An experience of grace

I’ll confess that my life isn’t always characterised by the Deep Joy and Peace of the Lord™. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to hear that I don’t float around on a Christian cloud, enjoying unbroken fellowship with God and experiencing his glorious presence.

On the contrary, I seem to spend quite a lot of my time feeling slightly anxious, guilty and burdened; riddled with self-doubt and unsure of whether I can really even call myself a Christian. Much of the time I feel fairly distant from God, unable to hear his voice or feel anything of his presence.

I pray, but my prayers so often feel like a one-sided conversation and I wonder if I’m only talking to myself. I feel like I’m walking in a spiritual fog, or at least under a heavily clouded sky.

But just occasionally the fog lifts, the clouds part and for a brief space the sunshine pours through. For me these times come as rare but immensely important experiences of grace. They come unbidden, unexpected, unlooked-for, and for no particularly apparent reason. They can’t be controlled, contained or clung on to. They just come – sometimes for five minutes, sometimes half an hour; rarely longer. And then it’s back to normality for weeks, months or maybe years.

Admittedly, these times do seem to come more often when I’m in the midst of prayer or worship. But I might pray or worship in exactly the same way on a hundred other occasions, and experience nothing extraordinary. And even if they do come when I’m praying, on these occasions it feels somehow as though my prayer is almost coming from beyond me; that by grace, my mundane, earthbound prayer is suddenly caught by some spiritual thermal beyond my control or seeking.

A walk transformed

My most recent example came a couple of weeks ago as I was taking a lunchtime walk in the park by my workplace. I tend to pray on these walks, mainly because I’m on my own and want someone to talk to – and God’s a good listener if not a great talker. So I let him listen in on my interminable internal monologues and call it prayer.

On this occasion I was prayer-rambling about the future – what I should do with my life, how God might want to use my strengths and redeem my weaknesses, stuff like that. I was feeling that I hadn’t really done or seen or achieved much of note in my 40 years – the usual self-doubt.

And suddenly I found myself feeling and expressing thoughts that didn’t seem to come from me. I found myself feeling genuinely and deeply grateful for my life and all that I’d been given, regardless of whatever might happen in the future.

I found myself saying – and at least for that moment meaning – that even if I were to be struck with some debilitating condition that very night and so never be able to travel the world, never see or do or experience or achieve all I’d hoped to, what I’d been given so far was enough. That even if God never answered any more of my prayers and never blessed me again, what I’d already had would have been enough and more than enough.

I even went so far as to say – and at the time mean – that if (God forbid) something should happen to my family or my children, having been allowed to know them and be part of their lives for this time would have been enough.

And as I expressed those feelings and ideas, I felt things that can only sound terribly cheesy when written down. I felt close to God, I felt blessed, I felt lifted, I felt loved and accepted. My heart was suddenly light within me. I wanted to run and dance and skip and sing as though I’d suddenly become a character in The Sound of Music. Had I met another human being along the way I might have had to restrain myself from hugging them and telling them they were wonderful.

And even as I write this down, some of those feelings briefly return again (albeit alongside a more dominant feeling of embarrassment).

I didn’t actually hear God speaking to me (I’m not sure I ever have, not directly). But I did feel his closeness, his presence; and that was enough.

And then I had to go back to work, and of course everything returned to normal.

Reflecting on the experience

I said that I felt incredibly grateful. Gratitude and grace are linked, both linguistically and really. But it’s not that my gratitude brought God’s grace (though it may have helped enable me to experience it more fully), but rather I think that God’s grace brought about my gratitude.

Of course, I expect the beautiful surroundings and unlooked-for winter sunshine contributed to the experience; but then that felt like grace too. And I’ve also had similar experiences of grace in far less promising settings – driving home from work through depressing urban streets for example.

And do I still mean those things I said in that time and place? I don’t know. Will I still mean them if ever push comes to shove? I don’t know (and I intend to look at this more closely next time). But I do know that grace may well enable me to mean them again, should I ever be brought to the place where I have to speak them in earnest. Which I hope and pray I never am.

So ultimately, what does it all mean or prove? Nothing much, perhaps. Certainly not that I’m especially good or worthy – or it wouldn’t be grace. Nor has it prevented me from behaving in my usual not-very-Christlike ways subsequently.

And of course, though it was as real to me as meeting with a flesh-and-blood friend, there’s nothing in what I experienced that could convince any sceptic. You could easily put the whole thing down to the effects of emotion and environment, or else my digestive system. All I know is that to me it was real and (though ephemeral) of enormous importance.

Now it may be that God will meet with you in a similar way. But it seems more likely that he has something entirely different for you, according to your personality and needs and situation. So I write all this not to prescribe, nor to boast (I hope). I just wanted to share the experience. If God’s grace can touch a sinful, cynical semi-liberal like me, it can touch anyone.

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About TheEvangelicalLiberal

Aka Harvey Edser. I'm a web editor, worship leader, wannabe writer, very amateur composer and highly unqualified armchair theologian. My heroes include C.S. Lewis and Homer Simpson.
This entry was posted in Faith, Grace, Love of God, Prayer, Spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to An experience of grace

  1. Terry says:

    May God bless you, Harvey. 🙂

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  2. PaulM says:

    Hi Harvey, stumbled across your blog about a week ago and have read all postings from Jan 2014. Take this comment in a positive way: ‘its like your in my head’ :). Very encouraging from a pilgrim who has gone through the narrow gate but struggling with how Christians treat one another.

