This week a student dropped a Thank You card by my office.
I’ll live on that for a month!
It was an act of grace by a young person more mature than her years. Students have no idea how much such a gesture means to a teacher. Expressing gratitude is an act as graceful as a tree swaying in the wind or an athlete swooping in to catch a ball.
Most readers will know the more usual New Testament concept of grace, the unmerited favor granted so continually by God to us: We have been saved “by grace through faith,” Paul reminds us, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Have you ever considered, another use of the term grace, one that refers to the manner in which we treat each other?
Giving generously to those in need is an “act of grace” (2 Corinthians 8:6,7, the same word as God’s grace, from charis). In fact, Paul suggests, we should graciously excel in “faith,” “knowledge,” “love,” and in the way we give to others. When you think about it, it is possible to give to others in an ungracious manner, a means of doing the right thing (being generous) in the wrong way (flippantly, unkindly). “Here’s the food you asked for, you lazy so-and-so!” It is possible to not say these precise words yet indicate it in our manner. That would be an example of being ungracious.
Think how words can be used with grace: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Words that build “others up” are in contrast with cutting, hurtful remarks. Words that “fit the occasion” suggest speaking the right thing at the right time. Words that “give grace to those who hear” brings to mind words that are loving, that teach, that encourage. That is what it means to be graceful with our words!
“Let your speech always be gracious,” we are urged, “seasoned with salt,” (Colossians 4:6). In ancient times salt was used to preserve meat or fish. So can our gracious words preserve vulnerable hearts, if we will let them.
What impressed Jesus’ skeptical townsmen most when he returned to Nazareth? They “marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22). Jesus was a man characterized not only by grace toward sinners, but gracefulness in the way he handled people and they way he expressed his words.
May I, gracefully, make some suggestions?
* It’s so simple: Say please and thank you.
* Graciously greet someone who is not in your demographic group, who is not your close friend. Greet a visitor to church, a child, or an old person.
* Thank those who lead (or serve) with so little gratitude expressed (preachers, elders, parents, teachers).
* For those in leadership, think how much an encouraging word from you might be to those you lead – students, church members, parents. Students and church members wither or flourish according to our gracious leadership.
* If you must say something critical, couch it in terms of loving support. “Getting things off your chest” is not “truth telling,” its as graceful as a wounded buffalo!
Being gracious is how we behave when we have been the beneficiaries of God’s great grace.