Grace and an Empty Tank

When Bridget and I traveled to El Paso last week, we decided to rent a car for the drive rather than take our own.  I guess you could call that mistake number one.

Not that there was anything wrong with renting a car, necessarily… but I’ve done so much driving in my own car that I sort of have a feel for certain things – like how far I can get on a tank of gas.  Not so with a rental.

There were a couple of non-critical things like that.  Things that on their own wouldn’t be a big deal, but taken together added up to an unnecessarily stressful situation. For example, it was a hot day on the road, so we had the air conditioning on the entire way.  Mistake number two.

Things were fine from Lubbock to Carlsbad, NM.  Stopped for a quick bite at Micky D’s… with the car running.  And the air conditioning on. (Mistake number 3… you get the point.)

By my reckoning we were leaving Carlsbad with a half tank of gas, and we were about halfway to our destination.  So when I saw the sign that said “Last gas 130 miles” I was like “meh”.

Now for some reason, the second half of the trip went a lot slower than the first half.  Combine that with the fact that the second half of the gas went a lot faster than the first half, and you see where this is going.  As we drove past a sign that said “El Paso 67 miles”, the tank was pretty much on empty.  And I had to tell my darling wife, who thus far had simply trusted that I had the whole driving thing in hand, that we might not make it.  She took it well… better than I had any right to expect.

So we cut the A/C, slow our speed, and pray.  Fervently and continually.  All the while, I’m calculating each mile that passes by, and how far I’ll have to walk to get gas.  The car is getting hotter.  We’re splitting our time between staring at the road, staring at the gas gauge, and staring at the phone, which has no service. (Honestly, what good is Roadside Assistance in the foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains, where you have no service? ) I’m trying to crack jokes about that Seinfeld episode where Kramer tries to see how far he can go on an empty tank.  Bridget is not amused.

This goes on for about a half hour… around every bend in the road, we’re hoping to see the outskirts of El Paso.  Finally, we see a service station up ahead.  Recognizing that the first gas going into town is most likely going to be sorta expensive, I half seriously suggest to B that maybe we should ride it out and look for something cheaper.  This suggestion is flatly rejected.

I can look back and laugh, and I think that even while it happened we were handling it pretty well.  Neither of us lost our temper, or started to snipe at each other.  Looking back, I have so many lessons that come to mind.  (Bridget reeled off at least 3 while we were filling up the tank.)  But I am struck most of all in this scenario by the illustration and practical application of grace.

Most people think of grace in relation to salvation and justification.  As Paul said in Ephesians 2:5 and 8, “by grace you are saved”.  This speaks of what God does in bringing sinners into relationship with him when they don’t deserve it.  Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor” – nobody deserves to be on God’s good side, because He is perfect, and we are so far less than that.  So when he offers us relationship with him, it is completely undeserved.  His favor is unmerited, yet he offers it freely, and those that accept it by believing and obeying God’s Son, Jesus, are the recipients of grace.  It truly is amazing.

Yet grace is not just for those that are not saved.  God’s favor, if anything, is poured out even more abundantly on those that have entered into relationship with him. Hebrews 4:16 says,

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

God’s grace is a continual source of help for those that call on him, those that have accepted his offer of relationship and have the right to approach his throne.  This grace is there “in time of need”.  When we are running on empty, physically or spiritually, we are in a time of need.  The good news from the throne of God is that there is grace to help us in those times.  Grace carries us along when we think we have everything under control.  Grace dispatches the dangers surrounding us, of which we are blissfully unaware.  Grace reminds us of our Source and Strength when the difficulties of life are allowed to assail us.  Grace drives us away from our attitudes of self-sufficiency and back to reliance on God.  And grace – amazing grace! – like that empty tank of gas on an uninhabited stretch of highway in West Texas… Grace takes us so much farther than we ever have any right to expect or reason to hope.

Full tank of gas – $60.  Grace – priceless.


2 Comments on “Grace and an Empty Tank”

  1. Terry says:

    Very meaningful article. Thank you so much for sharing Donnie.

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