from the spring/summer 2016 issue of Reflections magazine.
To read this article in PDF format Forgiven and Empowered
by the Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge
The Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer (page 858) defines grace as:
“God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved;
by grace God
forgives our sins,
enlightens our minds,
stirs our hearts,
and strengthens our wills.”
Presumably, all of this forgiving, enlightening, stirring, and strengthening is to help us be more fully formed as disciples of Christ, so that we can, in the words of James, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only (1.22).
Many of our Sunday Collects in the Prayer Book have us praying for grace. For example, in Proper 21, we pray for “the fullness of (God’s) grace”; and in Proper 23, we pray that God’s “grace may always precede and follow us” (both can be found on page 234).
These Collects then continue their petitions by stating that there is a purpose for asking for a full measure of God’s grace: namely that we “may become partakers of (God’s) heavenly treasure” (Proper 21), and that we “may continually be given to good works” (Proper 23).
This got me to thinking about what a life full of God’s grace might look like.
If I am a follower of Jesus who is God’s ultimate vessel of grace, I should do everything possible to pattern my life after Jesus’ example. His life, ministry, death, and resurrection are the very definition of the word grace, and so if I am praying for “the fullness of God’s grace” and I want this grace to “precede and follow me,” I need to think about the things that are important to Christ, care about the things that God cares about, and do the things that the Holy Spirit did and continues to do. I can’t be praying for the fullness of God’s grace unless I am inclined to act with favor towards others, whether they have earned it or whether they deserve it. My grace is supposed to be God’s grace, put into action in my thoughts, words, and deeds.
St. Paul writes that we are to be “imitators of God” (Ephesians 5.1). We will be imitators, even if imperfectly, when we strive for a full measure of God’s grace by acting like Christ. This reminds me of an event in John’s Gospel, when one day some Greeks appear before the disciple Philip and make a simple request, “We would like to see Jesus” (12.21). People are still longing to see Jesus, and it is our privilege and our responsibility to do all in our power to be imitators of God, full of grace, so that they may see Jesus.
Think and care about what God thinks and cares about, and you will see people differently. As a result, you won’t be able to do anything other than “be given to good works” because you’ll understand that the heavenly treasure means loving God with all your heart, mind, and soul; and loving your neighbors as yourself; right here and right now.
The Rt. Rev. Gary Lillibridge is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.
For further reflection
Can you recall a time when God specifically enlightened your mind, stirred your heart, and strengthened your will?
What does it mean to you to be “full of grace?”
To read this entire issue, or to read other articles from this issue, go here.