drug culture that had taken our son's life. In court one day we met his mother and prayed with her. She asked us to forgive her son. And, we did. When we told her so, the hatred in my heart was transformed right that instant into compassion. The idol of unforgiveness was taken away. Since then, we have been blessed by the more grace that he promised. The young man who had been charged was released after two years and the case is still unresolved. But, the more grace of his promise sustains us even today.
Forgiveness has been in the news recently. Nine precious souls were murdered during prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston just two weeks ago today. It was a racially motivated crime. When the killer made his first court appearance several of the victim's families spoke to him. They openly declared their forgiveness to him. It was a profound demonstration of the forgiving spirit of Christ on display for all the world to see. The nation was lifted by their example.
More backstory. On the day we learned of Brian's death our house was overrun with people. My brother Mike Holmes stood guard over us to protect us from the media gathered in our front yard. What a juicy story, the son of the President of the South Carolina Baptist Convention murdered in a bad part of town. As a crowd of family and friends came through the door one newsman made it into our living room. Everyone tried to usher him out. He was David MacDougall of the Charleston Post and Courier. He was prayerful, gracious, and compassionate, a brother sharing our grief rather than someone looking for a story. What a blessing!
The Saturday edition of the Post and Courier on July 4, 2015, included an article titled "I forgive you" in the Faith and Values Section. David MacDougall was the author. It was a thoughtful peace about forgiving those who have injured us. Because I knew the compassionate heart of David MacDougall the article was more than a journalistic work.
Hey, it's another element of the more grace we learned back in 2011. And it triggered in me once again the blessing of having a forgiving heart.
I am convinced that unforgiveness may be the primary idol that prevents many of us from experiencing the depth of his daily grace. It is evident all around us as bitterness and anger defines so much of life, and touches so many people. I am reminded of what the anonymous author of Hebrews wrote...
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness
springs up and causes trouble, and that by it many become defiled...
He is teaching us daily to bring empty hands to him. If there's unforgiveness in them, it's inour hands only to be shredded, a worthless idol to be destoyed.