“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:20-21
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:1-4
When I felt distant from the Lord, I sought Him. I can’t stand that feeling. I love Him so beyond description that I can’t fathom not being as near to Him as possible. He answered swiftly. With a message. For me. Maybe also for you.
“Yes, you grieve me. By not receiving what I did on the cross, you grieve me. By not receiving my mercy that I died to give you. You are the one who keeps me at a distance. You do not let me near and then you wonder why you can’t feel my presence,” the Spirit of Christ spoke to my heart. “You are keeping me at bay. Then wondering why I am not near. I am not near because you hold me at the distance of not receiving my mercy. Receive my mercy as I have told you. You do not believe you deserve it. You don’t. That’s why I died and was raised from the dead. To give you mercy.”
My Lord! My God! I was blown away by His words to me. If the truth be told, I was DEVASTATED at the loss of my beloved 15-year-old dog Dancer just over a week ago for two reasons. First, I had him for years, and he was a wonderfully energetic vibrant happy beautiful sweet (most of the time anyway) dancing dog. I miss him sorely.
But I was also devastated because he had behavioral issues including periodic extreme aggression and medical issues both of which caused extreme stress. I have been burned out for a very, very long time from over 20 years of dog rescue and from having up to 19 dogs at a time many of whom were special needs dogs with virtually no physical help.
As much as I have cried out to the Lord FOR YEARS to send me adoptive homes, foster care homes, volunteers, anything at all to take some burden off my shoulders given the exceeding stress and the fact I cared for them 24-7 with virtually no vacation for years upon years, the Lord did not answer in the affirmative.
Tragically, I handled the stress very poorly at times. I would lose my patience and temper, then be horrified at not treating them with the love and compassion and patience they deserved. I repented every time, begged God for forgiveness and the strength to get it right the next time around, tried to the exceeding degree to do right in the eyes of the Lord, prayed a zillion times, asked others to pray, but still fell short in being perfect.
I often wondered why the Lord didn’t just take the dogs from me altogether. I believed they deserved a more loving home. Though I sacrificed decades of my life, time, care, heart, resources, etc. for the hundreds of rescued dogs that passed through my life, when I looked back, including with Dancer, all I could see was every time I did wrong instead of realizing how much through Christ I had done right.
I didn’t understand when Dancer was at the end of his life that his behavioral issues were very tied into his medical condition, and due to his severe aggression I couldn’t get him the amount of vet care I would have desired in person because he would not allow the vets to handle him without being put under anesthesia or very heavy sedation which would have prevented them from doing the exam they would have needed to do. I cried out to the Lord over and again to help me love Dancer and to be patient with him, but still I had my falls and despised every ounce of my sin.
While the Lord and the world around me could see decades of loving and caring for the rescued dogs with which God had entrusted me, I fell under horrible, horrible self-condemnation. No matter God forgave me. No matter I would ask the dogs to forgive me when I fell short. I couldn’t receive God’s mercy. I wouldn’t receive God’s mercy. I stayed stuck in condemning myself.
Almost every dog I ever had would have probably been euthanized due to shelter overcrowding or behavioral or medical or special needs issues, and God gave me the ability to love and care for them and provide them years of life they would not have otherwise had. But what could I see? The times I did wrong, and oh, yes, how horrifically wrong I was!
Now why was God telling me I was grieving Him? One friend told me it is prideful not to receive the forgiveness Jesus died on the cross for us to have. Another friend reminded me we are all humans capable of doing wrong. My friends loved me. Prayed for me. Encouraged me. Pointed me to the Bible. But nothing was as powerful as hearing from God Himself.
“How do you feel when you have a gift to give someone you dearly love and they do not want it, will not take it, and don’t thank you for it?” the Spirit of God spoke to my heart. “That gift is nothing compared with the gift I have for you. Which you have received at times but do not receive now.”
Over and again in my mind I have replayed how poorly I treated Dancer and other dogs in my care at times. Never did I replay one single right thing I did in decades of caring for them. Where does the Lord fit into this? Why was I grieving Him? Why was I feeling so distant? Because I was refusing God’s grace. Refusing His love. Refusing His forgiveness. Refusing His mercy. And, in so doing, essentially refusing Him!
Friend, I know I am not alone in this. I know others of us struggle, too, with this. I had never imagined before how it might feel to be the Lord who died on the cross to bear our sin penalty and was raised from the dead to watch His Creation refuse what He died on the cross for. Oh, how we must hurt the Lord when we refuse His sacrifice!
Lord, help those of us who struggle with self-condemnation to turn away from self and sin and turn to you and your sacrifice and to receive your mercy. Help us to be thankful to you by receiving your forgiveness, by thanking you for it, and then by being merciful to others when they need mercy.
And may we not use your mercy as an excuse to sin further, but may we by your love in your strength in the power of your Spirit learn to stop repeating our sins and to continue forth following the leading of your Spirit as you teach us to walk in your wonderful glorious everlasting ways. In your precious forever name, almighty Jesus, Amen!
p.s. In case you’re wondering why the Lord didn’t answer all my cries through the years for the help I felt I so wanted and needed, His Spirit spoke to my heart the answer. He was using my circumstances to learn to depend on Him, to trust in Him, to be refined by Him, to be changed by Him, to be conformed by Him, to be transformed by Him, to learn from Him, and to become more like Him!