In 1986, in my living room, alone in the house, I grappled with a powerful call on my life that I knew was beyond anything I was equipped to do.  I wasn’t really regretting my prayer a few months before, “Lord, if you will show me what works, I want to be part of the solution.”  But the Lord had been revealing to me since that prayer the depth and diversity of needs of the people he was calling me to serve.  The more I prayed, the more I met with people, the more I heard their stories, …. then I was all the more overwhelmed with the depth of pain, confusion, raw need—and yet no solutions in sight that I could recognize as God’s provision.

I knew a few things that were true and good that I could do:  I could be present with people wherever they were; I could team up with others who were likewise called to serve; I could tell my story of God’s grace in my life; I could pray with and for the men and women I was coming to know.  So I did what I knew to do.

I enjoyed many conversations over bottomless cups of coffee, taught classes about healthy relationships and God’s purposes for sexuality.  I researched and studied the Bible, poring over familiar passages that had helped me so much.  I scoured medical and psychological journals, attended conferences on relevant topics… looking for what understanding and approaches to healing could be found there that matched God’s heart and mind.  I spoke often of God’s love and desire for relationship with the men and women now coming to our group.. and my own heart and mind were becoming full of love and yearning for them to know peace and fulfillment.

I wasn’t willing to settle for what the world had to offer—had found it inadequate for my own struggles with my sexuality and I wanted for people the same thing the Lord had done for me—complete freedom in Christ, and the freedom from sexual and relational conflicts that came as I grew in Him.  I knew what the Lord had done for me; but I didn’t know how to help others find their own path with Him; I was begging God to show me what to do.

The trajectory of the story of how God answered the prayers from those early months has taken a winding and circuitous route.  A reading of Hinds Feet In High Places, by Hannah Hunard describes my whole life’s journey in Christ very well. Just like the character “Much-Afraid on her spiritual journey as she overcomes many dangers and mounts at last to the High Places,” the Lord took me step by step into and/or out of joyous discoveries and deep sufferings.  I experienced highs and lows emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.  Nothing was wasted.  Through it all, He taught me so much straight from His heart to mine.

For today, at this time, this blog post, I will share just one core principle that I learned and how it became the foundation and approach for the ministry the Lord named Where Grace Abounds.

The Scripture:

After Paul spent two and a half chapters describing the gospel, the fullness of Christ, His power in believers for His great purposes, Paul writes his prayer for the Ephesians:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21)

The Principle Seared On My Heart:

One sentence caught my attention, my heart, and my spirit, as if all at once.  It attached itself to the yearning question I had been asking God.  I knew in that moment that in this sentence, somehow, was an answer I was looking for:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

I asked the Lord, “Does this scripture really mean that it takes being “rooted and established in love” and it takes being “together with all the Lord’s holy people” to have the ability to understand your love?  Does this actually mean that without being ‘rooted and established in love,” and if a person is not “together with the Lord’s people” that they will not even be able to understand your love,” or ever experience “the fullness” of life in You?”

God’s “Yes” didn’t come as a word I could hear, it was rather like a profound relief, a peace and a knowing, that I had found the beginning of a road, a starting point, and an understanding that is still yet, this 33 years later, working its way ever deeper into my heart.  Where Grace Abounds was to be a “rooting and grounding” ministry.  A place where people could be really together, transparently together with others who pursued Christ in spite of, maybe because of, the sin that gripped them so tightly.  And in this way, this experience together in Christ, they are empowered, enabled to understand God’s love.

One final point about the application of this principle.  I have come to understand that as the tagline of the WGA ministry says, “100% Grace, 100% Truth: No Compromise”, Grace has to come first.  It was not a random decision to place Grace first in the sentence.  The board and staff even had a bit of a disagreement over whether Grace or Truth should be first.  We wrestled it out together and came to know that “It has to be Grace; it just has to be!”  If a person has never experienced Grace, then they can’t bear the rest of theTruth.  Grace has to do its work first so that people know that they know that they know who they are in Him, that they belong in the Body of Christ.

But this doesn’t mean Truth takes a back seat to Grace.  May it never be!  Rather it is more like Grace is the first point of Truth—the Truth of the Gospel—that must accomplish its foundational work upon which all the rest of Truth and transformation can be built.

 

Mary Heathman

Mary Heathman

Founding Director

Mary is one of the founders of Where Grace Abounds and served as Executive Director from its inception on July, 1986 through March 31st, 2007.  She speaks and teaches at churches and conferences across the country. She has also served on several boards of non-profit organizations, is a conference speaker on a variety of topics that include: Intimacy with God, Healthy Sexuality, and leadership development.  Currently serving in leadership in her denomination, Mary’s favorite ministry roles are discipleship counseling, group facilitation, and leadership development. Mary often characterizes herself as “a seeker of Truth” and has a long-standing fascination with human behavior and motivation.  Her education consists of lay and discipleship counseling, independent study about the integration of psychology and theology, counseling and human sexuality. She also holds a BS in Human Services and an MA in Psychology from Regis University. Mary attends a Friends (Quaker) Church.

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