One reason I love living in Dallas is that I get the chance to see large buildings being built over time. There is a certain satisfaction in driving by a build site day by day and noticing the incremental progress as the building slowly goes up. I especially love the initial stage of the build, seeing the dirt work and the digging necessary to start building anything at all. No matter how many times I see it, I am always shocked by how large and deep the holes they dig are. In seeing those holes dug, I realized, that in order to go tall, they must first dig deep. That initially dirt work is so important, that substructure so critical. When a building is finished, it may be the glass and the steel that draws our eyes upward, but the super structure of the building rests on a subterranean substructure that we can't see and so often forget
In the epistle reading for this week, out of Romans 4, Paul wants to draw our attention to the substructure of the Christian life. Speaking of Abraham as the father of all who believe, Paul reminds us that as important as faith is, there is something even more important, something deeper because he tells us that "it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace" (Rom. 4:16).
We think of the Christian life in terms of faith, as we should. We think of the Christian life in terms of promise, as we should. But both faith and promise rest on something deeper. They are both built on the substructure of grace. Grace is the subterranean substructure of the Christian life. There can be no other substructure than grace, otherwise the building would collapse. If it were based on law, based on performance, then as Paul says, "faith is null and the promise void" (Rom. 4:14).
It is good to be reminded of grace in Lent. Lent at its best is meant to draw our attention from ourselves toward God. That is the intention of any practice of self-denial. As Jay said, spiritual practices at their best can turn down the volume so that we have a better chance to listen to God. But spiritual practices can themselves become an opportunity for measuring performance and forgetting grace. "Am I doing well? Did I mess up again?” we might ask ourselves, but any practice built on those kind of questions will ultimately crumble because such questions do not ultimately rest on grace.
If you find yourself already discouraged in your Lenten journey, take heart that it all rests on grace.