REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 76: Some means of grace.
The wonderful defining aspect of evangelical Christianity is summed up in one word: grace. Whether it be the objective display of grace in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ or the subjective application of His work for us in us, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it is rightly described as God’s grace. We see this in John’s introduction to his gospel with phrases describing Jesus as full of grace and truth and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ [1:14-18]. The apostle Paul’s famous phrase for it is by grace you have been saved through faith [Eph 2:8-10] humbles and exalts us at one and the same time. “Nothing in my hand I bring simply to thy cross I cling” is the theme song of the redeemed. Grace rules out earning salvation: not by works so that no one can boast [2:9], thus securing our assurance and our status as God’s workmanship [2:10a], but affirming our obligation, to do good works [2:10b].
This obligation is written into our hearts by the same Holy Spirit who opened them to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour [Romans 6:15-23]. The apostle Peter, at the conclusion of his first letter, summarises his letter and God’s work in bringing people to himself as: the true grace of God [5:12] and exhorts us in the last verse of his second letter: but grow in the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [3:18]. Grace is always dynamic; never static. It is never given for status and comfort alone, but for sacrificial service. It is given to draw us to Jesus and make us more like Him. Grace rules out earning but not effort on our part. Indeed without a responsive grace seen in forgiving, serving and putting others’ interests before our own, we run the awful danger of God’s grace becoming ineffective in us as it terminates within us. Hebrews 12:14-17, with its focus on Esau, is the warning we are wise to heed, as 2 Peter 1:3-9 is the gracious encouragement to actively grow our faith if we are to enjoy the assurance of 1:10-11.
What has this got to do with the pandemic and the means of grace? The pandemic has concentrated our minds, both reflectively and toward others. Every time things settle down in our patch we are reminded of the great sadness being experienced by others around the world. The pandemic can either sharpen our minds in the direction of gratitude to God or harden our hearts with indifference to others. The pandemic is a means of grace for believers. ‘The means of grace’ describes the ways God teaches us and grows us in conformity to his Son. Here are a few suggestions how the pandemic might help us grow in grace.
Our prayer life can be enriched. Gratitude for God’s providential common grace to us in Australia is not only proper but can stave off entitlement-thinking and hardness of heart. Intercession for others in nations where the virus is running unchecked gives us a means of expressing solidarity with others we don’t know, but also with those we worship with whose families and loved ones are at great risk. We may feel helpless, but we are not as we pray for others. This is an integral part of our work as a priesthood of believers [1 Peter 2:1-10], whose by-product is that we manage our anxiety by casting our anxieties upon God, which is a way of expressing our humility under his mighty hand [1 Peter 5:6-7]. In this way we combat the lies of Satan, who would use our natural anxieties and cares as an accusation against our Father’s goodness [5:8-9], by remembering to find our rest in his grace and power [5:10-11].
Our Bible reading will sustain and nourish us. Bible and prayer go together, feeding each other as they centre us in God and keep us from despair and hopelessness. Many people watch less news than formerly. Since media reports have been fuelled by the pandemic and made worse by sensationalist reporting, this response is understandable and wise. However, if not replaced by the good news news, the resulting void will only be filled with an equally empty and worrying inward focus. A regular diet of balanced Bible reading will nourish us by lifting our thoughts to God away from ourselves and to prayer for others. Our gracious God will always work though these means.
Church attendance. Good gifts can easily morph into bad habits. The technology that helped us through lockdowns and sickness, has I fear, fuelled laziness among some. “Pyjama church” is an insult to God and our fellow believers. Would we entertain our boss or the PM in our pyjamas or stop meeting with our golfing and coffee buddies once restrictions are lifted? Church is the great reminder that, though we are saved personally, it is always for the purpose of building others up, being ministered to by others, witnessing to those in our world that we belong to Another, and worshipping our Triune God in harmony [these 4 aspects can be found in Hebrews 10:19-26 and Ephesians 5:15-21]. It has been said that “Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy!” Christians who worship with others are far more likely to worship, pray and read the Bible at home, rather than the other way around. Growing in grace is essential to our fulfilling God’s purposes. He cherishes us so much that he loves to sustain us but He has made us in such a way as to grow us in grace only as we actively allow his kindnesses to flow through us. Other-person-centeredness, paradoxically, is His means of blessing [John 7:37-39, 12:25; Acts 20:35; 1 Thess 3:12].
Peter Brain 18th May, 2021