God is Going against the Grain and it's Terribly Good

God is Going against the Grain and it’s Terribly Good

There is a grain or a pattern to our thinking that needs to change, but we are stuck, so God gently comes against the grain and changes it from the inside out.

It goes against the grain of self-protection to let someone in, especially when we have been hurt. But God is in the business of woodworking and craft.

I love to look at beautiful timber. A tree has grown, and in the seasons of its life, it experiences the wind and rain, storms and droughts. The impact of these events shape the growth of the tree. Then, we cut the tree down, and before us, we discover patterns never seen before.

Patterns show cellular channels which transport nutrients from the roots to the leaves and back again.

Every piece of timber has a unique and special appearance to its grain. We see the shaping experiences that have gone into the formation of the wood. There is a pattern, a movement, a grain.

Carefully trained eyes can tell the flow of the grain.

There is a little phrase ‘To go against the grain,’ and it means to go against everything you believe to be true.

If you say that an idea or action goes against the grain, you mean that it is very difficult for you to accept it or do it because it conflicts with your previous ideas, beliefs, or principles. Collins Dictionary

This phrase comes from the world of woodworking. A craftsman sees the grain, the flow of the timber, and how it’s been created.

These images might help to explain.

Planing with the grain and against the grain

Another helpful metaphor might be one of patting a cat.

You notice how the cat’s fur falls naturally in one direction, and so you pass your hands over it, smoothing it in this direction. You are working with the natural grain or flow of the fur.

But try patting it the other way with your hands moving against the natural fall, and you will soon see your hand dig into the fur, and the fur rise. Do this enough, and the cat may well scratch!

You have a grain

I believe that you have a grain to how you manage life.

A set of beliefs formed over years of growing seasons that included sun, rain, show, calmness, storms, droughts, intrusions, and abuses. Those shaping experiences have created a uniqueness to yourself unlike anyone else. There is no one ‘Youer than you.’

You’re strong in your grain. It gives shape, character, personality. It defines you.

People notice the way life has shaped you. But, for the most part, the grain remains unseen, unknown, under-explored, and untouched.

But what if the grain you have shaped is not what was always intended for you. There is a clash.

Someone or something rubs up against you, and it digs in.

It goes against the grain to be told you have value, beauty, purpose, delight. That there is something of eternal value buried deep within. It goes against the grain of all your beliefs and convictions about yourself.

The intervention

His grain was set. Tight and hard. It was murderous zealotry of religious intent. His mission in life was to make sure his religion was kept pure and intact.

His name was Saul, and he wanted to rid the world of Christ-followers.

Can you see the grain in his life? It had been shaped by years of cultural and religious indoctrination.

He honestly thought he was going with the grain of God, but he was going against the grain of God’s love.

And so the Christ does what the Christ always does. Brings light to the darkness.

When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?”

He said, “Who are you, Master?”

“I am Jesus, the One you’re hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.”

His companions stood there dumbstruck—they could hear the sound, but couldn’t see anyone—while Saul, picking himself up off the ground, found himself stone-blind. They had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. He continued blind for three days. He ate nothing, drank nothing. Acts 9:3-9

This is only the first part of God’s intervention against Saul’s grain. It’s a significant part of the story. So powerful that he decides to change his name from Saul to Paul, but there is a whole next story that we don’t know much about. A reshaping of Paul’s grain.

In later years Paul writes a letter to people living in Galatia and reveals more about God’s intervention.

I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days, I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it.

I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career.

Even then, God had his eye on me.

Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity!

Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.

Immediately after my calling—without consulting anyone around me and without going up to Jerusalem to confer with those who were apostles long before I was—I got away to Arabia.

Later I returned to Damascus, but it was three years before I went up to Jerusalem to compare stories with Peter. Galatians 1:13-18

Can you see how Paul’s grain had changed? I wonder if Paul would have used such kind words when he was stuck in the grain of his former life.

But also notice how it was three years from that Damascus road intervention to when he re-entered his world and began his ministry.

What was he doing in Arabia?

We don’t know anything about those three years, but I would suggest that this was a massive time of examining all his beliefs and religious traditions. It was a time of changing his mind (metanoia). The grain had been interrupted. He couldn’t un-see what he had seen. He couldn’t un-hear what he had heard.

When God rubs up against our grain, and we feel the friction, there is always a purpose, and it’s always to bring us to a better place.

Recently I was asked why inner healing doesn’t hpeen quickly.  We receive some prayer, sense God move in our lives, may experience some change, but the deep areas of our behavior and thinking don’t change.

My response was that if God were to do a miraculous ‘wave of the magic wand’ ‘change everything’ approach to our brain, it would be abusive and harsh. Our brain would not physically cope with that amount of rewiring.

Anyone going through therapy of any worth can attest to the fact that it’s work, it’s tiring, it’s like a crushing experience of a very narrow pathway.

Instead, God slowly and gently works with us millimeter by millimeter, personal decision to trust by personal decision to trust over a long period of time. Slowly we see the miracles happen. Great love and compassion begin to change the course or the grain of our lives.

That cut across everything.