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    • Hi Paul, thank you very much for saying that, and I do definitely take it in a positive way! 🙂

      I think the way Christians treat one another may be Christianity’s biggest problem. ‘They will know you are my disciples by how you love one another’… or not, in so many cases. Too often we only love those who are like us, who do things our way or agree with our theology or adhere to our precise moral code (or share our political affiliation). We decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s acceptable and not, and we shun those we deem heretical or sinful.

      I long for a day when we stop fighting each other over silly and peripheral issues and start working together for the good of world and the sake of the kingdom. But I also realise that I’m as much part of the problem as anyone else…

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  3. Oak Hill Studio says:

    Thank you for sharing this, for being transparent. I can relate to much of what you’ve said about those moments of feeling close to God being few and far between, yet how important they are–how they carry and sustain faith long into the future and how, though unexplainable, they are to my mind, God’s very presence come near. In my head, I know intellectually that He is always “near,” yet it only seems so on rare occassions. I appreciate your humility which always comes through your writing.

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    • Thank you! I very much identify with what you say about the difference between knowing intellectually that God is always present, and actually experiencing his presence in a profound way. And for me too, those occasional moments of his close presence sustain me through the long ‘desert’ times when God seems distant or even absent. I think that if it weren’t for those moments of grace, I might well struggle to keep my faith alive long-term. So it rather seems that it’s God, not me, who maintains my faith…

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  4. Theothedog says:

    Yep – I guess that really is what grace feels like. Knowing at a visceral level that, in spite of oneself and everything that has happened, is happening, will happen, all is, and ultimately will be, well.

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    • Yes, well put. It is (or at least includes) a sense of fundamental well-ness at the heart of things that appears to defy all evidence. It’s not quite irrational, but it’s certainly beyond-rational.

      I seem to recall my dad reporting a similar experience that came to him while he was sluicing nappies…

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  5. You mean you don’t float around on a cloud with a heavenly harp? I am shocked! Have you read Dark Night of the Soul, at all? It may be helpful (and if not, it’s certainly interesting). God bless – God is using you in ways you may not even know about 🙂

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  6. Gary H. says:

    my mouth dropped open when I read this. Just last Sunday I wrote you a comment about the silence of God and then went to an early church service (mainly so i would have the afternoon free to play golf). I enjoy the earlier service because its begins quietly and this particular service was just that with the worship leader softly singing. I by no means was seeking God or praying during this, I’m usually caught up with considering a new swing thought for my round of golf to come! And then an emotion swelled up inside of me and I began to cry, and I cried (trying to hide it) throughout the service. It seemed God was strongly impressing upon me a few simple, obvious things: first, that He is a good God, and second, that He loves me. Then I had a thought of Him washing my feet….The God of the Universe. I could see/feel the hurt I’ve been carrying around lately over a couple of personal issues and in that moment, I knew God knew about it and He cares and loves me. It was an intense moment and I began to write these thing down during the service in order to explain to my wife what was happening to me as she sat next to me as I tried to keep my nose from running and tears under control. One of the many things that struck me about this moment was that I was not seeking this, or even sharing these unspoken burdens with God. My prayer life sucks. the conscious thought of praying about my burdens rarely comes to mind, i rather just think on my concerns and i guess call that “prayer” ( ive been a believer since 1976 so I’m fully aware of wonderful prayer techniques that I’ve been taught). And, like you, this moment passed and the normalcy of life is in full gear BUT I did, no doubt (and I’m a doubting Thomas 2.0) have a moment and a VERY clear understanding downloaded to me about God’s grace, love and care for me regardless of my “silence” towards Him. apology for the lengthy reply, but simply struck that you had a similar experience knowing that you share my often cynical take on these things fearing an interpretation of “cheesy”!

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    • Hi Gary, thank you so much for writing this. And please don’t apologise for lengthy replies – I’m really the one who should apologise for the length of my blog posts! 🙂

      That really is quite an amazing coincidence – and a clear experience of God’s grace and love on your part. I’m really, really pleased for you – these times are rare and immensely precious gifts (at the risk of sounding cheesy again). I love that they come without any attempt on our part to make them happen.

      I’ve no doubt that (for me) normal scepticism will resume shortly, but these experiences keep me from becoming *too* cynical…

      And, while I’m still in earnest and cheesy mode – bless you!!

      Harvey

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  7. lotharson says:

    Thank you for this touching post, Harvey.
    I wish God would be more talkative without having to smoke too much weed and taking LSD for hearing His voice 🙂

    I wrote a post which is this time half-intellectual, half-edifying
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/the-tentative-apologist-and-the-friendly-atheist-discuss-about-heaven/

    and would love to learn if you think that this proportion is the correct one 😉

    Like

    • Yes, I always find God speaks to me more after a couple of pints… 😉

      I really like your post on the Tentative Apologist and the Friendly Atheist, and I only wish all apologists were tentative and all atheists friendly! I’ll try and add a comment as soon as I think of anything half-intelligent and relevant to say…

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      • lotharson says:

        Don’t underestimate yourself, Harvew.

        I keep bothering you with my invitations to my blog because I find you have very insightful and sensible positions.

        As a part of the body of Christ, I cannot do many things by myself, this is why I seek the help of brethern for building up the Kingdom 🙂

        I know you are very busy but I found it great if you were to interact a bit more with my godless commentators (so that I am not the only Christian voice there).

        I just wrote a new post about heaven and hell:

        http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-dark-side-of-destiny/

        Lovely greetings in Christ.

        Like

  8. lotharson says:

    Harvey, sorry for the “w” (it sounds almost like Harvest) 😉

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  9. lotharson says:

    Almost sound, sorry for my terrible knowledge of Shakespeare’s tongue 🙂

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