A few weeks back, I began a thought experiment about the Christian life. I warned you that it would take a while to complete. It appears I was right. I'm tempted to table this topic for another time. But to leave a series about "journeying" unfinished strikes me as quite discouraging (and horribly ironic). Therefore, I will journey on in my journey series. Means of Grace - Food for the Journey
Our journey is a difficult one. As John Newton said, we encounter many, "dangers, toils and snares." We walk the road less traveled, and (to mix the metaphor) we swim upstream. Therefore, we will grow weary. Where should we look for sustenance? What will strengthen us to endure?
I used to draw strength from discipline. "Man up! Focus! Check your compass! Look at the map! Determine the best course! Press on!" Discipline is certainly part of the equation. We will not grow apart from exerting some real spiritual sweat (see 1 Timothy 4:8). But discipline by itself is useless. Paul says to the Colossians;
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)- according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.(Colossians 2:20-23)
We will not be strengthened through various techniques or rituals. Apart from the grace of Jesus, no spiritual practice (e.g. solitude, contemplation, silence, fasting, making a list of everything you won't do, scheduling quiet times, etc.) will empower you to defeat sin. What we need desperately is grace. Grace strengthens the heart (2 Timothy 2:1; Hebrews 13:9). Grace teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-12). And grace causes us to repent (Romans 2:4). God's grace - displayed supremely in Jesus' death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit - is our food. It keeps us going. God has given us every blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We already have it all (Romans 8:32). We don't need to work for God's approval. We need to appreciate what's already ours. As Tim Chester and Steve Timmis say,
In the mystical and contemplative traditions, the goal of spirituality is union with Christ. Union with Christ is attained through a pattern of spiritual disciplines or a series of spiritual stages. The imagery of a ladder is often used. Gospel spirituality is the exact opposite. Union with Christ is not the goal of spirituality; it is the foundation of spirituality. It is not attained through disciplines or stages; it is given through childlike faith. (Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community, 143)
In order to press on, we must feast on grace. How do we do that? By diligently appropriating the means of grace. The means of grace are God's conduits of blessing. Here are a few of God's conduits (note: there are more, I'm only naming a few!).
- Communion: At the Lord's table, we draw our sustenance from the broken body and shed blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:17-33).
- Scripture: We don't live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). We grow in faith as we hear the message of Jesus' death and resurrection as it is conveyed through the 66 books of Scripture (cf. 1 Tim 3:15-17).
- Community: We grow in Christ by hearing the truth in love from our brothers and sisters (Ephesians 4:15-16).
- Prayer: As we petition our Father, he blesses us with good things (Matthew 7:7-11; 1 Peter 5:6-7).