Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

Seeking Grace

None of this was my idea. As I write this, I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for 37 years and a local church pastor for 28 years. I did not choose either of these. They chose me. Why? Only God knows.

I was not raised in a Christian home. Honestly, I was raised in a dysfunctional home. My mother and father were never married to each other. My father was not a part of my life. I was adopted by my maternal grandparents.

The church was not part of my life during my formative years. I did not grow up in Sunday School, learning Bible stories, or attending Vacation Bible School.

I was never, to use a term in the church today, a “seeker.”

It was not that my family was made up of unbelievers—we believed in God–it was just that God was not a part of our lives.

In my middle school years I began to sense God pursuing me, drawing me, reaching out to me. I did not understand it at the time. I just sensed a closeness—that God’s presence was nearby—that I was not alone.

I was invited to attend Sunday School standing at mid-court during Junior High School basketball practice. I agreed to attend and the next Sunday I found myself in the Junior High class. After that it was off to worship—we called it “preaching” back then.

From that start I was hooked. Finally, I was “home.” The closeness that I had experienced earlier increased. God began to reveal Himself to me in Jesus Christ. I met this Jesus in Sunday School, youth group, the music of worship, the salvation preaching of my pastor, and in the pages of the Bible.

This God who had pursued me, became the Father I never had, the Savior who redeemed me of my sin, and the Spirit who lived within me.

It was never really that I went seeking God, but that God had come seeking me.

Years later I saw my experienced reflected in the message God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel:

11 The Lord God proclaims: I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out the flock when some in the flock have been scattered, so will I seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered during the time of clouds and thick darkness… 16 I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays, bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.

{Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16, Common English Bible}

This is how I met God. God sought after me, like a shepherd seeks out lost sheep.

I was like the narrator in Francis Thompson’s poem The Hound Of Heaven:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat–and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet–

“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

         I had lived my life avoiding God—running from God–but I could not escape the sound of those pursuing footsteps and that summoning voice.

I knew what it was like to be rescued from the dark places where I had strayed. God became known to me as the One who seeks the lost, brings home the strays, heals the wounded, and restores the weakened.

None of this was the result of my own effort or achievement.

My relationship with the God of the Universe is now, and has always been, by grace through faith.

Years later, when I went before the Western North Carolina Board of Ordained Ministry seeking ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I told them of a statement of Jesus, recorded in the Gospel of John, that had guided me to that point:

16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.

{John 15:16a, Common English Bible}

Even now, I am astounded by the grace of God. I am not the most likely candidate to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and certainly not the person you would like would have become a church pastor.

At my 25th high school class reunion, one of my classmates, whom I had not seen since graduation day, came up to me and asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor. He responded by blurting out an expletive. I said, “I know. It surprises me too!

Only God could do something like that. Only by grace!

The Apostle Paul spoke to the Galatian Church a word of witness that, to this day, still resonates in my spirit:

15 But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace. He was pleased 16 to reveal his Son to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles.

{Galatians 1:15-16a, Common English Bible}

This God—this restless, grace-filled God—has created me, sought me, redeemed me, and called me. I did not deserve it, and I have not earned it. It has all been given to me as a gift from God, paid for by Jesus Christ.

This grace is for you as well. The same God who had pursued, drawn, and reached out to me, is doing the same in your life.

John Wesley called it “prevenient” grace—grace that “goes before.” Before we ever reach out to God, God is already reaching out to us.

No matter where you are today on your life’s journey, know this…there is a concerned shepherd who is looking for you. He is desperately searching for you and seeking to find you. He wants to bring you home safely. He wants to rescue you from the darkness and danger that you have wandered into.

Listen for His voice. He calls out to you in grace. Even if you are not seeking God, God is seeking you. Just turn around and you will fall into His arms of grace.

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