Some years ago I underwent a heart procedure. My heartbeat had the regularity of a telegraph operator sending Morse code. Fast, fast fast. Slooooow. After several failed attempts to restore healthy rhythm with medication, my doctor decided I should have a catheter ablation. The plan went like this: a cardiologist would insert two cables in my heart via a blood vessel. One was a camera; the other was an ablation tool. To ablate is to burn. Yes -- burn, cauterize, singe, brand. If all went well, the doctor, to use his coinage, would destroy the "misbehaving" parts of my heart.
As I was being wheeled into surgery, he asked if I had any final questions. (Not the best choice of words.) I tried to be witty.
"You're burning the interior of my heart, right?"
"You intend to kill the misbehaving cells, yes?"
"That is my plan."
"As long as you are in there, could you take your little blowtorch to some of my greed, selfishness, superiority and guilt?"
He smiled and answered, "Sorry, that's out of my pay grade."
Indeed it was, but it's not out of God's. He is in the business of changing hearts.
We would be wrong to think this change happens overnight. But we would be equally wrong to assume change never happens at all. It may come in fits and spurts -- an "aha" here, a breakthrough there. But it comes. "The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared" (Titus 2:11 NKJV). The floodgates are open, and the water is out. You just never know when grace will seep in. Could you use some?
The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: grace.
When grace happens, we receive not a nice compliment from God but a new heart. Give your heart to Christ, and he returns the favor. "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36:26 NKJV).
We are Jesus Christ's; we belong to him. But even more, we are increasingly him. He moves in and commandeers our hands and feet, requisitions our minds and tongues. We sense his rearranging: debris into the divine, pig's ear into silk purse. He repurposes bad decisions and squalid choices. Little by little a new image emerges.
"He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son" (Romans 8:29 MSG).
Grace is God as heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart -- poisoned as it is with pride and pain -- and replacing it with his own. Rather than tell you to change, he creates the change. Do you clean up so he can accept you? No, he accepts you and begins cleaning you up. His dream isn't just to get you into heaven but to get heaven into you. What a difference this makes! Can't forgive your enemy? Can't face tomorrow? Can't forgive your past? Christ can, and he is on the move, aggressively budging you from graceless to grace-shaped living. The gift-given giving gifts. Forgiven people forgiving people. Deep sighs of relief. Stumbles aplenty but despair seldom.
Grace is everything Jesus. Grace lives because he does, works because he works and matters because he matters. He placed a term limit on sin and danced a victory jig in a graveyard. To be saved by grace is to be saved by him -- not by an idea, doctrine, creed or church membership, but by Jesus himself, who will sweep into heaven anyone who so much as gives him the nod.
Not in response to a finger snap, religious chant or a secret handshake. Grace won't be stage-managed. I have no tips on how to get grace. Truth is, we don't get grace. But it sure can get us.
Grace hugged the stink out of the prodigal and scared the hate out of Paul and pledges to do the same in us.
If you fear you've written too many checks on God's kindness account, drag regrets around like a broken bumper, huff and puff more than you delight and rest, and, most of all, if you wonder whether God can do something with the mess of your life, then grace is what you need.
Let's make certain it happens to you.
Excerpted from 'Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine' by Max Lucado. ©2012 Thomas Nelson Publishers. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.