Tomorrow at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary, we’re going to sing Grace Like Rain – and I want to challenge you to spend a little time reflecting on the lyrics of this popular worship song.
Not the verses so much, though. Christian recording artist Todd Agnew and co-writer Chris Collins borrowed these stanzas from John Newton’s überhymn, Amazing Grace – and I doubt there’s much that hasn’t been said about these iconic lyrics.
No, I want us to focus on the chorus for this tune, released as the title track on Agnew’s debut album in 2003:
Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me
Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away – washed away
† † †
When I think about rain, a couple of things come to mind:
1. Rain falls completely outside of human influence. You don’t have to earn rain. In fact, you can’t earn it. There’s nothing we can do to make rain start (which is frustrating, if you’re a farmer), and there’s nothing we can do to make it stop (which is frustrating, if you’re a camper).
2. When it rains, everything gets wet except those things that are under the protection of barriers that humans have built to keep things dry. Roofs. Awnings. Tents. Umbrellas. Raincoats.
Aside from a few exceptions (caves, most obviously), all of the barriers that keep rain away are man-made.
And when it comes to actual rain, these barriers are good things, without question.
I like that my roof keeps my family and me from getting wet during a storm. It’s nice to have a tarp to keep our wood dry when we go camping. (I’m not totally sold on umbrellas, though. Having a sharp-ended fold-out contraption you have to carry, that’s prone to breaking and blowing away in the wind, seems pretty ridiculous when there’s a perfectly good raincoat in the closet next to it. But I digress…)
But when we think of grace like rain, the roofs and raincoats that keep us dry are not tools that protect us, they’re barriers that prevent us from receiving and participating in the grace that God lavishly pours out on His creation.
And as it is with physical roofs and raincoats, the spiritual ‘shelters’ that keep the grace rain at bay are 100% man-made.
The silver lining on this raincloud (or maybe the rain barrel that’s half full in this story) is that because these barriers are all products of human design and construction, they’re only barriers for as long as we allow them to be barriers. All we need to do is decide to do is fold up the raincoat; to step out from under the awning – and the rain of grace is instantly ours for the receiving.
Note that I said ‘receiving’, not ‘taking’.
The grace of God is not something we can put in bottles and take back inside our shelters. (And there’s no need to, because the rain of grace never stops falling.) Grace is good, but it’s wild – and we can’t tame it. If we’re going to let it soak into and saturate us permanently, we need to step out of our man-made ‘shelters’ and go where the rain is falling – and stay there.
Staying there often seems to be the hard part, doesn’t it? It’s easy to decide to cast aside the umbrellas of bad habits, shame, resentment, lies we believe about ourselves and even misplaced preferences around career, family, wealth/debt and a host of other challenges – but it’s a lot harder to implement that decision and stick to it.
It’s tough to know how, for one thing. Habits are hard to break.
But more importantly, we’re so accustomed to thinking of these barriers as shelters, that when we step out into the grace deluge, we quite accurately feel exposed – and find it hard to recognize this exposure as a good thing. It feels much more safe and familiar to be (seemingly) protected and in control of our surroundings, under our ramshackle huts and tarps.
So after a few drops of the grace rain have begun to refresh us, we often decide (or default) to go back inside and live life subject to our own agendas and priorities. Sheltered from – and deprived of – the rain of grace.
Most distressingly, the God of Rain (and everything else) is a respectful God. If we choose the shelter we’ve constructed over the deluge we’re made for, He honors that choice.
The silver lining on the silver lining, however, is that every time we fail to stay out in the rain, we get another chance to try again.
And once again, all our stains are washed away. Washed away.
So what are the roofs and raincoats that are preventing you from getting (and staying) soaked by the grace of God? Are you prepared to fold them up and set them aside – and leave them there?
Peace be with you.