I’m a big guy and, due to my paralysis/quadriplegia, I require “high maintenance.” That is, it takes a lot of work to keep me going. In my “perfect world,” the Veterans Administration hires healthcare agencies for assistance with my care. For several (poor) reasons, however, the healthcare aides have not been supplied (again) for about 2 weeks. This means that my wife is left to provide my requisite and necessary care. Each morning she spends over 3 hours doing “the heavy lifting” of my care. Heavy demands on her physically result in fatigue. In plain words, she becomes very tired. So, after attending to my needs, she sits down for her break.
After a while, and following some breakfast, her strength is renewed. Although still tired, she is then able to get on with the rest of her day. You can see what has happened. The rest and nutrition have restored her energy.
This is similar to what David speaks of in Psalm 3.3: He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He is saying that the Lord has renewed his spiritual strength and is leading in the right way.
Think about this for a minute. How does the Lord restore us spiritually? I wish I could hear your answers, but of course, I can’t. I can suggest that in the previous blog I wrote about the Sabbath principle. This weekly practice of rest and reflection/worship is one way in which God refreshes us in him.
Are you familiar with terms the means of grace? I was not, and neither are many people. A while ago, okay a long while ago, I was training a man for his Elder exam. We took long walks and discussed the gospel, Christian disciplines, church history, and theology. In the process, I asked my friend, “What are the means of grace?” By this time, he knew that the means of grace meant, the manner or way in which God extends his grace to us. The means of grace are the ways in which God ordinarily works to communicate his grace.
Historically, the means of grace include the word, sacraments, and prayer.
- By word is meant the Bible, the word of God, especially preached, but also includes various kinds of interaction with the Bible, including personal reading and reflection on the Scriptures.
- The sacraments include observing and participating in Christian Baptism and the Lord’s Supper together with other believers.
- Prayer refers to speaking to God with reverence, adoration, gratitude, confession of sin, confidence in his grace and providential care for us, together with our requests and petitions for physical and spiritual blessings needed for ourselves and others, while we recognize and submit to his authority over us.
Even a quick glance at these means of grace suggests the idea of corporate community. That is, these means are passed on to us in the context of God’s dealings with his people, the church. The church is the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit grows God’s people. The church, including its ministry, is the way God usually works in pouring out his grace to us.
Most of us in American culture have an extremely low view of the church for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are valid or at least understandable. This, however, does not diminish the importance of the ministry of the church to Christians. It has been well said that no person can have God as his Father, without the church as his mother. In fact, older theologians used the words “mother church” with great affection.
Again, you might object that the church has been the source of great abuse and evil. I agree. We could go on at length describing and cataloging the wrongs committed by Christians and Christian churches.
The fact remains, however, that “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Compare this to your view of the church. I know that sometimes, Christian churches have acted in unchristian ways. I know that many people have been hurt by the church and its leaders and members. I know that folks outside of the church are often more loving than folks inside the church.
The church has frequently disobeyed Jesus command. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
Jesus has given his church to us for our benefit. Jesus uses his church to shepherd us, his people. Through his church, we receive spiritual nourishment, protection, training in righteousness, and opportunities to show our love for him as we love one another. He uses it to refresh us and lead us. So, if one ignores or resists the church, he or she hinders the work of God intended for their benefit.
God’s design is to use his church in his process of restoring and refreshing his people. God exhorts us: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, ESV)
The church is vital to our spiritual health. To neglect the church and its ministry to resist the Lord and his work, which is intended for your benefit. So, if you sense that you are fatigued and need to be restored, attend to the means of grace. Participate in the ministry of your gospel centered church. Submit to the Word. Participate in the sacraments. Pray to your father in heaven. Use these means of grace which God has provided for your benefit.
This should settle the matter. Yet, sometimes old or even new wounds interfere. We have a hard time with “church.” We have been hurt and it is difficult to obey. Jesus has commanded us to love one another. Jesus has shown us how to love one another by giving himself up, that is, by sacrificing oneself. The church is not perfect now, but it will be! One day, Jesus will present the church to himself in splendor; I’ll be holy and without blemish, just like the rest of my brothers and sisters in the church. Thank God for the church and the means of grace through which God restores our souls.