The Contours of Grace

Cracked clay. Red earth that stained my feet. Sweat that stung my eyes. These are my earliest and most formative memories of childhood. The Australian outback, far from the European bustle of shopping centres and public pools, was the best playground a young boy could wish for. Mostly dry riverbeds became epic quests with unknown treasures beckoning from around the next bend. Deeply rutted banks tumbled down into forgotten paths where I could trace the footsteps of ancient people more myth than memory. Yet the river did not stay safe all the year through, sometimes it was a frightening torrent of rage carving an ever changing scar into the land. Stretching beyond the horizon, the river traversed the landscape as it traced a path through the contours of a land I called home.

There are two seasons in the Gulf Country. The dry season is as arid as it sounds. Parched and yearning, the land longs for rain as it turns in on itself and looks for solace in solitude. Deep furrows in the dirt are postcards of a previous season yet signposts of what is to come. Then comes ‘The Wet’. Faster than the land can drink, wave after wave of monsoonal troughs sweep across the plains. Rivers long dormant erupt into life, barren shelves of earth and stone sprout rich green and vibrant hues of blossom. Short-lived streams race toward swollen rivers, emptying themselves of all their vigour. 

As the rains fall, life is re-born. This was the great cycle of my childhood, and the great metaphor of life as a disciple of Jesus.

As the rains fall, life is re-born. This was the great cycle of my childhood, and the great metaphor of life as a disciple of Jesus.

Before I knew grace, sin had wrecked havoc on my soul. The wounds in unseen places left scars on the surface of my life, shaping the contours of my existence. Turned in on myself, parched and barren, thirsty for some forgotten memory of a lush garden; I shook my fist at an empty sky and cursed God with a swollen tongue.

This is how I read Paul at the close of Romans 7, sin had had its way—had ravaged and dried-out his spiritual life.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Dry seasons are long and feel as though they will never be broken. But the rains will come.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Yes, sin has left its mark on you, brother. I know the disappointment you feel, sister. The torment of your heart is not just your imagination. But where sin has left furrows, grace will fill them up. Streams of grace flow in the contours sin has carved. Your failure has cut a path that Jesus can sow the seed of joy in. Your sorrow has shriveled trees that will one day flower and fruit for the joy and blessing of others.

Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  (Romans 5:20)

Sin has increased, I know. But dear friend, grace abounds even more!

I remember those first rains to sweep across from the northern horizon. Dark clouds, lit from within by stabbing forks of light, carried with them wave upon wave of driving rain. Storm upon storm, day after day, until just a few short weeks later my playground was almost unrecognisable. The Wet Season had arrived. 

The rain that comes in its season is a defining part of the landscape, it shapes the life that ebbs and flows in these northern lands. So it is with the grace that comes through Christ. Jesus has defined the landscape of our existence. His grace has transformed us. Yet even here ‘grace’ continues to do its work, for grace was not only poured out once, in God’s unmerited favour at the Cross, but as the grave could not hold Jesus, nor could it hold grace. As our eyes turn to the building clouds on the horizon knowing that rain will soon fall, we fix our eyes on Jesus still today knowing that there is present grace, ever fresh to meet us in our daily troubles.

Grace has arrived. Wave upon wave of it washes over the barren places distorted by sin. Pure and clean, the unmerited favour of God has been poured out in Christ for us.

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  (John 1:16)

Your life is no longer a picture of your sin, all that remains are the contours of grace.

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