November 14, 2011

The Means of Grace Vs. A Twelve-Step Program

I want to follow up on yesterday's post about the simplicity of the call of Jesus, Follow me.

There is a sense of let-down when someone says to us, Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.  Really?  Just trust?  I want to DO something, make progress, be able to check some things off of a list so I know I'm doing it right.  How exactly does this work?

We live in a world of self-help and 12-step programs.  While these can be very helpful means of change and growth in certain areas of life, they can be damaging to our faith, giving us the sense that we can "arrive" at some point where we no longer need the blood of Jesus daily.  Growing in faith requires discipline, yes, but we can never disconnect ourselves from the Father, Son, and Spirit in favor of a "growth program;" no matter what kind of promises it makes, nothing can be better than the promises of God.
That said, simplicity does not imply complacency.  There are things we can "do" here and now to take hold of Jesus and grow and change.  The Westminster Catechism calls these "the ordinary means of grace."  Brace yourself, though, because there's nothing fantastic about them.  As the phrase indicates, they are ordinary:

  • The Word
  • The Sacraments (Lord's Supper and Baptism)
  • Prayer

I don't feel qualified to speak at length on the means of grace and all of the theological intricacies.  From what I can gather, however, we're to understand that the means of grace are the ways that God communicates with His people.  Yes, you read that right; God communicates with His people.  The Rev. Bruce Buchanan wrote a helpful series of articles he posted here.  At the beginning of the final section (prayer) he makes this comment:  My desire has been that you would grow in your appreciation for the worth and the benefit of participation in God's regular and non-flashy, non-gimmicky means of communicating with His people.

That is I was getting at yesterday.  Walking with Jesus is really quite simple; we seek to know Him and take hold of Him through the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer.  It's in the midst of this "ordinary" life of faith that we will see GOD work, doing supernatural things in our life and the lives of those around us: freedom from sin, growing to love others more than ourselves, daily provision, and more.  When we are walking by faith, practicing the ordinary means of grace, our eyes are open to see many ways God is at work in and around us - the supernatural begins to invade our ordinary, little lives, our faith is strengthened, and God is truly glorified as we acknowledge His handiwork!

I mentioned in one of the October posts a period in college when I was seeking a flashy Spirit experience that would assure me that I was "getting it right."  I was so very wrong, looking for the right books to read to figure it out, when God's Word was ever before me to communicate to me how beloved I was, how secure my salvation, how present the Spirit already was, and so on and so forth.  God is awesome, yet He's chosen ordinary means of communicating with us.  Bless the Lord, O my soul!  There are no big secrets; God wants us to know Him and makes it possible!

In Isaiah 30:15 we read,
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 
   “In repentance and rest is your salvation, 
   in quietness and trust is your strength, 
   but you would have none of it.
Will YOU have it?  Will you apply yourself to getting to know God in the "ordinary" ways He's chosen to make Himself known to us?  For despite the ordinary-ness of the means, we're still speaking of the Lord of all Creation communicating with those who rebelled against Him.

Friends, there's nothing ordinary about that!

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