Am I just a total nerd, or does anyone else feel like they’re grieving the loss of a good friend when they finish a good book? Seriously, I find that I take my dear sweet time savoring each chapter because I want to extend the joy of reading it for as long as I possibly can. Kid you not, I avoided the last chapter of the book I just finished for a good two weeks because I didn’t want it to end. It’s called To Live is Christ and it follows Paul through Acts to glean encouragement from his life and ministry for our own journeys with Christ.
I would never be so presumptuous as to place myself anywhere near the faithfulness and service of Paul… but there is one aspect of his life that resonates deeply with me these days. Paul was a wandering soul, never quite settled- he traveled from city to city (aka church to church) leaving pieces of his heart along the trail. My past year has been a similar journey- I’ve attended and served at three churches, each one leaving its mark on my heart… mostly attributed to the students I have had the privilege to share life and faith with along the way. For one church it was a long season, for another it was brief, but a piece of my heart was left with each and I have not forgotten them even though life has moved on.
Here’s what I love and am encouraged by with Paul. Though far away, he stayed connected to those he had built relationships with… and this was long before text messaging and facebook! In between visits he would write letters encouraging them, challenging them, and continually pointing them towards Jesus. Thirteen of his letters are included in the New Testament & each and every one of them begins with the same greeting- “grace and peace to you.” Why is this significant? Because before he dives in with what’s going on in life, what they’re learning, what they’re struggling with… he brings them back to the foundational fact that in Jesus there is grace and there is peace. Everything else he could possibly say beyond that stems from these precious gifts of God.
These words- grace and peace- have become somewhat cliche and watered down over the years. At their core, though, these words represent something deeply profound that we can’t fully understand apart from Christ. Grace was a word used to describe a favor done without any sort of expectation of getting something in return. The only relationship we can honestly experience this in is with our God. Peace denoted a state of untroubled, undisturbed well-being. Again, we can only truly experience this through resting in our God.
So to anyone who may read this… grace and peace to you… in their truest sense…
And to my former students, and lifelong brothers & sisters in Christ… thank you for allowing me into your life and know that I, like Paul, thank God for you every day.