Strengthened By Grace
Tuesday, February 4 2020
I don’t remember ever seeing or reading it before.
I’m sure I had. I mean, I’ve read the whole book of Hebrews in the New Testament many times over the past years. So I obviously read this particular verse as well. But I can’t remember it – and I can’t remember being impacted by it as I was on the first day of this new year 2020.
Maybe it’s because it doesn’t stand on its own – its hidden smackdab in the middle of a longer verse dealing with misleading “diverse and strange teachings” and unprofitable devotion to “foods”.
“Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings,
for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace,
not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.”
“... for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace...”: that’s the part of the verse that struck me as I read it on January 1.
What a wonderful word to begin the new year, I thought.
“For it is good”: that phrase presumes that there are other things, perhaps many, that are not good, that are in fact bad. As the beginning and the end of the verse explain, being led astray by different and unfamiliar doctrines and following unprofitable food regulations are just two examples of what is “not good”.
“For the heart”: as opposed to new and tantalizing teachings that entice the mind, or dietary rules and restrictions that affect the body. Here the author of the letter is encouraging the Hebrew Christians to focus on the heart, and what is “good” for the heart.
“To be strengthened”: I love that expression and that image! A heart that is strengthened – a heart that is strong. Because my heart is so often anything but strengthened and strong. Often my heart is weak and frail, broken, aching, confused, double-minded, arrogant, selfish, complaining, judgmental, or any number of other things. But strengthened? Strong? Healthy and flourishing? Robust and resilient? Steadfast? Dynamic? Courageous?
“By grace”: and there is the key. It is good for the heart to be strengthened, yes – but not by just anything or anyone. Listening to and following diverse and strange teachings do not strengthen one’s heart. Devotion to food regulations and restrictions does not strengthen one’s heart. We are not strengthened in our inner beings by adhering or not adhering to a long list of rules and laws. We are strengthened in our hearts “by grace”, and by grace alone. Grace is God’s unmerited favour and goodness given to those of us who have no claim on it. Grace is a sheer gift from the all-loving and all-forgiving heavenly Divinity.
And so, as I read these words on the first day of this new year – “... for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace ...” – I made it my first prayer of 2020.
“Lord God, You say that it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace. May that be my focus this year: my heart – what is good for my heart – doing, or not doing, whatever it takes to strengthen my heart – allowing Your grace, Your favour and goodness, to make my heart strong. Day by day. Moment by moment. So that, at the end of 2020, I can look back on the year and declare with thanks that my heart was indeed fortified and deepened by Your priceless grace! Amen.”
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