I recently read Barbara Duguid’s excellent book Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness. I highly recommend it! There is much wisdom contained in its pages, truth well worth me quoting here. Today I want to share an excerpt regarding those of us enduring a season–or a lifetime–of weak and struggling faith.
It is a devastatingly painful thing to be a weak Christian in the American evangelical church today. So much emphasis is put on reading, praying, growing, and victory that there isn’t much room left for those God is holding on to with a strong arm, but who may know little of the joy of full assurance of faith and the satisfaction of growth in grace and obedience–at least in this life. What are we to do with those who have just enough faith to be counted as belonging to Christ, but who through the severity of life circumstances that God has assigned to them and the devastating effect of shaping influences, can hardly remember the gospel from day to day?
I am convinced that these believers–whom some may refer to as “the least of these”–may in fact be among the real champions of our faith. They limp through life barely able to remember the truth or connect the mighty doctrines of the faith to their struggles in a way that would calm their fears and quiet their hearts. They are told they must run toward God with all of their strength, yet often find themselves barely able to lie on the ground facing the right direction. They cling to God desperately, but without ever feeling an assurance of his presence or an ability to rest in the love that surrounds them. Shall we plan more Bible studies for them? Shall we discipline them when they repent time and time again but can’t quite seem to break free from deeply ingrained patterns of sin?
I am convinced that these precious saints are among those Christ died for and are in their own way heroes of the faith, clinging to God in spite of the weakness of their faltering faith. They are the bruised reeds that we must not break and the smoldering wicks that our triumphalism would so easily extinguish (Matt. 12:20). They are the ones who believe in the face of their own struggles with unbelief (Mark 9:24). We must love them, bear their burdens gently, and help them to carry their loads, because they belong to us (Gal. 6:2). They are our family in the Lord.
To the weak Christian Duguid writes,
You have great reason to hope. God is faithfully at work in you and he does change his people. He may change your desire and relieve your battle, or he may give you peace and joy in the midst of thoughts and desires that don’t change. Either way, he loves you the same way that he loves Jesus, and he is always for you and never against you. You too are are a trophy of grace…
I myself have known periods of struggling and weak faith when I despaired of God’s love and His presence with me. Those were dark seasons of my life and I wish I could tell you I emerged from them with greater tenderness and compassion for those undergoing similar struggles. The truth is, those very areas that God has granted me some measure of victory–however small and short-lived it may be–those are the areas I am least patient and more prone to judge others. It’s horrible, isn’t it? That I find it difficult to extend grace when I have been granted grace in such abundant measure, freely, without merit? I am ashamed.
Duguid has a good word for me, and you too, if you also find it hard to come alongside your weaker brother or sister.
Has God blessed you richly with gifts like emotional stability and mental health? If so, you may not often experience feelings of anxiety, depression, or shame, and you may be skilled at moving through life with purpose and success. You probably don’t intend to be careless with the more fragile hearts around you, but there is a good chance that you are and you don’t even know it…
Are you a crushing person? Is there a wake of wounded souls behind you–people you blame for being oversensitive, people you despise or ignore for being weak? Think carefully about your strength and where it came from. Did you grow up in a home full of grace and health? That was God’s gift to you, for you had no choice over the family that would raise you… Have you grown up in difficult circumstances and overcome many adversities, so that you expect others to step up to the plate and do the same? If so, you may have forgotten who gave you the desire and ability to overcome those obstacles. No matter how you slice it, your strength is not your own, and if you think it is, you just might inflict a great deal of misery on others with your expectation that they be strong like you.
If you suspect that this might describe you, do not despair. Sadly, it describes many Christians, some of them pastors and leaders in our churches. Yet God’s grace is sufficient for you… Ask him to open your eyes and humble you, and then celebrate his outrageous love for bullies and fearful people alike.
Grace is messy. It’s embarrassing. It’s humbling, both to receive and to extend. I am thankful for books like Extravagant Grace that remind me of the abundant grace of God that is mine through Christ and how utterly undeserving and desperate I am apart from it.