Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Common Graces

Our desire to see God work may obscure when he does so

So many times in our lives we find ourselves in need, or hurting, or questioning, and we want to see God help us:
"Show me the way, Lord."
"Help me to feel better about this."
"Please take the pain away."
"I need your comfort today."
"I won't make it without your grace, Lord."
Such requests are normal, and should be asked--after all, God tells us to cast our anxieties upon him, to ask for what we need, and to pray without ceasing.

However, I think we sometimes miss it when he answers these prayers. And a book our pastoral team is reading reminded me why this is so.

I like to have our staff read through books that will help us think about matters related to serving the church, and recently we've been reading one about how people grow. Written by a counselor, it is saying all the right things, but in language that is different than pastors normally use, and that makes it catch our attention. The last chapter we discussed talked about how God's plans for our growth involve people--the body of Christ. The author makes the point that such prayers as those above are often prayed with the hope that God will somehow supernaturally show up and miraculously tell us what to do, dispense a miracle cure, or give us a divine hug and an "attaboy (or girl), you can do it!" But that is not how God works.

Instead, God puts his people in our lives, who bring the grace that we need. The author illustrates with the story of a man who lacked self discipline and kept creating a serious problem for himself. His solution? Pray, and ask God to heal him of his problem. The man told his Christian friend about his problem, and the friend guided him toward good counsel, accountability, and a network of people who continued to encourage, check up on, and otherwise move the sufferer in the right direction. After a period of time, the man with the problem realized that it was gone. He was happy, but just a bit disappointed that God hadn't healed him. But God had healed him--through the lives and gracious ministry of the body of Christ.

That is how God usually does his work--not by divine, direct intervention, but through members of the Body exercising their graces and gifts on behalf of others. You are hurting and your prayer is for comfort. How is God most likely to bring it? Not by you going off by yourself and waiting for a heavenly hug. Rather, it will most likely come by you engaging with your spiritual community, sharing your hurt, and letting them love on you. That is not a substitute for God's comfort, it is its supply through his people. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1 that God comforts us in all our affliction, and that we can then comfort others. Notice that we comfort others, which means God's comfort comes through people. And while God certainly can and does give special experiences of assurance of his presence and comfort, even Paul mentions at various times that he was comforted by the coming of certain people when he needed them, or receiving certain news when he was distressed for people--in short, God's comfort isn't just a supernatural "zapping," but is usually through God's people doing what we should do as we see those around us in hard circumstances.

So the next time you pray a prayer that comes from a deep sense of need, may I encourage you to do so from a place where you are in close proximity to the rest of the Body of Christ and being honest about your situation? Because in those circumstances you are in a position for God to answer that prayer in the way he normally does--through his people.