You know what it means to Pay it Forward, right? It’s an idea that seems to have gained it’s footing most recently due mostly to the movie by the same name, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment. But the idea has been recognized and written about much earlier than 2000 when the movie came out.
Maybe you’ve even been the benefit of such an act of kindness. It’s become a rather popular event particularly when in line for coffee at the Starbucks drive-thru. The person at the window pays for the coffee of the person behind them. This often leads to the recipient paying for the car behind them, and the car behind them, and so on until someone finally just accepts the gift and breaks the chain of giving. Well, I say popular, but I’ve never been a recipient nor participant, though it seems many of my coffee-drinking, Starbucks-loving Facebook friends have.
Okay, I’m putting down the bitter cup.
Anyhow, the idea is that you don’t repay someone for something they’ve done for you, but instead pay it forward to benefit someone you potentially have never met. It’s quite possibly the closest version to grace I’ve seen illustrated in Hollywood film.
But here’s the problem with the current demonstration in the Starbucks’ line: that’s only one venue. While it’s no small thing to pay for someone else’s coffee, someone you don’t know, the demonstration of grace typically ends there without any follow through. This is, without a doubt, a fantastic demonstration of generosity and kindness. And grace is definitely that, but it is not only that.
That’s not how grace is designed to work. It isn’t meant to be something we just turn on when we’re in line buying coffee. And it isn’t even meant to be exclusively monetary. Grace isn’t this switch we just flip on or off.
Grace ought to be continual. It out to be a regular part of our lives. We are gripped by it and then held in that grip. And it isn’t something that is motivated only by ourselves. If grace were something that I initiated, then it most certainly would have limits.
It would be limited because of my own limitations and resources. I just don’t have all that much that I can pass on. Now, I’m not making First World, Western Culture excuses—I realize how much wealth I really have when compared to the global situation. I’m referring to my spiritual, emotional, and social capabilities. I’m an introvert by nature and every conversation—including the ones with my own wife—tend to wipe me out. That is only one example. But I think it’s clear—I am limited. We are all limited.
But I’m not only limited by my means and resources; I’m limited in my intentions and desires, too. Simply put, I just don’t care enough. That sounds harsh, but it’s the harsh reality and a confession. I can be fairly selfish and stingy. I would intentionally limit what I gave freely. Because, let’s be honest, grace might be free for you to receive, but it will definitely cost me to offer it.
Grace is always costly.
Those limitations are the evidence that we cannot be the source of grace. All of our efforts, resources and inclinations towards some demonstration of grace are merely muddy puddles in comparison to the well of grace.
Now, you might say that we ought to give beyond our limits, to give sacrificially. You may say that I ought to be moving to a place where my selfishness and stinginess are decreasing. And you would certainly be right. But where do those ideas come from? Never mind that question. Where does the impetus for that kind of change come from?
I tell you, we are not able to come to that place alone.
We have to be carried there.
And when we are brought there we all at once recognize that grace is very much like a well where clean and cool water can be drawn. We don’t own the well, we didn’t dig it, but we keep coming back to it to draw for ourselves as well as for others. We carry it away in pitchers and flasks and offer it to whomever we encounter because there is more and it is free and it refreshes us from our dryness and thirst. It satisfies more deeply than any other thing. It is not ours to control nor to sell. We are offered it freely, but know that it must have cost greatly for the one who dug and maintains the well.
We learn that this well was dug from the foundations of the world so that we could draw so deeply.
Grace does not begin with us. And it does not end with us. We were never meant to be it’s sole recipients. Nor were we ever to pretend as those all these good things we are so generous (or stingy) about ever originated with us. His grace is so deep that it satisfies and sustains us and we overflow into the lives of those around.
The grace we experience comes to us from the triune God Himself. We receive it abundantly through the work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.
He gives freely.
We are able to be generous, kind and compassionate, not because we have accomplished this ourselves, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
He drank the bitter cup—the cup of God’s wrath—that His mercy and grace could be poured out on us.
His grace is a well, sufficient for every need—not ours alone and we must draw and drink deeply and invite others to do the same.