I didn’t grow up saying grace. I didn’t grow up thinking ‘grace’. I didn’t understand grace, and I couldn’t define it. But after nearly thirty years of adulthood, and being an active Christ-follower, I was pretty sure that I could define “grace” in a pinch.
I was reading Colossians in my Greek Interlinear New Testament. (Don’t be too impressed…I only know enough Greek to be dangerous.) I was looking at the word translated as “thanksgiving” or “gratitude.” It looked like “eucharist.” That can’t be right. Eucharist has to do with communion, I thought. I never was sure, in my liturgical childhood, exactly what the word meant, but I assumed it meant ‘communion’…and by communion, I meant the Lord’s Supper, the bread and the cup offered to the congregation.
So, thanksgiving is eucharistos? And then it occurred to me (for the first time!) that the root word ‘charis’ is embedded in ‘eucharist’. I knew that charis means grace. “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense” floated into my consciousness from the mental sermon file. I remember being taught that grace is ‘unmerited favor‘:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
It makes sense, I thought, that our celebration of communion is a recognition of God’s undeserved favor. But if charis is what God gives US…why are we offering it back to Him as thanksgiving? He DOES deserve it. What was I missing?
Two hours and several reference books later, I was a bit further along: Grace has several aspects, and it looks different from the giver’s and the receiver’s points of view. But in general, grace connotes “pleasure, delight, beauty, joy, favor.” Nothing in the definition requires it to be unmerited. The person who is gracious is communicating grace to, or showing favor to, or giving something pleasurable/delightful/beautiful to someone. That’s the closest I can come to a definition of what it means to extend grace to someone. (Nowadays, when we say we’re giving someone grace, we’re cutting them some slack, a “grace period”…helping them avoid a penalty or punishment. Which is what God did in Christ–He took our punishment for us.)
Now, if the giver of grace happens to be God, Creator of the Universe…then it stands to reason that ANYTHING He decides to give us, by way of pleasure, delight, joy, beauty, favor will be undeserved. By definition, humans are undeserving, fallen.
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
And what is our response to be? Gratitude, thanksgiving. Grace.
Imagine that a dear friend suddenly appears at your door with a package. It is beautifully wrapped in paper of your favorite color. She smiles as you let her in, amused by the baffled expression on your face. It’s not your birthday, it’s not Christmas. You’re not pregnant or retiring or leaving town. So why the gift?
“No reason! It just made me think of you!”
So you open it, feeling slightly guilty and excited at the same time. I so don’t deserve this, you’re thinking. I didn’t even get her a birthday present this year. And inside the box is…well, let’s just say it is your heart’s desire. She knows you so well. This gift is perfect beyond words. Finally, while patting your pockets for a kleenex, you manage to croak out, “Thank you!” And she grins. Your faces shine on each other; whose glow is original and which is reflected? Impossible to tell. You are grateful and she is gratified. She has graced you, and you are grace-full. Your delight is boundless, and so is hers as she basks in your joy– it’s all she wanted, the motivation behind the giving simply to give you pleasure.
So–God has graced us, has He not? The entire world is filled with delightful things, and He has given us the senses to not only survive but to thrive and to experience pleasures without end. This is grace: we don’t deserve to live in such a world, where beauties crowd each other to compete for our awed appreciation. “Field and forest, vale and mountain, blooming meadow, flashing sea…” call us to respond. And what does the Giver of every good and perfect gift want from us? Grace: our welling-up of gratitude and delight in the gift He’s given. Simply acknowledge that He gave it, and let Him know we appreciate its value and our undeserving.
Ultimately, that is also a definition of worship.
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. (John Piper)