Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Prayer for Grace

[This entry follows last Sunday's sermon, titled "Grace to You."]

This past Sunday, we looked at Paul's greeting to the Philippians.  There, we saw that Paul's greeting was centered on Jesus Christ.  Not only that, but the entire letter centers on Jesus Christ.  Much more, Paul's whole ministry and life centered on Jesus Christ.

Also, we looked at the two ways that Paul refers to grace in that short greeting.  The first is behind the phrase "saints in Christ Jesus."  Being one who is set apart for who is in Christ not something that is achieved by men and women.  It is the gift of God, so that no one can boast (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).  The second reference to grace is the explicit statement, "grace to you," in verse 2.  Here, Paul is not seeking to bless those who are already true Christians with another conversion experience.  Speaking the blessing of grace is an indication that they should live by grace.

In the New Testament, grace is not only the unmerited favor of God in Jesus, by which we are saved.  It is also, as Jerry Bridges puts it, "God's divine assistance to us through the Holy Spirit."  It is by the sustaining and empowering work of grace that we grow spiritually, that we can endure the trials of this life, and that we serve the Lord faithfully.  We talked about four ways that God has given us to grow in grace, and I will only list them again here:
  1. Prayer - We are invited to come with confidence to the throne of grace and seek mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
  2. God's Word - It is a "word of grace" which can build us up (Acts 20:32).
  3. Life's circumstances - In Paul's dealing with the "thorn in the flesh", he learned that God's grace is sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  4. Others - God has given us to one another, especially in the local church, to be ministers of grace to each exhort one another, to care for one another (Hebrews 3:13; 1 Corinthians 12:25).
In studying for Sunday's message, I came across a hymn that speaks of God's purpose to grow us in grace through the circumstances of life.  It was written by John Newton, the former slave trader who composed "Amazing Grace."  This hymn is called "Prayer Answered by Crosses," and I hope you are as encouraged and challenged as I was when I first read it.
I asked the Lord that I might grow
     In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
     And seek more earnestly his face. 
'Twas he who taught me thus to pray;
     And he, I trust, has answered prayer;
But it has been in such a way
     As almost drove me to despair.
I hopes that, in some favoured hour,
     At once he'd answer my request,
And by his love's constraining power
     Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
     The hidden evils in my heart,
And let the angry powers of hell
     Assault my soul in every part.
Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed
     Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
     Blasted my gourds, and laid me low. 
Lord, why is this? I trembling cried;
     Wilt thou pursue this worm to death?
This is the way, the Lord replied
     I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I now employ
     From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
     That thou may'st seek thy all in me.
I referred to Jerry Bridges' writing earlier.  Let me share one last poetic expression from him.  It was given to him by a friend after the death of his first wife.  He says it is in a notebook where he often sees it, meditates on it, and prays it.  May we have the grace to pray this way.
Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give,
To lack what You withhold,
To relinquish what You take,
To suffer what You inflict,
To be what You require.