Who hasn’t heard the song Amazing Grace? Even if you’re not a church person you’ve probably heard it. It’s been one of Leah’s favorites since she was a newborn. I’ll never forget when she started making cooing sounds when she was a few months old. As she finished up nursing in the JC Penney’s parking lot, I sang her that song and she practically sang along with me in her cooing baby voice. My mascara ran that day.
It’s sung almost daily around here. Like many songs that become so familiar we can sing them without thinking about them, the lyrics are just pretty words most days.
But tonight as I rocked her at bedtime and sang that song, I stumbled across a line in the second verse that’s often tripped me up before.
“Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved”.
Why do I want to pass on a song about fearful hearts to my baby girl? Why is that good news to anyone? Where is the comfort in that? If the fear is from God then isn’t he kind of mean and bully-ish to want to make me fearful? How is that a grace?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. -Psalm 111:10
The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. - Psalm 25:14
Maybe it’s not so much about fear…or maybe it is.
For years I lived with this dissonance in the guts of my soul; a dull awareness that the God I had heard about in Sunday school probably existed, and from what I knew about him from my little bit of biblical literacy, I figured he was probably ready to punish me because I did so wrong so often.
Though I resisted fully submitting myself to my creator for so long, this gentle drawing of grace finally won. It’s a grace that I lived with a sense of dread, a sense of foreboding, a sense of wondering what would happen to me when I died…had I appeased God well enough to make the cut? That sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? How can it be a gift to live a life full of inner turmoil? So much of our existence is spent chasing the feels. Make me feel good. Make me feel relaxed. Make me feel peace. I never could catch that, or if I did it proved to be fleeting and shallow. How thankful I am that the grace of God persisted and never let me find satisfaction in the pleasures that would have ultimately dulled my senses to His call.
I suppose that most people, if we can all dial down the noise of the world around us and go into that scary inner world that inhabits all of us, will find questions, longings, concerns that we can’t explain. The classic existential questions of purpose, the afterlife, the problem of suffering; if we let ourselves dwell on these things for very long they will begin to haunt us.
It’s in this place of haunting, where the cavernous space of our soul starts to feel like a hollow echo chamber; echoing with the unsatisfying platitudes and wobbly ideals that we breathe in continually from our world that cannot explain nor save itself.
It’s in this place of haunting that we may begin to hear the whisper of God. Something about that whisper is alarming; we know we don’t measure up to the hallowed sound we are hearing.
And it’s in that place where we begin to turn, but only if we can humbly receive love and drop our fearful exterior.
It’s there where we come face to face with grace and realize that our fearful hearts have been overtaken with a different kind of fear; reverence. Worship….
“and grace my fears relieved”.
The fear is redeemed. Holy fear. Something that Jesus would describe as worship. Total adoration, submission, allegiance.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan to bow down to him in exchange for all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus replied with “Away from me Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only!”. In this scripture he is quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 which is written as : “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only”.
What Jesus shows us there is that Fear is worship. It’s a state of our hearts that acknowledges that God is Holy. He is untouchable. We are the lowest of the low in His presence, yet He’s made a way for us to be with him, and not only that, He WANTS us with him.
He wants you.
That grace is extended to you. The unanswered questions. The gaping hole that exists when you get real quiet and the loneliness creeps in. That discord you feel when you know you’ve done wrong.
It’s Him. It’s grace.