Had to share this moving piece from Betsy Childs of Ravi Zacharias ministries, published back in 2007--and still in my mind. --Janel
I started taking ballet lessons when I was four years old. I loved it. Not only did I get to wear a leotard, I got to dance around the room with a pastel-colored scarf. Then I turned five and moved up to the next class. In that class, they made us stretch. I hated it. My visions of being a ballerina did not include hard work and pain, so I quit.
I was reminded of my brief stint in the world of dance when I recently attended a performance of the Atlanta ballet. Watching the members of this professional dance company brought home to me just how wrong my childhood conception of ballet was. Those dancers had strong muscles, and although they made it look easy, it was clear that those leaps and turns were intensely athletic and were the result of years of hard work.
The thing that appealed to me about ballet was its gracefulness. I made the common mistake of believing that because gracefulness looks easy, that it is easy. In fact, it takes pain and perseverance to get to the point where exertion appears effortless.
I suspect that what is true of gracefulness may also be true of grace. Because we know that grace is free, we expect it to be easy. But "free" and "easy" are not synonyms. We do nothing to earn God's grace; grace, by definition, cannot be deserved. But that does not mean that the experience of grace is easy or without pain. The apostle Paul writes, "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" (1 Corinthians 15:10).
There is an important difference in the idea of working for grace (a contradiction in terms) and the working out of grace in our lives. As the grace of God worked in the life of Paul, it felt like very hard work to him. The hard work was not the grounds of the grace; it was the effect.
Have you ever met someone who was so mature in the faith that they made it look easy? Trusting God appears to be second nature to them, and their instinctual response to temptation is to walk the other way. I expect that if you were to question them, however, you would find that in the beginning it was not any easier for them than it would be for any one of us. Stretching muscles you aren't accustomed to using hurts.
If you have prayed for God's grace in your life, do not expect obedience to become effortless. That is not usually the way God answers this prayer. Rather, He provides the strength so that you can make the effort and bear up under the trials that sanctify us. James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).
The testing of our faith is like the exercise of our muscles. Though it is painful, the end result is faith that is strong enough to persevere. The ballerina's graceful dance is the end result of grueling practices that the audience never sees. But she considers it worth it. May we likewise set our sights on the gracefulness that will be ours as God works his grace in us.