Rising Leader Series: Week 48 - Grace
Updated: Feb 25
HAL LANCE’S SONG
A stroke cost Hal facility to speak
Except in raspy, out-of-kilter blurts
Each step confessed a hard-won new technique
Carried with gentle grace that clothed his hurts
He’d joined the team that led our men’s retreat
Diminished though he was, his faith was strong
On Day Three, when program called for music sweet,
Hal broke, a cappella, into song
“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?” he squeaked
The most perfect aria we’d ever heard
It pierced our hearts so deep, it made us meek:
Awestruck, opened, and ready for God’s word
Abba, thank you! For the angels that you send
Who sing into our hearts the notes that mend
What is grace? Grace is God’s undeserved favor and His ever-guiding hand. My wife Pageen describes it as “that which God does within us, without us.” God grants us His grace because of who He is– not who we are. But then it turns to us to respond. Will we take God’s grace for granted? Or respond with gratitude and service?
Perhaps the Bible’s best-known story on the subject of grace is the parable of the Prodigal Son. In it, a father has two sons. The younger son demands that his father give him his inheritance immediately– not, as it should be, after he dies. The father acquiesces. The son immediately takes the money, flees his home, and spends everything in dissipation. Coming to his senses, he slinks back home, hoping his father might let him work with the pigs in return for food.
But when the son crests the hill, the father sees him. He runs to his son, wrapping his arms around him. He orders servants to get new clothes and to prepare a feast. The older son hears the commotion, wondering what’s going on. When he hears that his brother has returned, and that his father has thrown a banquet, the older son becomes angry. “I’ve served you all these years, and you’ve never given me a party,” he says. The father responds, “my son, everything I have is yours. But your brother was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and now is found.”
Many great sermons have been spoken on this parable– what we can learn about God, and how we might see ourselves in the younger son, the older son and even in the father. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about the sequel– what happened next. Yet, isn’t “what happened next” the most important thing? Isn’t this the most important question for us: how will we respond to the exuberant grace of God?
Please allow me to imagine with you the rest of the story.
In the days after the banquet, the younger son couldn’t shake his shame. Caught in the grip of selfish compulsion, he had committed the gravest possible insult by demanding his birthright before his father's death. And then he'd wasted it all. What remaining claim could he have to his father's or his brother's love? The coldness of his brother was almost a consolation, because it was what he felt he deserved. But his father’s love overwhelmed. He couldn’t square it with what he had done. Each morning, the father greeted him with a hug. Each morning, the younger son hung his head. Until one day, the father asked that he join him for a walk in the field.
They walked in silence for a time, until the father turned and said, “Why do you reject my gift?” The younger son looked up, his face etched in pain. “Father, what I did– it cannot be forgiven. I will never be worthy of your love.” The father took his shoulders in his hands. “My son, look at me. Do you love me?” “Yes, father, you know I love you with my whole heart.” “Then why will you not let me love you?” “I am not worthy.” “Son: answer me. I will not ask again. Will you please accept the love I have for you?” The son looked into his father’s kind eyes for a long time, and tears began to flow. “Yes, father. If you will love me even as I am, even though I have done what I have done, then I will forgive myself. I receive your love right now, with gratitude. With joy!”
A new routine took hold. After morning prayers with his father and brother, the younger son dedicated himself to the work of the farm. Each day he strove to lighten the others’ burdens. His brother remained cold and distant, but he understood. One day while in the field, he heard his older brother call out. “Come quick! Father has fallen.” The younger son ran across the field, joining his brother at the side of their father, lying on the ground.
The stroke stole his voice and the use of his left side. The younger son took up the task of feeding and caring for his father. Whereas before the stroke his father had led morning prayers, now he did. Whenever his father slept, he completed whatever farmyard chores he could. Months went by, until one morning, while washing his father’s face, he felt a tight grip upon his arm. His father pulled him down with unexpected strength, bringing his own face inches away. His father lifted up his head just enough, and kissed the younger son on the cheek. And then he died.
The father’s entire estate went to the older son, as was his due. The younger son came to his brother and said, “I am sorry that I hurt you, dear brother. You were the one who stayed and served father, keeping the farm while I ran away. This farm is now yours, and it is time for me to make my life elsewhere. Know that I will always love you.” The older brother’s face remained cold and impassive. The younger brother smiled sadly, took what possessions he could carry, and went on his way.
The older brother married and raised five children. One day a traveler stopped by, bringing news about his brother. He lived in a city two days’ journey away. He worked in service of the poor. He lived on the generosity of strangers. The next day, the older brother left in search.
The younger brother was no longer young. The day was warm and bright as a small crowd gathered around him in the town square. Helpers were there to pick up food packets, prepared for the poor and homebound. He stood by a table, assigning the volunteers their packets and visits.
As he looked up, he saw a figure in the distance, walking down the street in his direction. Somehow the silhouette looked familiar. In a squint, he recognized his older brother. With a cry, he dropped everything. He ran, stumbled, and ran again, arms reaching out. “My brother,” he said. “How I’ve missed you.” They hugged as his older brother wiped the tears from his eyes and whispered, “I love you. I forgive you. Please forgive me.”
And that is how the story ends.
Good leader, how will you respond to God’s grace? Will you take up your cross and follow Him wherever He leads? Will you become a leader of goodness, making a difference and giving to others the grace you have received?
Next week, let’s stoke the fire.
“And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”-- Acts 20:32
Yours in grace and gratitude,
Previous Weeks' Letters: