I remember a dear lady in one of the churches that I served when I was a United Church pastor (for those who didn’t know, that was a LONG time ago, in what seems like another life … not that I believe in all that re-incarnation claptrap, in case you were wondering … but it does give you an idea how old I am).
Anyway, Marion and I had just been hugely blessed by being part of a Life in the Spirit seminar in a neighbouring Anglican church. I had been filled with the Holy Spirit, having only recently surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ after years of attempting to preach a gospel of grace that I had never experienced. In my enthusiasm I thought that Life in the Spirit was exactly what everyone in my church needed, and we decided to offer Life in the Spirit seminars to anyone who would be open to participating.
Well, for the few who took the bait, the seminar was a great blessing. It was also the beginning of the end of our ministry in that particular congregation, but that’s another story. Anyway, back to the dear lady with whom I started this post. She was a very sincere Christian but not very used to aggressively pursuing the blessings of the redeemed life. To her mind this seemed a bit unspiritual. I remember her telling me, with regard to a particular spiritual gift that she was not inclined to ask God to give her, “Well, if he wants me to have that gift, he can just give it to me”.
It sounds noble, doesn’t it? Trouble is, it’s not Biblical. It is true that God does take the initiative in opening our eyes to who Jesus Christ really is. It is also true, however, that He frequently moves on those who show evidence of spiritual desire. Where this desire comes from is another discussion. My convinced Calvinist friends would argue that even the desire for God is a gift, and I’m inclined to agree with them. But the Christian life is full of paradoxes, one of them being that we need to aggressively pursue those things which God desires to freely give us.
My niece is married to a man who is a long-distance runner. Two and a half months ago he suffered a major back injury. Yesterday he ran in his first-ever duathlon, finishing third overall and first in his age class. This didn’t just happen – he had to train hard for it. Although he might not credit his success in the duathlon to the grace of God, I do. There is no way that he could have recovered his strength unless God had healed him. Where else do you suppose the body’s natural healing processes come from, if not from the hand of the Creator? But he also had to work with the grace of God in order for his strength to be restored.
Many of you know that I am still recovering from a dislocated shoulder. My physiotherapist tells me that of all the injuries they treat, dislocated shoulders take the longest because of the complexity of the shoulder. I was beginning to find the progress discouragingly slow, but I have recently turned a corner and have noticed that my guitar-playing ability, which is particularly important to me, is being restored much more quickly than before. Though it probably will be a bit rough for a while, I now expect to be able to start playing guitar again for our intercessory prayer team as soon as next week. I’m excited! But for this to happen I had to identify and attack a subtle spiritual problem.
I was getting used to not being able to play, and was starting to define myself as an injured person who could not play the guitar – or not much, anyway. I had to redefine myself as a guitarist who was in training, learning to play again. I had to decide that I was going to take hold of the grace of God and aggressively pursue the healing that I desired and that I believe God wanted to give me. I am now pushing the limits again in my practising and my physiotherapy, and it’s paying off. In the end, my physiotherapist is not responsible for my recovery – I am. Yes, it’s by the grace of God, but it’s also in my hands. It’s up to me to take God’s grace and work with it.
Jesus once met a disabled man by the side of a pool in Jerusalem. The legend was that an angel would occasionally come and stir the waters, and the first person into the water would be healed. The man had been lying there 38 years. Jesus asked him what seems like a very insensitive question : Do you want to be healed?
Do you want to be healed? Who wouldn’t want this? But many people want to be healed – or blessed – or delivered from all manner of trouble – entirely by God’s action, with no sacrifice on their part. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that because salvation is entirely by God’s grace (entirely a gift), God will just put it into our laps and there’s nothing we have to do about it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same Apostle Paul who preached that salvation is a free gift, totally unearned, also admonished us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
Yes, it does all depend on God – but it also all depends on us. Jesus once said something that is probably not on anyone’s fridge magnet, but is a very necessary and pivotal insight for our spiritual growth : From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.
Spiritually passive Christians do not advance very far in the life of faith. They may make it into heaven – barely – but they won’t have fruit to show. They are always making excuses. “I’m just a sinner saved by grace”. Really? If you are in Christ, the Bible declares you to be a new creation – so how about taking hold of the grace of God with determination, putting behind old ways and pressing ahead to become the transformed person that God has called you to be? No more false humility!
I am so thankful for the grace of God. But I am also thankful that He hasn’t made us passive spectators in the life of faith. Like Paul, I want to run the race of faith with perseverance, pressing forward to take hold of those things which I have not yet attained. Will you run with me?