Practicing Grace in the Unknown

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

“It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable.” Maya Angelou

Grace is a spiritual and theological concept that we speak of often in the church. As Methodists, grace is pivotal to who we are and what we believe. Grace is the unconditional and unmerited love of God for all of humanity. Grace means that we can neither earn nor lose God’s love for us. Grace is what surrounds us before we ever acknowledge its presence. The very nature of grace infiltrates our believing and welcoming hearts to such a degree that we begin to be transformed and changed. Grace moves us from broken to healed, unlovable to lovable, sinner to saint. Grace changes everything.

The world is filled with unanswered questions and unknown futures. If only we had a crystal ball to tell us what will happen next and what we should do, then life would surely get easier. In the movie Back to the Future series, Marty McFly saw a great opportunity in going to the future and bringing a sports almanac back with him. If he knew how every game was going to play out in the future, he would be the richest man in the world. Unfortunately, Biff Tannen would steal that almanac and gain the riches for himself. Aside from accumulated wealth, knowing the future didn’t seem to make life any easier for those closest to Tannen, Tannen himself, or society in general.

Many times in my life and ministry I’ve asked God to send me a burning bush, a biblical almanac of the future. If God would only tell me clearly what is wanted from me, how to handle certain situations, what to do next. If God would speak to me as God spoke to Moses. If only God would send a burning bush of guarantees, this journey wouldn’t be so scary. If I had an almanac filled with my life and all of the winning decisions, life would be so much simpler. But would it?

Moses saw the burning bush. It wasn’t burning with guarantees, rather it was burning with a call to action, a call of faith, a call of unknowns. Moses was an imperfect man being asked to do an impossible task. He was full of doubts and questions. God was asking Moses to face a large task: to put others above himself, to care for God’s people, to challenge power and the status quo, to endanger his safety and security for God’s purposes, and to do something far greater than himself with absolutely zero guarantees other than that God would be with him. That’s not a bush of guarantees! That’s the most terrifying bush I’ve ever heard of! Moses then asks God who he should tell the Israelites God is. God responds in the most helpful way any leader could possibly fathom, “I AM WHO I AM.” Thanks, God. That’s helpful.

I suspect that in certain moments of my life, God very well may have placed an entire forest on fire in front of me and I still would have missed it. Hindsight is 20/20. When we look back, we can see where God was active, what we were being called to do, and who was placed in our lives in certain seasons for certain reasons. Even when we may not have seen God in the moment, we can know and believe that the grace of God surrounded our every breath. We see now where God was with us and where grace took us.

Our journey in life will always be filled with unknowns. We too, the faithful believers, the sinners and saints, we will often struggle with doubts and questions. We will take risks and hope for the best. We will recognize opportunities and take leaps of faith. We will hear or feel the call of God upon our lives, and we will prayerfully follow God into more unknowns. God was able to use Moses because Moses trusted in God. He leaned not on his own understanding, but put his full faith in the great I AM. We too, are called to believe in what we cannot see. We are called to live by faith, not doubt or fear of the unknown.

Change is a part of life. We often push back against change because we simply don’t like it. Change often challenges us and alters our lives in ways we don’t control. Yet, we all know that change is inevitable. We resist change and agents of change, challenging vision because we cannot see it. We allow our lives and our thinking to be controlled by fear and doubts, rather than by grace and faith. Our fear often leads us to reject things before we’ve ever given them a try. Fear is what causes us to reject people before we’ve made any effort to get to know them on a human level. Moses had much to fear, but he had far more to believe in. Moses was surrounded by God’s grace and grace changes everything, even in the unknown.

To practice grace in the unknown is to practice trusting in God’s unconditional love. To practice grace in the unknown is to believe that God is at work even if we don’t see God. To practice grace in the unknown is to love our neighbor even if they never love us back. To practice grace in the unknown is to lead with faith and not fear. To practice grace in the unknown is to cling to the great I AM instead of the great I CAN’T.

Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe

Read about Moses and the Burning Bush – Exodus 3

Read about the 3 Forms of Grace as we understand it in the United Methodist Church: http://www.umc.org/resources/teaching-grace-in-christian-education