The Rhythm of Grace

This comes to you from the pen of covenant member, Matt Kenyon. Thanks Matt!

So I’ve been grinding my teeth at night.

My dentist says it’s genetic. Could be. Personally, I think it’s my trademark anxiety that comes from too many months of half-heartedly abiding in Christ and steadily drifting from the love of His sovereign grace and prayer. I kept that diagnosis to myself while I was in the dental chair, though.

Sunday’s sermon delivered at Orlando Grace on the fifteenth chapter of John was no coincidence, and was a timely example of the Lord’s common grace in my life.

Throughout the better part of the chapter, Jesus is articulating the believer’s relationship to Himself and the Father through the lush metaphor of the vine and the branches. Much of the focus of the Lord’s words are in reference to His own role as the grace-supplying vine and the Father’s role as the loving pruner of the Christian. However, it isn’t long before we run headlong into a single commanding verb from the lips of our Savior that requires intentionality and action from the believer: “abide.”

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)

Abiding may sound ethereal; I mean, how exactly do you “abide” in anybody, much less the God of the universe? Jesus elaborates further:

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will done for you.” (John 15:7)

Now, we’re getting somewhere. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty, the means of grace by which we abide are simple: being saturated in the reading and memorization of Scripture (His very “words”) on the daily, being constant in prayer (Romans 12:12), living in a covenant community with other believers, among others. Notice that I said simple — not easy. This is why we need the grace of a Romans 8:28 God undergirding our feeble wills even to perform such acts of spiritual discipline. After all, Jesus plainly tells us in regard to all matters of spiritual effectiveness: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b)

Currently, I’m recording an album, and trucking my way through a very robust online video class on sound editing and recording. One of the fundamental lessons deals with amplified sound waves. We’ve all seen what a sound wave looks like: a line that peaks and valleys in different patterns over and under a zero axis. Now, I’ll spare you the geek-talk, but one of the examples in the lesson illustrated what happens when you double (or amplify) the sound wave just milliseconds out-of-sync. The peak of the first waveform doesn’t match the peak of the next, and the resulting sound is slightly less preferable than nails on a chalkboard. The further away the sound waves spread from each other, the nastier and more distorted the sound becomes. However, when they are perfectly in sync with each other, the difference is like night and day. The doubled wave lays perfectly in line with the first wave, and the sound is amplified, pristine and clearer than ever.

This is what happens to me when I fall out of sync with the gospel of grace; when I’m not actively abiding in the vine. Like I said before, abiding is a verb that demands intentionality. You don’t wake up one morning and accidentally start abiding in the Lord. On the contrary actually, most mornings we wake up thinking about our problems, our idols, our vices and our comforts. The original rhythm Adam had with the Father in the garden has become all wonky and awkward, and must be corrected by grace-laden prayer and mind-renewing Scripture.

So, today, let’s start abiding deeply again. Let us not dare, however, attempt it upon our own flawed ability. Knowing that we are justified not by works, but by grace, let us find strength in Philippians 4:12, in God moving and working underneath all of our actions, to abide. The Son shall supply the nutrients to fight, the Father shall prune the deadness that bars, and we shall certainly bear fruit in the rhythm of the heavenly.

Our Most Crucial Role & the Need for Goals

Today our weekly morning prayer group finally resumed our discussion over breakfast of C. J. Mahaney’s helpful article on biblical productivity.

We’ve covered thus far in our reading some of the challenges of busyness masquerading as productivity and procrastination, to some guidance and help in how to ensure real productivity in our lives, to lately the consideration of the stewardship of the roles each of us has and the importance of setting limited goals weekly for each of those roles.

As a result of my interacting with this article I have identified six roles God has entrusted to me:

  1. Christian
  2. Husband
  3. Father
  4. Extended family member
  5. Ministry leader
  6. Neighbor

Mahaney rightly says that no other role is more crucial or central than that of “Christian.” And yet we mostly like assume this role and its responsibilities when we write our schedules and even consider it optional when other demands press.

He recommends identifying two specific goals as a subset of what it means to follow Christ:

  1. Communion with God
  2. Participation in the local church

Regarding the first, he writes:

The consequence of neglecting a personal goal is nowhere more serious than when we neglect God and neglect our own souls. Scripture sternly cautions us to enforce all diligence over our hearts: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23, ESV). We must study our hearts. We must monitor the condition of our hearts. We must work by the grace of God to employ the spiritual disciplines to keep our hearts with all vigilance.

Regarding  the second, he advises we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • When and how am I intentionally serving those around me? this year? this week?
  • When and how do I care specifically for those closest to me in the church? this year? this week? (For some of you, this will consist of serving those in your small group.)
  • When and how do I pray for and support my pastor? this year? this week?

I particularly like that last bullet point. 🙂

Jesus told His followers in John 15:5, I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

That last phrase alone ought to grip us with the importance of intentionally scheduling spiritual goals lest the cumulative effect of our efforts amount to nothing.