I’ve mentioned several times here that I read years ago in an old biography of a missionary who felt strongly the lack of love in her life, felt guilty about it, berated herself over it often, tried to spur herself on to do better, all to no avail. But when she began instead to meditate on God’s love for her, He began to transform her in ways she was unaware of until her husband told her people were commenting to him about the change in her.
In Everyday Grace: Infusing All Your Relationships With the Love of Jesus, Jessica Thompson takes this same principle and applies it to nearly every relationship we might have. She points out that most relationships operate on the basis of karma – I’ll do for you if you’ll do for me, or maybe I’ll do for you so that you’ll do for me in return. But Christianity operates on the basis of grace: God loved us and Jesus died for us when we were enemies, when we didn’t care, when we didn’t love Him, and He wants us to love others in the same way.
But how can we do that? He is God, and though he has saved and changed us, in our everyday lives our old fleshly nature too often evidences itself.
We are not basically good people who need a little instruction so that we can live up to our full potential. We are completely sinful people who need help from outside of ourselves in order to be made alive (p. 39).
We don’t just need a new list; we need a new heart. That is exactly what is promised to us in Ezekiel 11:19-20:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God (p. 47)
We can operate from a basis of grace because Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s commands in our place, and died, taking all of our sin and its punishment in our place.
My hope is that this book will help you “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). That as I open up to you all that he is and all that he has done…as you taste this multifaceted relationship with God, it will transform all of your other relationships (p. 43).
Paul doesn’t just pray [in Ephesians 3:14-21] that the Ephesians would get their act together; he prays that they would somehow be able to comprehend the incomprehensible love of God in Christ (p. 49).
In subsequent chapters, Jessica discusses God as our Father and husband and how that influences our relationships with our spouse and children, Jesus as a friend, coworker, brother, and how that influences our relationships in each of those areas, as well as how our relationship with God directs our interactions with our communities and fellow church members. She ends with discussing the Holy Spirit’s help, dealing with difficult people, and “The Gospel for the Relationship Failure.”
In the chapter on friendship, she writes:
Jesus tells his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”…It seems to be saying that he will be our friend only if we obey. But that isn’t what Jesus is saying at all. His friendship came first. This obedience is not what makes them friends; it is what characterizes his friends. I have lived most of my life under the assumption that if I am not obeying, then Christ doesn’t want any part of me. That is a terrible weight and it is a lie. God’s love for us in Christ always precedes our loveliness. His faithfulness always precedes ours, and his friendship is what brings us into relationship with him…If we are true believers in Christ, we will obey. That doesn’t mean we will obey perfectly…But it does mean that we will have a desire to obey. If your life is characterized by a growing desire to obey, you can be sure that you are a friend of Jesus. It is his very pronouncement of “my friend” that gives us the longing to be obedient to his commands. His love for us is what engenders a heart of obedience (pp. 76-77).
In a chapter on work, she writes:
While there is nothing wrong with doing a job you enjoy or looking for a job that you are passionate about, we have made a terrible point of our focus. We are setting out to fulfill ourselves instead of looking for ways to serve others. How often do we really think of our jobs as a way to be God’s hands, even if our job is just stacking books at the library? (p. 169)
[Jesus’] work wasn’t dependent on the one who received the benefit of his work. His work was only and always dependent on his love for God and his love for his people (p. 171).
I thought this from the chapter on church members was particularly lovely:
So we are humble with one another, not thinking we are better than others. We are gentle with each other, instead of beating each other over the head with a long list of “you-shoulds.” We can point out sin, when necessary, without distancing ourselves or acting like our friends have a disease that we might catch if they don’t get their acts together. We bear with one another in love, which is tough, especially if their sin affects us personally. And we are eager and excited to maintain peace, instead of eager and excited when we get a juicy bit of gossip about our friend. We remember that we are one body, and if I hurt you, I am actually hurting myself. We take a vested interest in each other and in loving one another. Lastly, we remember that all of our failures to live as one body have been paid for by the Savior. We don’t have to hide from our community when we sin against them. We confess and remember that even the sin of hurting others in the church was paid for on Christ’s cross. We pray for a new and deeper understanding of what he went through to make us one body; and we pray that this understanding changes who we are as individuals and as a community, one redeemed sinner at a time (pp. 161-162).
In the chapter on difficult people, she talks about not only people whose personalities rub us the wrong way or who have hurt us, but also those going through hard trials – not that they are difficult, but because we find it difficult to know what to say or how to comfort them. A few lines from that chapter were instructive to me:
Part of the reason I struggle to be around people who suffer is because I have to come to grips with my own inability to make everything better. I hate to see that I am actually not the Holy Spirit and I can’t bring them the comfort they need. I hate that I say the wrong things at times and I end up hurting more than helping. But I believe it is in embracing that very weakness that the Holy Spirit has more room to work. The more I try to make it better, the more I try to come up with the perfect verse, the more I am ultimately in the way. When I relinquish my desire to be the Savior and just grieve with my friends, the Holy Spirit does some pretty amazing work (p. 189).
While I found this book immensely helpful in many ways, I’m not eager to go out and buy everything Thompson has ever written. The truth grabbed me: for the most part, the writing did not. I haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing why, but it could have been a lot tighter and less wordy in places (and I realize I have no room to talk there. 🙂 ) There was a lot of repetition. Plus I think she went way too far in her speculations in some biblical situations that the Bible doesn’t spell out, like the ways in which Jesus was tempted, the situation between Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement, what was going on in Mary’s mind the time she and her other children tried to get in and see Jesus, and instead of instructing them to be admitted or going to the door, He told those He was teaching that whoever does His will is is family. Saying, “Mary might have thought or reacted…” in a particular way is one thing. Saying Mary did think and feel in ways that the Scripture doesn’t say or even indicate she did is dangerous (Thompson postulates that Mary doubted or forgot who Jesus was for a time). This kind of thing keeps me from fulling trusting Thompson’s handling of Scripture, but she seems better in exegesis and application than in speculation. On the other hand, speculation and imagination do serve her well in some areas where she doesn’t go too far, such as picturing Jesus working as a carpenter and encountering the same kind of people we encounter in the workplace.
I found much more that I did like in the book than I didn’t like, and I feel I could recommend it with a caution about those sections.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)