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Graceless Grace

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The passions that took root during my early twenties convinced me a life devoted to social justice would be my future; a future immersed in helping to restore dignity to communities long abandoned, shunned, or ignored. Words such as “justice,” “mercy,” “intentionality,” and “community” peppered my everyday conversation as these concepts deeply resonated with my soul.

In the midst of a year-long study abroad in London, God profoundly moved in my life showing me how my compassion for the plight of others intertwined with my desire to serve Him. In that year, God’s grace hit me in a way that left me forever changed. My eyes were opened to the truth that loving Him meant being radical for Him. It meant loving the people who didn’t typically walk through the doors of a church. It meant leaving my comfort zone in order to care about the needs of those people society had effectively discarded. It meant extending mercy and pursuing justice.

The next few years were filled with further refinement of my vision for serving God. He took me on a journey that expanded my understanding of what loving His people looked like. The journey included outreach to the homeless, overseas mission work, ministry in urban areas, and further studies in community development. I identified myself as an individual excited about how God’s grace overflowed to the world and passionate about looking at others through the lens of Christ.

God’s call for justice seemed so fundamentally clear to me. I desperately wanted those around me to also grab hold of what God was showing me about His heart for the world. In a variety of ways, I sought to convince others that the call to follow Jesus was a radical call to extend God’s grace to those oppressed or ignored by the world. It meant leaving a comfortable life for the sake of caring for others. It meant seeking justice and working to empower the materially poor.

All good stuff, right?

Well, yes and no. Certainly, God does desire we as His people care about the plight of others and work towards justice. My problem was while my passions for serving the “have nots” in society continued to grow, my heart was simultaneously cultivating a judgmental and critical spirit towards the “haves” of society.

It felt remarkably easy to have compassion for people who seemingly deserved grace. The people broken by society, the people oppressed by choices and decisions far out of their control. I wanted to fight for justice and demonstrate mercy towards these hurting people and broken communities.

I thought my life echoed God’s call to walk humbly with Him as my heart appeared focused on serving others. Honestly, in retrospect, I know pride flowed readily through my veins. I often considered myself better than those who hadn’t grasped the vision I self-righteously had for living this Christian life.

Yet God, in His sovereign wisdom, saw fit to put my dreams for loving others on hold. Through a chain of choices, many of my plans slowly came to a halt. The people I had become used to serving, the soapboxes I had grown accustomed to standing on, and the issues of justice that rapidly fell from my lips were no longer part of my daily life. In their place, God exposed my own ungracious notion of grace.

In a foreign country filled with millions who fit the profile of those I felt called to serve, I was sharing life with people considered part of the privileged middle class. It was here I came face to face with my twisted belief that some people really deserve God’s love and grace and others don’t.

Why was it so easy for me to care for the homeless and fight against oppression while my heart felt judgmental and superior to those who didn’t fully embrace my view of what living radically for Christ entailed? Why was I was so interested in meeting the material and spiritual needs of someone without money or resources, but I easily overlooked the needs of someone who possessed relative wealth?

Jesus told a parable in Luke 18:9-14 that in many ways reminded me of myself:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Christ’s stinging picture of the Pharisee could have been my mirror image. In many ways I was so thankful God have given me a desire to serve and care for people on the margins of society. I felt blessed God allowed me to see ways in which I could fight against injustice in His name. All the while, pride festered in my soul and contempt seeped from my conversation.

The reality of my ungracious heart convicted me deeply as I saw how I had painted a mental picture of who I should serve and who I should be critical of. The truth is no one deserves God’s grace. Not the people broken by society and oppressed by others. Not the people doing the breaking or oppressing. Not the “have nots.” Not the “haves.” Not the people desiring to act justly and love mercy. And definitely not me. None of us are deserving of God’s grace.

By watching God put my passions on hold, I understood I had become so entrenched in how I wanted to serve God, I ultimately lost sight of the astounding love God has for every single person. His grace flows freely to all. Despite our status as undeserving, we are all invited to sit at His feet and follow Him.

In Christ’s drastic kingdom, loving the “have nots” is not an option. However, the deeper truth is loving all people as Christ loves them is not an option. Regardless of wealth or position in society.

Now in my thirties, my days involve managing life in my suburban house while playdates and moms’ groups happily eat up much of my free time. The people I thought I would serve often seem a distant memory from my current life. My daily existence feels far from the frontlines of fighting for social justice. In many ways, I have morphed into someone who historically would have been a recipient of my criticism.

I see the sovereign humor of my Lord; a God who would take me on a journey where I end up living a life that is far from my previous plans. A God who was more concerned with my heart as His follower than with the actual things I did to serve Him. As I glance back over the last decade, I see more deeply what God’s grace is and how that reality motivates me to love others with God-centered gracious grace.

The journey is long and the road continues to wind. With each passing day and with each person God brings across my path, I understand with greater clarity He desires for grace, mercy, and humility to be the overflow of my heart. As His child, God wants me to fully abandon any hint of contempt and consistently demonstrate God-rooted compassion towards all people at all times.

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Patrice Gopo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and her daughter. She enjoys glimpsing God’s divine hand in the everyday moments of life. She is passionate about writing, community, justice, and poverty alleviation. Each year that passes she is amazed to see how God connects these passions in ways she could never ask for or imagine.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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Graceless Grace

by Patrice Gopo time to read: 5 min
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