“There but for the Grace of God go I.”
Have you ever heard this said? Usually said under one’s breath while witnessing another’s suffering, this saying makes me wonder: What does it really mean?
Collins Dictionary attempts an explanation like this: “If you are talking about someone who is in a bad situation…you mean that you are lucky not to be in the same situation as them and you feel sympathy for them.”
Okay. Alrighty. But I’m going to argue a little for a deeper meaning. If you know me like my family does, it’s not surprising when I get my debate on, especially over things our culture believes are true about God but have little Biblical basis. That, and who gets the remote control. Yah…either of those.
First of all, luck or chance have no bearing on grace. If I have any good in my life, it is straight out of the hand of God. And if I do have a struggle in my life, even when it is caused by my own hand, God surely will use it for my good. It is God’s specialty, taking a tragedy and turning it into a triumph!
Here’s how I know this is true:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
Romans 8:28 (NLT)
Most importantly, though, their definition of this saying skips right over the true meaning and origin of grace. I am, of course, talking about the grace each of us is offered from Christ’s gift on the cross. As Compellingtruth.org puts it, grace is, “His benevolence to the undeserving.”
The Apostle Paul puts it like this:
“God saved you by his grace when you believed.
And you can’t take credit for this;
it is a gift from God.”
Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)
I don’t use the word “undeserving“ to spread guilt over us, friends, but to remind myself that there is nothing I have done or can do to earn this gift; this liberation from my brokenness is undeserved. Grace comes from what Christ did. Best of all, it comes right when I need it the most and deserve it the least.
“When we were unable to help ourselves, at the right time, Christ died for us, although we were living against God. Very few people will die to save the life of someone else. Although perhaps for a good person someone might possibly die. But God shows his great love for us in this way: Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”
Romans 5:6-8 (NCV)
There is another part of Grace we need to think on.
Grace is designed to flow. It flows into us to save us from our own brokenness, flows through us to change us, and then flows out of us to bless others.
Stephanie Menglehart, writer and church-planter, puts it like this: “The more we understand the depths of love and forgiveness—the grace—that Jesus has bestowed on us, the more we will be able to freely give and rely on that grace in our daily lives.”
She reminds us that with our pockets full of grace, we can let it pour over in compassion for the brokenness of others. Let empathy and action become primary, replacing the knee-jerk reaction of condemnation and judgement. With God’s grace in me, I recognize that without God I would be in the same place as they are, struggling to be free, searching for a way out of the pit I have fallen into, and feeling hopeless.
“There but for the Grace of God go I” now becomes a statement of gratitude and hope-full-ness! Without the God-given grace Jesus bought me, I am there in that pit, unable to dig myself out. Only by taking the hand of God can I climb out; and not just once, but every time I need it.
Years ago I suffered a breakdown. I can call it that now, but then I just called it “The Great Sadness.” As I dealt with the hurts from my past, all piled up and putrefying, I realized that the way I had understood God up until then would not be enough to see me through and out of the ugly pit of The Great Sadness.
I know now that I was looking for God; but when I saw Him, I saw Him without this grace in place. I saw my condemnation and guilt without seeing the hand of God extended, full of hope and mercy!
This new understanding of grace and God changed EVERYTHING! Knowing this kind of love, free and generous, let me lean into God’s grace and strength.
I remember the moment I first did this. I was sitting on my couch, crying and hopeless. A dish towel over my shoulder to catch the flow, I closed my eyes and finally, finally surrendered.
“God, please…just come and hold me!”
I leaned in, picturing myself in God’s arms. Enveloped in His grace, I actually felt his arms around me! He just held me while I cried. Trust grew from there. Grace started the healing and continues to heal me today.
My hope is that the next time you hear someone say, “There but for the Grace of God go I,” use it as a reminder. God is there, pouring out His grace on you! Let it flow in, through, and out of you so it is passed on to those in need!
Now, with your pockets full of grace and the love of a gracious God all piled up on your heart, spread it to others. You and I have been given freely…so freely we can give.