The grace that goes before
Jonah 1: Get rid of me and you’ll get rid of the storm.
They make their living on the water but the sailors have never seen a storm like this. This storm, they fearfully conclude, has supernatural power. These sailors have no knowledge of God but when Jonah tells them that the God he serves is the Maker of the sea it scares them to death. Jonah bravely accepts his responsibility in all this and tells them to save themselves by throwing him overboard. These idol worshipping, superstitious, and desperate men won’t do it. One has to wonder why Jonah needs to be “thrown” at all. He can abandon ship with or without their help. However, I’ll leave that for another day, and focus in on these pagan sailors. Even though Jonah tells them that tossing him into the sea will save their lives, they row all the harder, trying to escape the storm. One of John Wesley’s doctrines is called “prevenient grace.” The “pre” part of the word is the clue to its meaning. It might be called “the grace that goes before.” That is, before I ever think of God he’s already working in my life. Human beings are created in God’s image and, even though that image is soiled and stained, it remains. It’s prevenient grace that enables a sinner to show God-like compassion on others. It’s prevenient grace that enables us to respond to God’s love as he offers us a relationship with himself. In this case, we see prevenient grace at work in the lives of these heathen sailors who risk their own lives in an attempt to save a person who confesses that their predicament is his fault.
Take Away: Before we ever think of the Lord he’s already working in our lives.
Kindness from an unexpected source
Jeremiah 40: The captain of the bodyguard singled out Jeremiah.
Jerusalem falls. Jeremiah doesn’t give us the details, just that it happened as the Lord had said it would. Jeremiah is put in chains and included in the mass relocation program that’s the policy of the conquering Babylonians. However, when the commanding officer, Nebuzharadan surveys his captives, he takes note of Jeremiah. This heathen military man knows the story. He knows that Jeremiah has, for years, been warning his people that all this was coming. Nebuzharadan declares Jeremiah free. He can travel to Babylon as his guest or he can return to Jerusalem. He even goes so far as to encourage Jeremiah to go to the vassal king, Gedaliah, who has been put into power over Judah. I find it interesting that God’s man is shown more respect by a heathen captain than he was given by the now as good as dead Zedekiah, king of Judah and descendant of David. Actually, I shouldn’t be greatly surprised at this because it’s a fairly common occurrence. For instance, when the Savior is born, “wise men from the east” come to honor him. They get directions from the experts in Jerusalem, but those same experts aren’t themselves interested in making the short jaunt to Bethlehem. Here’s my take on this today: sometimes God’s people aren’t as much God’s people as they think they are and sometimes lost people aren’t as lost as we might think.
Take Away: The Lord works though some unlikely people, especially when the “likely ones” aren’t up to the task.
Responding to God
2 Chronicles 29: I have decided to make a covenant with the God of Israel.
Hezekiah announces his intention to make a covenant with God. He sees that the old covenant has been broken and is in need of repair. His “new covenant” is really a reinstatement of the “old covenant.” While the statement suggests that Hezekiah’s taking the initiative here by approaching the Lord with an offer, the fact is that God has patiently waited for a response like this. If Hezekiah sees this whole event as his initiative I guess that’s okay but actually God is, and always is, the “First Mover.” That’s how it is for us too. Like the prodigal, we think to ourselves, “I will arise and go to my Father,” as though it’s all our idea in the first place. And, just like it is in that story we arrive and find that the Father has been patiently waiting for us all along. To “decide to make a covenant” is a good thing, an important decision. However, such a move is only possible by what John Wesley might describe as the “grace that goes before” — God at work making it possible for us to come to that decision in the first place.
Take Away: Do you need to work some things out with God? Guess what? He’s already moving to work things out with you!
Seeking and being found
1 Chronicles 28: If you seek him, he’ll make sure you find him.
In his old age David’s ready to hand the kingdom over to his son, Solomon. David has accomplished much during his years as king of Israel. Most notably he’s unified Israel and made them “one nation under God.” David well remembers his predecessor, Saul. He knows that Saul failed, not because he lacked the ability to lead, but because he turned away from God. David’s charge to Solomon is to seek God and serve God with all his heart. The good news is that when a person does that God is drawn to him. I’m glad today that God isn’t hidden from me. I don’t have to perform some elaborate dance to get to him. In fact, he’s already made the first move, providing me a way to himself, planting his grace in my heart before I’ve ever thought of him. When I start to come to God, I may think that I’m starting some long and mysterious journey. That’s mistaken. When I start to come to God, I think I’m a “long way off.” I take my first step only to discover, to my joy, that he’s running to me even as the father ran to the prodigal. I start out to seek God only to discover that he’s already found me.
Take Away: If you’re looking for God today, guess what? He’s already found you.
Grace plus grace
Leviticus 20: Set yourselves apart for a holy life…I am God who makes you holy.
Which is it? Am I holy because I consecrate myself to God or is it because he works in my life making me holy? You know that the answer is simply, “both.” The Lord works on both sides of this issue while I’m in the middle. He makes it possible for me to share in his holiness through his living in and through me. He also makes it possible for me to accept his gracious offer to fill my life, creating in me the capability to choose him over myself. On one hand, there’s God, ready and willing to “make” me holy. On the other hand, why, there’s God again. He makes it possible for me to say “yes” to this gracious offer. I’m in the middle. If I refuse this grace-filled offer, I open the doors to the possibility of all the horrible things described in Leviticus 20. If I accept it, if I take advantage of this grace plus grace offer, I open the way for God’s life – his holiness – to be lived out in me.
Take Away: The Lord not only makes me holy; he makes it possible for me to want to be holy in the first place..
Exodus 40: …the Glory of God filled The Dwelling. Moses couldn’t enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud was upon it, and the Glory of God filled The Dwelling.
As Moses finishes the work God gave him to do, God moves in. Moses, through the God-given skills of the faithful workmen did what he could do. Moses led the project, the people funded it, and gifted men acted in obedience in preparing this place of worship. At this point they’ve done all that they can do, and the result is an impressive, lavish, and portable Worship Tent. Of course, that isn’t enough. Unless something else happens all they have is a fancy museum. Then God moves in. He fills the place with his glory – with himself. Now they really have a place of worship. A couple of things come to mind here. First, we do all we can do but it’s never enough until God moves. The best singing and preaching, the finest facility, the “best laid plans of mice and men” fall short without God. Second, we see an example of prevenient grace here. God not only graciously moves in, doing the “divine side” of this effort, but it was God who gave Moses the plans in the first place and enabled the people to do the “human side” of this project. It’s God who gifted the workmen. It’s even God who worked things out so that the Egyptians gave this nation of slaves the very items needed for the building of the Tent of Meeting before they ever left Egypt. Here’s a picture of God working on both sides of the issue. As always, in him we find grace, grace.
Take Away: We are recipients of grace all the way through.