This is not my ditch. This is a pretty ditch.
Summer has arrived at Casa Wilson, and that means a lot of things: Naps, long walks, longer runs, play time with the Badgerling, lots of outside work, and occasionally, time to think. Lately, while drilling screws, cutting firewood, and setting irrigation dams, I have been thinking about grace, faith, and works. There seems to be a lot of confusion about those things. But after twelve years or so of growing hay, I don't think it's all that hard.
We live in the middle of a big hay field, and every year we have the grass mowed and baled. We keep a few bales for the garden and the chickens, but we sell most of it. It's fairly easy money; it feels good to know our land is productive, and there is nothing like the smell of a fresh-cut hay field. It's the smell of life, the smell of growth, the smell of money.
Of course, the thing that makes it a hay field, instead of a patch of dirt, is water. And here in Wyoming, water is rather hard to come by. That means irrigation. Our water comes out of Baldwin Creek about a half mile away, flows through a series of ditches, and if all goes well, it eventually reaches our field.
Now, Baldwin Creek flows out of the mountains a few miles north-west of here. It is a reliable body of water, and even in drought years it never goes dry. So if the field doesn't get irrigated, the problem lies with the ditch. There is a lot that can go wrong. Sometimes the ditch gets clogged up or choked with weeds; often it gets diverted elsewhere. Sometimes the problem is that I don't set the dams correctly, so the water doesn't get where it needs to go. And sometimes I just get too lazy or too busy to get it done. But assuming everything works, the water leaves the ditch and flows onto my field. Then it can start doing its real work: Making the grass grow.
The grass is nourished by water. That water comes through the ditch. The result is a good hay crop. By water. Through the ditch.
God's grace--his goodness, his mercy, his beauty, his blessing--is reliable and sure, never running dry even in the hardest of times. Like the water on a hayfield, grace makes us grow, makes us useful and beautiful, gives us what we need to endure hardship.
God's grace is the water.
But God does't force himself on us. Even though he sends rain on the just and the unjust, blessing even those who don't acknowledge him, his saving grace can do its work only if I choose to let it into my life. Faith is a relationship, a way of life, an ongoing choice I must make to trust and obey, even when I don't understand. That faith is the conduit by which God's grace can reach the dry spots of my being, making the barren ground grow and produce. Doubt, disobedience, distraction, bitterness, laziness, greed, and such things can block my faith, creating dead areas which God's grace cannot reach.
Faith is the ditch through which God's grace can flow.
Thus, Paul tells us we are saved by grace, through faith. Of course, there is a sense in which my faith saves me (Matthew 9:22), just as it would not be wrong to say that the ditch waters my hay. But don't confuse the ditch with the water. The real action is in God's grace. It would be absurd for the grass to take credit for the water, likewise the ditch. The ditch is just a conduit, and the grass can only respond by growing and producing a crop, just like I planned for it to.
Reading on in Ephesians 2, Paul puts it this way: "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God--not by works, so no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to do."
God's grace flows though my faith. The result of this gift, when things go according to his plan, is a further gift of good works. It would be absurd for me to take credit for this; I just get to enjoy it.
By grace. Through faith.
This really isn't that hard, is it?
Of course, there is a lot more to it than the water and the ditch: The quality of seed with which my field is planted; the fertility of the soil; the control of weeds and pests; the role of time and patience, courage and hard work. But Jesus already covered those things much better than I could.
There is nothing like the smell of fresh hay. May your faith be unobstructed; may you be drenched in God's grace, and may the field of your life be productive.