Means of Grace
Last week, I kicked off a series about what John Wesley came to call the “Means of Grace,” or, in other words, the ordinary ways through which God gives grace to His children.
In his sermon “The Means of Grace,” Wesley lays out the three primary ways he believes God bestows grace upon His people: prayer, searching the scriptures, and receiving the Lord’s Supper,” (Means of Grace, II 1.).
On the surface, it seems simple enough, right? Pray, read our Bibles, and take Communion. It seems like a solid pattern for Christian discipleship, and it is.
But, as I have recently learned, simple does not mean easy.
Richard J. Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, says that “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us,” (Foster, p. 33).
To pray is to change, to be transformed somehow.
But what is prayer? What does it mean to pray?
I have heard several definitions of prayer throughout my Christian journey, from the overly simple “prayer is just talking to God,” to a deeper and more profound definition “prayer is listening.”
Personally, I think that prayer is both speaking and listening. In one sense, it’s like having a conversation with God.
We speak, God listens. God speaks, we listen.
But, like good conversation skills (like using active listening, where you really engage with what the other person is saying instead of formulating your response in your head while they are speaking), it takes time.
And practice. Lots of it.
But it’s not always easy, for a number of reasons.
Sometimes we don’t feel like praying, or think we don’t have time (especially if you’re a task-oriented person like me), or feel as though we are praying at the wall or ceiling- when we think or feel as though God does not respond.
I still struggle with this myself.
With everything I have going on in my life, sometimes it’s a struggle to pray.
But Jesus’ example on prayer was pretty clear: “But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray” – Luke 5:16.
Okay, so why is prayer important? If the God we believe in really is an O-O-G (Omnipotent, Omniscient & Good) God, what’s the point? Won’t everything work itself out in the end anyway?
So glad you asked.
In this case, it’s a matter of re-framing our thinking a bit.
While those things are indeed true, God is still a person, who has thoughts and feelings, etc.
Time and again, especially in the Old Testament, we see God change his mind based on the prayers of a prophet, or a called or “chosen one.” Moses changed God’s mind in Exodus 32:11-14, and Jonah changed God’s mind in Jonah 3 (once he finally decided to follow God’s calling on his life) just to name a few.
So, as prayer-people, especially in terms of spiritual formation- we are called to pray for ourselves as a way for God to change us (which is a means of grace in itself). In another sense, we are also called to pray for those around us, for our communities and our world, to spark change- Godly change in the lives of people everywhere- so the love of God can be seen and heard by everyone.
But for Wesley, there is another element to prayer he takes it a step further- a means of grace- the way God brings grace to us.
And he isn’t bashful about it at all. He quotes Matthew 7:7-8, and makes it pretty clear:
“And first, all who desire the grace of God are to wait for it in the way of prayer. This is the express direction of the Lord himself. In his Sermon upon the Mount, after explaining at large wherein religion consists, and describing the main branches of it, he adds: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…Here we are in the plainest manner directed to ask in order to, or as a means of, receiving; to seek in order to find the grace of God, the pearl of great price; and to knock, to continue asking and seeking, of we would enter his kingdom,” (Means of Grace, II, 1.).
While I’m not a Wesley scholar, Wesley does seem to be making a valid point: “you don’t have grace because you don’t ask for it.”
I love this quote because it shows Wesley’s view of grace in light of God. For Wesley, God is a God of an abundance of grace. He doesn’t have too little that Wesley things there won’t be enough for everyone, but instead has enough to be filled with that grace that Wesley believes so very deeply that can change both the believer, and the world.
“To pray is to change,” says Richard Foster.
I think Wesley would agree.