The power of Scripture to convict and transform is real. On an early spring morning decades ago, the sun barely peeking above the horizon, birds chirping melodiously outside my window, piercing the silence, I was slain by Paul’s claim in I Corinthians 15:10.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
The verse brought me to my knees. My heart was penetrated and my spirit was lifted because I heard with all my being that God’s grace to me would not be without effect—that God’s gift of grace could profoundly shape me until Jesus comes. I had received God’s message of grace as a young child when I accepted Christ as Savior, but the power of that promise fell afresh on me in that moment of quiet time with God.
Like Paul, our posture must be that of humility as we face ourselves daily in the mirror and acknowledge that we are sinners saved by grace. Paul called himself the foremost sinner (I Timothy 1:15) and the least of the apostles (I Corinthians 15:9) because of his active role in the persecution of the church before his life changing encounter with God. So Paul toiled mightily and sacrificially in the building of the early church, not to demonstrate he was worthy of God’s mercy, but out of the fullness of the grace he had received. Paul’s response to God’s call and his unwavering commitment to ministry was fueled by the impact of God’s grace on his life. Paul’s example illuminates the benefit and joy of hard work and God’s amazing grace. God is calling Christian leaders to hard work in this stressful season of COVID, racial unrest, political turmoil, and economic headwinds, and in spite of the strains of the nation’s circumstances, to rely on His grace for the journey ahead.
In my role as Head of School, I receive many warm and fuzzy notes of affirmation that brighten my day, but the dreaded cold and prickly ones land on my desk as well. This year I have noted a strong correlation between the external stresses impacting families and the girth of my cold and prickly file—the more widespread the stress, the thicker the file. The turbulence of the past year has been a powder keg of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and anger. Add to that, the Christian community is also experiencing significant tension. We disagree on what should be the church’s response to systemic racism and by extension, the Christian school’s response. One camp declares that a focus on intentional actions, courageous conversations, and assessment of systems, structures, and experiences around race is critical and the other camp views this as antithetical to a focus on preaching the Gospel of salvation through Jesus, and the unity we have in Christ. Sadly, divides are deepening, stubborn polarization persists, and painful suffering has taken up residence in our country, so I surmise that your files are likely more dense as well.
Like Paul, I encourage you to work hard where God has called you to make an eternal effect, forHis glory,despite the challenges. If you’re already working hard, work harder, not because you don’t care about the challenges, but because there are opportunities you care more about. Furthermore, remember the work God has called you to should never be about you, nor measured solely by how you feel. At times you will feel energized and invincible but more times than not, you will need superhuman strength that only comes from God (recall Paul’s hardships and God’s grace that sustained him). Take heart in knowing that God’s work in and through you is not in vain. That is, it is not devoid of lifegiving value. It is your strong anchor and foundation of Truth and the fuel that will propel you forward to fulfill God’s petition for your faithful service.
Where would we be without the grace of God for salvation but also for favor and help? All that we have and accomplish is because of the generosity of a great God who created and loves us. Paul’s powerful witness and testimony of faith and that of generations of Christ followers are the embodiment of God’s grace. An authentic expression of joy instead of sadness, hope instead of despair, and peace instead of anxiety is due to God’s grace. The strides made in our personal faith formation and spiritual disciplines are because of God’s grace. We must diligently point to the fullness of God’s grace as the source of our successes and the root of all that we are lest we exalt ourselves, forget from whence cometh our help (Psalm 121:2), and render God’s grace ineffectual.
I don’t know about you, but with fewer years ahead of me than behind, I strive to embrace who I am, imperfect, but designed and loved by the Master Potter. I want the visible through lines of my life to proclaim the grace of God in all things. I want to be faithful in seeking God’s wisdom and being attentive to His voice and I want to be found working fervently in doing God’s eternal work. In this season of challenge, I pray that the effect of God’s grace in your life will give you strength and bear much fruit.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. I Corinthians 15:58
Blessings and peace,
Rev. Dr. Donna Harris
Note: This article was originally published in May 2021.