Will you extend the rod of shame or the branch of grace?
“Holy Spirit, help me extend grace to her.”
That was my prayer one morning after the girl I was supposed to meet with cancelled. Again.
We were supposed to connect on campus and talk with students on campus about Jesus together and I was disappointed that she cancelled. I knew she was cancelling because she mismanaged her time that week, and now I was being affected by it.
It was the end of a long week, and that morning I woke up tired and overwhelmed, my mind swirling with all the tasks on my list of things to do. It didn’t help that instead of stopping to spend time reading my Bible or praying, I responded by texting her, eagerly letting her know that I knew exactly why she was cancelling.
She was shamed and her feelings were hurt. Instead of being compassionate, I rubbed it in her face, showing her that I knew she had made a mistake that week.
Wow. A bad way to start a day, right?
The sad thing is, most of the time my days start like this. Instead of those harmonious mornings, cue the Disney music with birds chirping, there’s a cloud over my head and sin is spewing everywhere.
Does this ever happen to you?
“I should serve her instead?!”
That day, God extended his grace to me in powerful ways.
It turns out I had over-packed my schedule and I desperately needed that hour to rest and read my Bible. God worked all those details together, as he knew how my day would unfold.
Once I had time to pray and reflect, I realized how poorly I had acted. Only the week before, it was I who had cancelled on her, because of how I had mismanaged my time. Instead of getting frustrated with me, she was gracious and understanding.
I realized how God was asking me to extend grace to her for making the same mistake I had.
In Galatians 5:13-14, Paul writes,
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Through love serve one another.
This means extending grace to others when they mess up.
In that moment when you’re filled with frustration, pride, anger, bitterness, or stubbornness, it feels like every fiber of your being is fighting against your will to love and forgive.
In fact, the Christian life often feels like an internal war. Like an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, my heart is pulled back and forth on how I should act in each moment. It’s exhausting and painful—especially when I make mistakes and do the wrong thing. I end up feeling ashamed and disappointed in myself.
Jesus knew we would need help to follow his commandments and so he promised,
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)
Jesus promised his disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit, who would dwell inside them and help them live the Christian life!
In Galatians 5:16 Paul goes on to say,
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
This is exactly the power that we need in those moments when our selfish and sin-inducing nature takes over.
The Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us who believe and trust in Jesus, helping us to live the Christian life as we walk with him. When we allow him to fill us, like a jar with water, his desires consume us and change us from the inside out.
What does walking in the Spirit look like?
Practically, walking by the power of the Holy Spirit looks like surrendering my desires in each moment and asking for God’s help to fulfill his desires in and through me.
Instead of getting angry at the Starbucks barista for messing up my drink, I need to rely on God’s help to consider others before myself, extend forgiveness and patiently wait for her to try again. When my friend earns a higher grade than me, even when I did more work on an assignment, I need to let go of my bitterness and rely on the Spirit’s help to share in his excitement.
The desires of my flesh that lead to sin are a byproduct of who I am, a broken person living in a broken world, but Christ has made and is making me into a new creation.
“The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
As a new creation, I am given new desires and the Holy Spirit to aid me in that daily, moment by moment struggle against my old nature.
God gives us commandments to live by, but he doesn’t leave us on our own, hoping we will have enough strength to get it right. He has given us his Holy Spirit to help us follow him faithfully.
Thank God that he has made you new (2 Corinthians 5:17) and given you a new heart with new desires.
Be quick to confess sin to God and others (1 John 1:7-9). Thank him for his forgiveness and pray that he would fill you with the Holy Spirit in each moment.
Just as we need grace when we sin against God and others, and need God to love and forgive us, so we are called to treat others the same way (Ephesians 4:2).
In what situation do you need the Holy Spirit to take control?
Surrender to him and walk in him. Wait and see how God will change your heart and work through you!