It wasn’t only the words they spoke, but it was also the quiet, loving energy that was sitting behind the words.

The mind, the neurological pathways, the grain, the thinking pathways well formed over many years of repeated self-hatred sentences were taking them once again into their dark hole.

That was until a friend said a few simple loving words. ‘You are loved, and you’re not alone.’

Other words were shared too.

It was the fullness of the message that caught them off guard. No one had ever said that to them before, and some how it seemed to cut across everything. It was like a gentle Damascus road intervention where new truth entered into their reality.

The grain had been cut, and a new grain had begun to form. It was like a loving surgeon had taken a compassionate scalpel to their thinking pathways and had started to stitch on something new and better.

God means what he says.
What he says goes.
His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.
Nothing and no one can resist God’s Word.
We can’t get away from it—no matter what. Hebrews 4:12-13

New brain pathways were being laid down. New roads were being formed in the desert.

They, of course, had to meditate on and keep telling themselves the truth about being loved and having worth, but something like a Damascus rd bright light had cut across the grain, and it was good.

Getting the good grain

I so want to have the grain of my life align with God’s grain. So much so that they look the same. You see me. You see the Christ.

[Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

But how do we get there?

A few suggestions

  1. Recognize you have a grain.
    You have patterns in the way you think. Neurological pathways are laid down in your brain. Culture, family, organizations all have gone into the shaping of your brain grain. Times of ease and times of hardship. All have crafted your life. There are knots, flecks, tears, but there is character, and there is beauty.
  2. Submit your grain to the son of a carpenter
    I once did a woodworking course where we created a chair using traditional methods. The tutor was a master craftsman who knew precisely how to take a log of wood and turn it into something of beauty, elegance, and purpose. He would look at the wood and discover the grain and work with it and against it—all with the compelling vision of something no one else could see. Read more about this experience here.
    Jesus’ earthly father was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), and I wonder if Jesus was taught the principles of woodworking from a very early age.
  3. Recognize those moments when God is going against your grain
    It goes against my grain when God reminds me to forgive those who have hurt me, to listen more than speak. There is a jag, a digging in, a lifting up of the fur of a cat. I notice it, I don’t like it, but it’s there as a prompt to change and become more like the Christ.
  4. Embrace metanoia
    Metanoia is the change of the mind. It’s repentance, but that word can be so loaded down with guilt and shame that we flinch. I have heard the word ‘repent’ used as a stick of judgment. Instead, I would suggest we use it as an invitation to observe where our grain has been going the wrong way. Maybe there has been no conscious awareness of thinking that way.
    It’s the way our thinking has been shaped. Then God comes across the grain and says things need to move to a new and different pattern.

I have seen beautifully grained timber created into exquisite furniture. People don’t take time to notice the grain,  but God knows your grain and has a delight in shaping and crafting something good out of it.

Do you want to leave your old stinky think patterns behind?

Consider doing the Dig Yourself Out of Your Hole course. Its Pay What You Want (including free).

Quotes to consider

  • Comfort is the absence of tension; growth requires a swim in murky, dangerous waters. Dan Allender
  • We must do something more than exhort people to do what’s right and then hold them accountable. Larry Crabb
  • The Greek word metanoia, poorly translated as “repent” in the Bible (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15), quite literally means “to change your mind.” Until the mind changes the very way it processes the moment, nothing changes long term. “Be transformed by a renewal of your mind,” Paul says (Romans 12:2), which hopefully will allow the heart to soon follow. Richard Rohr
  • Repentance involves 1. facing my utter helplessness to make life work as I would wish; 2. sorrowing over my insane strategies that are intended to make ‘Life Work’; 3. clinging to a God who calls me to follow a plan of life that seems absurd. Dan Allender
  • You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.  Flonda Scott Maxwell
  • God is a lover, not a rapist.  God cannot walk past an empty heart and do nothing. Larry Crabb
  • The key to growing any psychological resource, including compassion, is to have repeated experiences of it that get turned into lasting changes in neural structure or function. Rick Hanson
  • In order to oppose the influence and direction of one’s old feelings, a rational mind first needs a very good reason. Without truth to reassure, change isn’t possible. D. Riddell
  • Mental passivity, once identified, needs to be actively opposed by questioning everything. Initiative and learning are like a muscle. They must be exercised regularly to work well. D. Riddell
  • Is it reality or just a mood? To contradict your own feelings is at times essential to maintaining stability. D. Riddell
  • Your concept of yourself can oppose God’s ability to help you. He cannot violate it to change you without raping your identity. Eventually, we must go to Him to discover who we are. D. Riddell

Questions to consider

  1. What has shaped or created the grain of your life?
  2. Where do you notice Spirit coming against the grain of your thinking?
  3. Can you think of a time when God gently came and ‘cut across’ some of your old stinky thinky?

Further reading

How to Create New Rope Bridges in our Thinking

Your Failures in Life Need Love

Dig yourself out of your hole

Barry Pearman

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Photo by Pandav Tank on Unsplash

Photo by Bailey Alexander on Unsplash

Get a weekly email full of help for your Mental Health and Spiritual formation

* indicates required