Out of My Hat

Grace Happens: Lessons from a Magic Contest

In July of 2009, I attended the International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but for some reason, I decided to enter the stage contest.  I did so knowing that I would be competing against magicians from all over the world. I knew there would be pressure, but I thought I could offset it with proper preparation.  I practiced and prepared for months.  Even though I had been doing the tricks I chose to perform for years, I worked and worked and worked.

The contest went from being next year to being next month to being next week to being tomorrow.  I found myself standing in the wings of an Opryland Hotel ballroom stage, listening as the announcer said, “From Finchville, Kentucky, David Garrard”  I thought I was prepared, but I could hardly breathe!

I tried to keep telling myself that it was just another show . . . but it wasn’t.  I was getting ready to stand before judges.  The standard would be perfection.  Even a few mistakes would be costly.  It was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least.  I acquitted myself well, but did not advance.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt a strange lightness, as if a heavy load had been taken off my back.  Almost instinctively, I knew what was different: For the first time in more than a year, I was free from the pressure of having to perform– a pressure that had haunted me for months . . . and just like that, I had a brand new understanding of grace.

Just like that, I had a new understanding of verses like Titus 3:5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy” and Ephesians 2:8: “For my grace are you saved through faith, not by works . . .”  I was thankful for a new perspective on the greatness of God’s grace– grateful in new ways that it’s not about my performance, my goodness as a person, but rather God’s goodness.

Jesus said, “Be perfect, even as my Father in heaven is perfect!”  Who can perform under that kind of pressure?  As Paul said, “We all sin and fall short.”  That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that grace happens.  The good news this morning is that the Christian faith and the Christian life are about grace– grace given and received despite performance that is often poor.  That truth takes the pressure off!  Because grace happens, we don’t have to do anything– other than respond to what God has done for us through Jesus.