The term Means of Grace is pretty old and it probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people today because it has fallen out of popular use, but I like it.I like it because it tells me that God has appointed concrete, practical, ways for us to experience more of his grace. And I desperately need more of his grace. In fact, I don’t even know just how much I need his grace so I want to do whatever I can to experience more of it.
God’s means of grace are many but I’ll limit myself to three of them: Scripture (Part 1), Prayer (Part 2), and Fellowship (Part 3). Perhaps I’ll look at a few others at some point in the future but for the time being hopefully these three will help us to follow Jesus as we take full advantage of God’s graciously given means.
In The Four Loves C.S. Lewis wrote, “Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives” (p.50). The reason we as Christians so often lack happiness, or joy if you prefer to differentiate the two, is because we have so often placed our affections on the wrong things. Or our affections are disproportionate to the objects on which they are set. From experience, nothing reveals this truth more than the absence of prayerfulness.
As an encouragement to cultivate and nurture their affections for Jesus the Apostle Paul, in the final portions of his letter to the church in Philippi, wrote these words,
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV)
This encouragement to stirring up their affections for Jesus was born out of a reminder to rejoice and pray, notice how both paragraphs end with the promise of God’s peace,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)
If Lewis is correct that our affections are responsible for nine-tenths of our happiness, and Paul concurs, then the reason we fail to pray is because we don’t really want to; our affections have not been stirred to pray. Notice again how Paul connects a joyful and prayerful life to the objects of our affections (Philippians 4:4-9).
So how then do we cultivate, nurture and stir our affections for Jesus?
What are these objects that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy that we should think about?
The First and Greatest Object is God himself. The primary way God reveals himself to us is in his Word through his Son. If we want our affections to be stirred up to pray then the foundation of our affections must be what the Scripture’s tell us about who God is and all he has done through Jesus as we rehearse his great story of redemption that takes place on the pages of Scripture.
As well as being the First and Greatest Object; the embodiment of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, God is also the Source from which all secondary objects derive their own virtues. When he created the natural world he declared that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NIV) and even after it was marred by our sin creation continues to reflect the glory of God through its derivative goodness,
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.” (Psalm 19:1-6 NIV)
The Seraphim sing,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3 NIV)
So as we experience beauty in God’s creation whether in nature or music or our own sub-creation (to borrow Tolkien’s term, i.e. things we make) our affections are rightly stirred. We marvel in the wonder of what we see, touch, taste, smell and feel. These experiences are great opportunities to delight in and praise God, the Giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17 NIV), for his goodness and grace toward us in giving us such wonderful gifts to enjoy by thanking him and worshipping him in prayer as we look forward to the day when Jesus returns to destroy sin and restore the very goodness of creation that was lost in the Fall.
Finally, nothing is able to stir our affections for Jesus so we earnestly desire to meet with him in prayer quite like being viscerally involved in the lives of others, especially those we care about deeply. When we love someone we give them a piece of ourselves. Like Paul we should “[love others] so much, we [are] delighted to share with [them] not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV). As we “rejoice with [them as they] rejoice [and] mourn with [them as they] mourn” (Romans 12:15 NIV) our affections will be stirred for them, to pray for them, and for God, so we pray to him: the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV). Because in doing so we imitate Jesus our empathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15) who “lives to intercede for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25 NIV).
There are a multitude of means at our disposal for the stirring of our affections toward God in prayer. I hope and pray these three means will help you to cultivate, nurture and stir your affections for Jesus so they overflow in joyful prayer, happy obedience and encourage you to discern the many other gracious means God has provided to stir your affections for him.