“I fell to the floor and couldn’t stand anymore” isn’t something you want to hear from an elderly man in your church. But in this case, he was describing a tremendous experience from decades before.
Before he started following Jesus, this man had a moment when the number of good things in his life ushered him into awe. He attributed his elation to a surprising source: God’s love. I wasn’t sure what to make of that experience, since my friend wasn’t a Christian at that point in his life. I didn’t understand how he could glorify God as the Author of his joy yet admit he was separated from God at the same time. But by God’s common grace, it’s possible for life’s beauty to briefly unmask itself and reveal God’s smile.
By common grace, I mean the undeserved blessings God gives to all people, both believers and nonbelievers. Our shallow understanding of this doctrine can blind us to the wonder of simple things. What’s more, our obsession with productivity and fear of boredom can distract us from seeing God’s hand at work. Here’s how to have eyes to see the wonders of common grace.
Finding the Wonder
Just think about the moments of spontaneous joy that God gives to all people: laughter with a loved one, songs at a child’s bedtime, or reading a good book with a cup of coffee. C. S. Lewis describes these moments as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” These instances are suggestions, shadows of the substance. Incredible as they are, they’re gifts meant to point to a remarkable Giver.
We often emphasize the negative aspects of common grace: it holds us accountable and condemns us (Rom. 1:18). But we don’t elevate the positive aspect: it reveals the reality of a good and loving Creator.
We don’t elevate the positive aspect of common grace: it reveals the reality of a good and loving Creator.
Although God’s general revelation places you on the wrong side of his justice, it also harnesses a potential for wonder. Isn’t this what Psalm 19:1–6 says? The symphony of creation whispers of God. Proverbs 8:30–36 teaches that God’s wisdom is embedded in the fabric of creation, and when we thread ourselves into the same fabric, we’re blessed. Romans 1:20 asserts that we can apprehend God’s power and nature in the created order.
Beyond this, God’s common grace also shines through gifted people—even those who deny the reality of God. Because humans are made in God’s image, we use our minds, hands, and mouths to create things that take a person’s breath away or even save a person’s life. Truly, God’s common grace is worth celebrating.
Yet if we want to tap into the wonder of common grace, we must oppose the great enemies of wonder: productivity and boredom. Neither produce wonder. Both sedate our spirit. To avoid the whiplash between these two killjoys, we must embrace limitations.
First, recognize you’ll never work or succeed enough to eradicate the feeling there’s something subpar in your life. The productivity-addicted life chases the illusion we can tie up every loose end and fill every crack so our life’s work contributes to something greater than ourselves (Eccl. 3:11). Realistically, we can’t meet our standards of perfection, and we won’t always see how our life’s work contributes to the greater whole. A happy life doesn’t look to results for happiness but instead enjoys the gift of the work itself (Eccl. 3:12–13).
Second, stop collapsing into worthless forms of rest that do nothing to enlarge your capacity for joy. If our rest doesn’t provoke a desire for wonder, beauty, and virtue, it likely develops boredom within us that fortifies our lives against wonder.
Stop collapsing into worthless forms of rest that do nothing to enlarge your capacity for joy.
So we should have high standards for what we concede our eyes and imagination to. Be courageous enough to delete apps that tempt you to scroll mindlessly. Read books (or watch shows and movies) that extol virtue—too much of today’s entertainment makes darkness intriguing and cruelty normal. Be OK with a messy house; time with your spouse and children or time sitting in silence is more important than a perfectly controlled environment. Go outside and wonder at God’s beauty in his creation. Fight mindlessness by having curious conversations. Each soul you come across is deep and complex; each conversation has the potential to teach, encourage, and bless you.
In all these things, give thanks for what you have rather than focusing on what you lack. You’ll be surprised how much wonder for life will sparkle when you do.
God’s benevolence is deposited all around us and for all of us—in landscapes and smiles and stories and music and tasty food. It summons us to wonder. Yet if common grace and general revelation are loaded with such glory, how much more should our experience of the special word of the gospel level us with awe? The twin realities of common and saving grace share a dynamic relationship. For the believer, the joy we experience in common with the lost during a feast gives way to fullness of joy when that earthly meal redirects our hearts to the salvation feast believers share in Christ.
But how can we expect to worship God rightly for his salvation gift when we haven’t yet worshiped him rightly for the everyday blessings he gives to all people? Just as my friend collapsed, overcome by life’s beauty, may we explore the wonder of God’s universal blessings in such a way that we’re summoned to joyful worship of the God who saves.
Joey Nickerson (DMin.) is the preaching pastor at Citizens Church in Annapolis, Maryland, where he resides with his wife and daughters.