Means of Grace? Spiritual Disciplines?
At lunch the other day, “Zack” and “Charlie” and I were talking about “the means of grace” from chapter 3 of Embracing the Journey. That is, what does God give us to help us grow spiritually?
The book has a great illustration: a young boy, recovering from typhoid fever (I think), was carried by his mother to a window seat, where he could receive sunlight. Healing came from sunshine and fresh air, but he had to be put somewhere that the sun’s rays, and the fresh air, could reach him.
In the same way, it’s God, and only God, that causes us to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7), but we must be put somewhere that the “means of grace” can reach us. If we never pray, never spend time in worship with the community of faith, never read his book, then how can we expect to grow?
1 Peter 2:2-3 talks about growing by “pure spiritual milk”. The King James version (which has “the sincere milk of the word“) sounds like it’s talking about the Bible, but whether it is or not, both the NIV and the King James tell us that the “milk” is something that helps us grow, and that we have to do something (“crave” it, per the NIV; KJV has “desire”).
This is the part where I usually say something about spiritual disciplines. Those are great, but today I’ll add a caveat, based on Zack’s experiences at various churches.
In the past, Zack said, he went to churches that talked a lot about the disciplines: praying, fasting, memorizing and studying the Bible, evangelism, and so on. He and his family switched to their current church, where a lot more is said about grace and God’s great love than about things we should do. Zack reports that it was only after starting at this church that he had a clear vision “of how much I’m a sinner and how much I really need God.”
What’s that about? Here’s my take on it: If we focus too much on the disciplines and not enough on God’s amazing love, we might start to feel good about ourselves because we’re “doing the job.” We’re doing all we can to seek the Lord — we study His Word, we worship with our brothers and sisters. We “fast twice times a week and donate a tenth of (our) income” (Luke 18:12).
Whoa, let’s not go there; let’s not go completely off the rails, as these Pharisees did. Now I’m not saying it’s good to be a slacker about seeking God, and I’m certainly not going to suggest that we try to compromise on this. Instead, let’s ask the Lord to search and guide us (Ps 139) and to protect us from sin (Ps 19).
He does it all! He alone supplies the grace and mercy that we need (Hebrews 4) — and truly we need him every hour; we can’t even pursue him without his help. Thank God that he loves us and loves to help us!