Each spring, I referee Upward Basketball. Who wouldn’t want to give up their Saturdays to have coaches, parents, spectators, and players yell at you? And it’s done for the lovely sum of free! Most referees have no connection with the players, we just love giving the kids an opportunity to play. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a granddaughter playing this year, but I call her out daily, so doing it on the court is no problem.)
Most of what referees hear on the court is, “That’s a foul”, “That’s not fair”, or “Come on ref, get with it, get in the game!” Can’t say as I’ve ever heard a cheer for us doing a good job. Sometimes we think we are doing a good job when the coaches are equally angry at us. We just try to walk off the court feeling we have done our best.
Do we miss some infractions? Sure, we’re only human. There are some infractions we deliberately choose not to call. Why? We referee from a position of grace. At their skill level, if we called every infraction a player made, there would be little actual playing time. We choose to give them some grace so that they can learn the important aspects of participation, teamwork, basketball skills and a sense of fair play. When we do call an infraction, we make it a teachable moment to show them how to do things correctly. That’s refereeing by grace.
Julia H. Johnston penned these words,
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!
Often the grace we extend far exceeds the player’s skill (or lack thereof); we referee by grace because we love the players and the game. We want to see them grow and excel; therefore we give them grace.
The Bible says, “The LORD passed before him (Moses) and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Exodus 34:6, ESV, emphasis added). Grace is God’s patience with us and His giving us the benefit of something good even though it is not earned or deserved. God extends us grace because, no matter how hard we try, we could never be good enough for God on our own. We could never “perfectly and faultlessly” play His game by His rules. Giving grace when we fail is God’s nature. Why do we give “grace” as a referee? We do it with a view of who the player is and who they can become as a person. Referees extend grace to players because, in their excitement and enthusiasm, they try to play beyond their current skill level. Because of that, they “mess up” and commit an infraction. We hope that refereeing by grace will help them develop better skills as they continue to play (with guidance about the rules). God extends His grace to us in the same way, because of His great love and mercy. He gives us grace with the sight of what we can become, not just what we have done.
As Julia Johnston pointed out, God’s grace is so much greater than our sin. Grace is a free gift of God. It is much greater than we could ever comprehend! He knows everything about me and yet still grants me grace far and above that which I deserve! Grace is God’s unfathomable gift of love, favor, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness granted because of His love and goodness and not because we deserve it. He sees us in ways we could never comprehend or imagine.
I cannot understand God’s abundant grace but am so grateful for it as I continue to struggle through life.
For a moment, think about God’s grace. How do you feel when you think about His grace in your life, even when you “mess up” or make mistakes? We give Upward players grace because they are often trying to play above their skill level. God gives us His grace even though He knows we could never be what He desires or created us to be. We very often play above our spiritual skill level, yet God gives us grace even in our failures and mistakes. He is not purely overlooking what we have done but is looking to what we can become.
It is impossible to understand how much our sin and disobedience breaks the heart of God. He has such high hopes and desires for us, and we fall so far short of them. That must break His heart. Yet despite that, He pours out His abundant grace on us.
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord!
There’s something else we must understand about God’s abundant grace. He doesn’t give us His grace just so that we can just be a recipient of it; He gives us His grace so that we can be a conduit of it as well. He expects us to give grace to others just as He gives grace to us, freely and even when undeserved. Perhaps the most difficult part of life is giving grace to someone who has hurt you deeply. If I’m honest, this is impossible for me to do on my own. I can only give others grace because of the grace God has already given me.
Is it humanly possible to give grace when we are hurt? It is probably not our first response or tendency. Even when we know we should give grace we tend to strike out when we are hurt. It’s just part of our human weakness. But God helps there as well.
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most,” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT).
Jesus Christ is the grace-filled provision and ultimate expression of God’s passionate desire to save us from ourselves. Sin holds each of us captive before salvation. After receiving God’s grace-filled gift of salvation, sin no longer has a death grip on us, unless we choose to let it. We can give grace to others because our Gracious Savior lives within us and is changing our broken human heart to one of love, mercy, and grace.
The Apostle Paul wrote about the life struggle he had. A struggle he was only able to overcome through God’s strength, not his.
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it (talking about his thorn in the flesh or his great weakness) away. Each time he (God) said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me,” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, NLT emphasis added).
The only way to experience God’s abundant grace and to be able to give grace to those who hurt us is to have a personal and growing relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You can’t do it on your own, but God can do it through you. If you have never taken the step of asking God to forgive you and for Jesus to pay the price for your sin, there is no better time to do that than now. He’s waiting for you to take the first step toward Him. Experience His grace so you can give it to others. Without Him, it would be impossible.