The News from Out on Bittersweet
It’s a sunny fall-like day today and we are preparing for special visitors on Bittersweet Farm all the way from the Oregon coast. Today the Preacher’s Wife is selling her wonderful-smelling candles at the Main Street Market sponsored by the Urban Farm Girl near Rockford, Illinois. Tomorrow we will have our Family Fall Festival at Bethel Church.
I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of the “Ber” months. May God bless your home, your church, your “students” returning to school. These are sweet months to savor in our parts. These days I am enjoying every mile on my bikes, sweeping along in the cool mornings thorough leaves beginning to fall and under skies especially clear and blue. What are your favorite fall traditions? What do you do to get fresh air in you lungs? How do you keep fit? What are your special fall plans this year?
Our son, Daniel recently moved from New Mexico to the panhandle of Florida to serve with the Santa Rosa Country Sheriff’s Department. Dan is married to Kate. They have a Christian home with three adorable boys. We covet your prayers for his safety as he serves to keep peace.
This morning I penned (or plucked) a little article that might be a help to those who are spiritually “stuck.”
When You Are Spiritually “Stuck”
How do you keep a warm heart and a grow strong faith?
How do you push back the creeping darkness of despair from your life?
How do you keep hope alive when you wrestle with hurts or guilt or shame or anger or anxiety or disappointment or depression?
How do you keep believing when you are tempted to think there is no God or that the things you have been taught about God and are not true? What do you do when you are tempted to doubt the Word of God?
How to you keep growing in your Christian experience year after year? How do you keep your faith fresh and satisfying?
Practices of the Faithful
Through the centuries followers of Jesus have had practices that are means of spiritual vitality. Some of them seem too simple to be helpful, but like good nutrition, when faithfully practiced, they do their good work. The scriptures teach that these practices, disciplines, are supernaturally empowered in the life of a believer to accomplish good.
Different Christian denominations and theological traditions see them from different perspectives but most of us agree about the value and the importance of these practices to our salvation and spiritual flourishing.
The London Baptist Confession put it like this:
“The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lords Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened. – The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, 14:1.
I found this quote from an article on the Center for Baptist Renewal sight to express my understanding:
When evangelical Protestants speak of baptism and the Supper (again, alongside the Word and prayer) as means of grace, they do not mean to convey that these practices are somehow means of justifying grace. Faith alone is the instrument of justification, with the righteousness of Christ its sole basis. But we can speak about the sacraments or ordinances as means of sanctifying grace in that these practices do function to strengthen and confirm the faith of believers and as indispensable aids in the perseverance and preservation of the saints during our earthly pilgrimage.
So, understood this way, as means of sanctifying grace, “means of grace”* are simple things. Prayer. Bible reading. Bible memorization. Bible meditation. Bible study. Fasting. Gathering in small Christian groups. Assembling with larger groups of other believers. Communion. Confession. Singing. Giving. Service. The use of spiritual gifts in cooperation with others. Visitation. Godly conversation. Baptism. Witnessing. Exhortation. Teaching.
For decades as a pastor I have given counsel and help to people who are seeking to strengthen or revive their faith. I have found that they are often tempted to doubt the power of the means God has appointed and look for some new or novel thing. But it is not that the means God has given do not work, it is that they have lost heart and they have stopped practicing them faithfully or they have settled for a mere outward and formal version of them and they are “going through the motions.”
Jesus once said, “You honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me.”
I Have A Practical Suggestion
Return to the practice of the means that God has clearly commended in his word and perhaps begin with just a few. Maybe even one or two at a time. Find a quiet place to pray. Set aside a time for thoughtfully reading and thinking about one of the Psalms. Concentrate on the book of the Bible your pastor is preaching through and read and study that book until the meaning is clear. Mark parts that warm your heart or stir your soul.
Take a walk and talk to God. Begin with thanksgiving. Move to confession. Tell him all your heart. Unburden your soul to him. Walk and pray or go for a “prayer drive.” Find a place of beauty that tugs your heart godward.
Practice the practices from the heart and you will find that they are means of grace, ways that God has designed to gift his beloved children.
September 10, 2022
* [I have departed from a strict protestant theological definition of the phrase “means of grace” here. I understand. We are saved by grace through faith alone and our works are evidence and results of our salvation. I believe that, but use the term here in a different way closer to thy way it was used by John Wesley. Perhaps it is best to simply call them “practices” God blesses. But sometimes I have borrowed the phrase “means of grace.” ]