Forty odd years ago, when I first became a Christian, God did not look at me and think ‘what a great catch’, he saw a train wreck. My life has changed immeasurably since, yet, as God’s call on my life has come into sharper focus, the extent to which I fall short has become exposed. Having made so little progress after more than forty years, I wonder why he bothered with me in the first place. It has become easy for me to get depressed and want to give up.
Brennan Manning found part of the answer. He was struggling with alcoholism and was aware that he was not living up to the expectations on him as a priest. One morning, as he woke up, finding himself in a gutter, stinking of his own vomit, he had hit an all time low. It was at this point that he realised that God loved him as he was, not as he should be. It was a life changing moment. Yet, in spite of this, he confesses that to the day he died he remained a broken human being struggling with alcoholism. But he knew that God loved him anyway. Not because he was a great guy, but all because of grace. God loved him as he was, not as he should be.
Similarly, in the story of the prodigal, in spite of his son wasting what he had worked hard to create, the boy’s father still loved him. While his son was a long way off, as soon as he saw him, he ran to meet him. There was no reluctance. He ran and kissed and hugged his foul smelling son. He was thrilled to have him back. Imagine, for example, a father hearing his son had been killed in war, and then a year later the son returns home. He hadn’t been killed after all and now he is back. The son was dead, but now is alive. This is how thrilled the father was at his son’s return. God loves us, even when we get smelly. It makes no difference to him. He is always thrilled to get us back.
I may not be in a gutter, like Brennan Manning, nor just returned from wild living, like the prodigal, yet I look at my forty years of Christian life and wonder what I have made of it, what my efforts have amounted to. Perhaps I am already thinking too much of myself. It is, after all, not about me. I may have a part to play, but from God’s perspective my efforts do not amount to much – neither my best or my worst. All is as nothing before him. Yet he loves me as I am, not what I think I should be.
While it would be nice to live up to the standard to which I believe I have been called, I have to acknowledge that I remain a broken image and fall short. In spite of that, God loves me as much as he ever did. In fact, it was while I was yet a sinner that he was willing to die for me. A fact that I still find incredible. So, it is perhaps strange that I should ever wonder why he might love me less now that I am trying, however inadequately, to follow him. I have to acknowledge that I have a long way to go, but I know I am loved, just as I am. It is all of grace.