One icy Saturday in January 1993, I drove onto a desolate college campus I had not visited before. Beside me on the car seat lay a flyer announcing the starting and ending times for a Christian drama conference and the building on campus where the meeting would be held. My car clock displayed the conference start time. Alas. I’d hoped to arrive early after my 100-plus mile drive.
The campus was small but empty and unmarked - no building names, no conference signs, no indication whether a cluster of parked cars signaled a nearby dorm, a Saturday class or the gathering I sought; no passers-by on foot or in vehicles to ask.
Driving in circles, growing more and more frustrated, I finally found a lone, bundled walker. He stopped when I rolled down my window, but knew little more of the campus than I did. Just when I’d decided I might have to turn around and drive home, I saw a small poster staked outside a building, signaling the conference spot.
Parking and hurrying inside, I found the same eerie emptiness. A registration table sat, unmanned. I signed the check-in sheet and picked up a conference schedule. A long, empty hallway greeted me, pock-marked at intervals with classroom doors. Inside some of those classrooms, the first-hour seminars were well underway.
A lone chair sat outside the open door to one classroom. Just inside the door, a man stood, speaking to people I could not see. Ah, but his wasn’t the seminar I’d planned to attend. I wandered farther down the hall and found the room I wanted. Alas again. The door was shut. I could not bring myself to barge in on the session so late, especially knowing I had to enter the front of the room. I could hear nothing but a low murmur through the closed door. Tiptoeing back down the hallway, I sat in the lone chair, determined to hear what I could of the class I had not planned to attend.
Of course, I’d come upon a talk about who-knows-what, midstream. As the presenter presented and I struggled to follow, he loosely quoted a phrase from Romans 5:20. “You know,” he said. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.”
The man kept talking, but I heard nothing else. For God had shot that portion of a verse like an arrow into my heart.
That icy morning, deeply discouraging and highly distressing situations seemed about to crush me. I saw unrighteousness getting away with murder, so to speak. I’d arrived frustrated, because of misjudging the drive time, compounded by the confusion in finding the building. But also, I’d arrived feeling as bleak as the weather, helpless, hopeless, alone.
The instant the grace arrow hit my heart, I knew God had orchestrated all that had seemed so frustrating up to that moment - the lack of clear directions, the frigid weather, the empty campus, even the chair sitting in an empty hallway beside an open door - to get me to a certain place at a certain time to hear, as if for the first time, a phrase I already knew.
Where sin abounds, nothing can be done to stop it? Where sin abounds, everyone is doomed? Where sin abounds, hope is lost? No, no, no!
Where sin abounds, God has made the way for grace to abound much more. As I sat in that hallway, the truth I’d heard exploded within me. I wanted to shout, “Yes! Yes! How wonderful, Lord! YES!”
Given the circumstances, I didn’t shout. But when the conference ended, I left, still dancing on the inside. As I drove into winter’s early darkness, I asked the Lord questions I would continue to ask long after arriving home: What is grace? What does it mean for grace to abound much more? What does that look like? Does it always happen where sin abounds? If not, why not? How can it happen here?
I knew God had given me a key. He had spoken something deeply, profoundly into my spirit. All the answers I didn’t yet know, he wanted me to seek. He was inviting me to press in to him to discover what the key opened and to unlock and own it all. I had no idea where the pursuit would lead me, or how long it would take.