Ordinary Means, a New Year, and an Extraordinary God

Does the following describe you?

For many, the promises of the Good Shepherd ring hollow and often don’t seem to correspond with reality. Jesus said: “I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Really? Abundantly? For some, the “abundant life” promised by Christ has been reduced to a daily grind of “faithfulness.” The Christian walk has become a listless routine wherein spiritual disciplines are a duty and godliness is rote. Joy, fervency, and love for God have been burned away like a morning mist by the incessant sun of Christian routine.

This excerpt is from Scott Anderson’s December 2011 Tabletalk article Rest for Restless Hearts. Read it again. Read it aloud to yourself. Did he not hit the nail on the head? I don’t know how many times I’ve read these words, I’ve lost count and my copy of this issue of Tabletalk now has a permanent fold to this page. Maybe this isn’t the case for you, but it likely will be eventually. The author of Hebrews compares our lives as Christians to the wilderness experience of Israel. We are pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, but the desert is often hot and dry. Perhaps this is why a new year is so attractive to us with its promises of a new beginning. Christians and non Christians alike make their New Year’s resolutions to “do better,” but the truth for many most of us is that we find ourselves in the same old rut soon enough.

So, what should we do as Christians who long for this abundant life promised by Christ? The answer is pretty simple: partake of the ordinary means of God’s grace. Ordinary? From the quote above, it sounds like a Christian having that experience longs for more than the mundane. Exactly; it seems as though that Christian needs to seek out the sensational, but it is actually in the very ordinary means of God’s grace that we are often confronted with an extraordinary God. If you find at the dawn of this new year that your longing for God disappears faster than last month’s Christmas decor, you need to seek him in the ways he has ordained – the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

Partaking of the means of grace is not always exciting (they have been dubbed ordinary after all), but it is like stepping into a moving stream where God has promised to bless. This is not to say that the Lord is bound to only work through these means. He is God and works when, where, and how he pleases. Some have said (with the exception of the last three weeks) that God is at work in Denver, Colorado, and that he is doing mighty things through Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Perhaps they are right, again God is certainly free to do all that he pleases and he is sovereign over all that comes to pass. Will God work again this Sunday in Denver in “Tebow time” and bring about another mile high miracle? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that God will be at work this Sunday in his church as it gathers around his means of grace.

They are called means because God’s grace is communicated to us through them by the work of the Holy Spirit because of all that Christ is for us in his Person and work. It is the living and active Word of God that will go forth accomplishing God’s purposes and not return void. It is in the sacraments that visible words of God are preached to us (I Cor. 11:26). The sacraments are not mere empty symbols of remembrance. Those who with faith share in the bread and cup participate in the body and blood of the Lord (I Cor. 10:16). Prayer is a means by which we are kept in the love of God (Jude 20-21). Putting ourselves in the path of God’s blessing in this way means gathering around his means of grace.

The question that arises now has to do with routine. The Christian from the excerpt sounds as if he/she is possibly in a similar routine to the just described. This is where we need to remember that the ordinary means are not automatic. They do not work ex opere operato, that is, just by the operation of these things they perform their work like some formula or spell. No, it is not merely the means but the Spirit of God who is at work through the means that we need to remember. Yes, place yourself in this God-ordained path of blessing but do not neglect calling upon the God of these means. Without him, all of these things are empty, meaningless exercises. Plead with him to keep his promises and to work through the means that he himself has ordained. Learn to wrestle with God in prayer, to argue with him as Spurgeon called it, or to sue him by his own promises as the Puritans put it. Say to God “Lord, you said you would….fulfill your promise to….” and find him to be faithful in his words and works toward the children of man.

Perhaps it isn’t the daily grind of Christian routine for you. Maybe you are in the midst of incredible suffering and wonder how you will go on. The thought of beginning another year may be overwhelming. The answer, though not “quick fix”, is the same. Place yourself in the path of God’s ordained means and call upon his name. Thomas Chalmers writes:

In bygone days when God’s covenant people sought to strengthen their piety, to sharpen their effectual intercessions, and give passion to their supplications, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When intent upon seeking the Lord God’s guidance in difficult after-times, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they were wont to express grief—whether over the consequences of their own sins or the sins of others—they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they sought deliverance or protection in times of trouble, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

When they desired to express repentance, covenant renewal, and a return to the fold of faith, they partook of the means of grace in all holiness with humble prayer and fasting.

Such is the call upon all who would name the Name of Jesus. Such is the ordinary Christian life.

May the living, true, and extraordinary God meet you in his ordinary means.



Chalmers quote from Tim Challies


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