Return to the Ordinary Means of Grace

You see your name on the paper placard and pick it up, “table four.” You make your way to your seat and are delighted to strike up a conversation with the cousin you haven’t seen in six years.

While you’ve been to three weddings since the last time you’ve seen her, she missed them while she was away at college. You’ve been to plenty of weddings and while not unique in and of themselves, they’re always memorable and joyous.

Little do you know, this wedding will be different. A relative of Mary of Nazareth is about to do something miraculous.

Your stomach starts to growl as pleasant aromas waft out of the kitchen. But just as the waiter moves towards your table, the wine runs out. Everything gets quiet. Just before a panic break outs, some awestruck servants save the day with some of the best wine you’ve ever tasted.

How did these servants save the day? By obeying the simple and unremarkable commands of Jesus of Nazareth: they filled some stone jars with ordinary water, and God did the impossible. These servants are never named, and yet, their actions are recorded in Scripture (John 2:1-11) and are still discussed in churches to this day.

VYING FOR ATTENTION

We live in a remarkable time. Due to modern technology, just about anyone can have a reach well beyond the walls of the local church. These remarkable times beg for remarkable ministries. The acceptable idol within the church of our day is novelty, and there is no shortage of churches desperate to explode in numbers by some newfangled tactic from the minds of men.

The acceptable idol within the church of our day is novelty.

There is a strong pull to impress people; to draw a crowd, corral them into a church building, and call it a win for the “kingdom.” But is this the way of Jesus?

Giving in to the constant pressure to satisfy the world’s hunger for bigger, flashier, and more impressive, we put on slick productions and programs, often at the expense of biblical faithfulness. Six-figure budget lines devoted to sound and lighting systems, in-church coffee shops, stage props and set designs—these things are foreign to the pages of Scripture.

I’m not saying it’s a sin to spend money on some of the above, but I am imploring us to check the idols of our hearts. Are we content to give God the glory with modest means and serve his people? Or are we aiming to draw crowds to a spectacle devoted to the glories of man?

What we win people with, we win them to. But going one step beyond this, what we win them to, we must keep them with.

MAINTAINING THE ATTENTION

The burnout rate among pastors in the present age is alarming. So alarming, in fact, that it might cause some to wonder whether Jesus was lying when he said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Jesus doesn’t lie, of course. So something else must be going on.

The cause of much pastoral burnout is submitting to the yoke of the world in the name of Jesus. Many of us in ministry subject ourselves to a grueling schedule of putting on productions to satisfy people. After winning folks to the “church,” we must keep them in the “church” by ever-increasing demands of production. No church possesses the resources and technology of a Hollywood movie studio, though. And striving to maintain a weekly production on par with one would make even the highest-capacity leader buckle under the pressure. 

Our call is to make disciples, not draw crowds.

Our call is to make disciples, not draw crowds. Are the people in our churches disciples of Christ who are growing in depth of godliness? Or are they simply spectators at an event? If it’s the latter, how do we prune the branches that are not bearing fruit? How do we correct course if we’ve been duped into growing an audience instead of making disciples? 

We must return and zealously guard the ordinary means of grace: the Word of God and prayer.

These ordinary means are so simple and unassuming that they seem elementary. Intuitively in an age of instant information, we will often be tempted to “graduate” onto something more advanced. But God has been using them since the beginning, and he delights to use them today.

STONE JARS AND LIVING WATER

Before the luxury of modern plumbing (and still in countries lacking this convenience), water was brought into the house by one of two ways: either walking to a source of running water, or drawing it up from a well.

Every morning someone would get up early, grab a large container or stone jar, walk down to a water source, and then bring it back to provide their household with water for the day. This activity would be so mundane, so routine, it would become second nature and one would rarely think about the monotony of it as they whistled and went about their day. But the activity was essential if they were to quench their thirst. 

If we start to skip Bible reading and prayer, we’ll find our souls thirsty for God’s living water.

The ordinary means of Bible reading and prayer are no different. It can be monotonous at times. We can sometimes go into auto-pilot during our devotional time. But if we start to skip that routine, we’ll find our souls thirsty for God’s living water.  

For many of the men and women of God from history that are still quoted today, reading the Bible and praying was the normative practice. They would wake early in the morning, grab their well-worn Bible, and walk down into its truths to quench their thirst from God’s Word. They would then go about their day, seeking God’s face in the ordinariness of life. 

What about us? Have we drifted from the simple and routine joy of these ordinary means of grace in the age of smartphones and viral videos?

LET’S RETURN TO THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE

Studying Scripture and crying out to God in prayer are such elementary principles of Christianity that our ears almost instinctively block out any simplistic pleas to adhere to them. Yet these are the means that have proven effective for channeling God’s grace throughout the history of the Church. They are the activities to which the church in Acts devoted herself (Acts 2:42). And they are the means God used to propel that church into prominence. 

So open your Bible often. Pray without ceasing. It’s ordinary, and unremarkable. But when God shows up and does the miraculous, you’ll have the joy of being the obedient servant who got to see it happen (John 2:7). He’ll honor your faithful and hard work. His Word never returns empty but accomplishes what he desires (Is. 55:11).  

Sitting in the quiet with your Bible open isn’t going to make the evening news or go viral on social media, but it will quench your thirst for the divine.

Time and time again, God has used the ordinary means of grace in ordinary people’s lives to do remarkable things. May he do so for us today.


Sean Nolan is a GCD Staff Writer that grew up in New York’s capital region. He married the girl that told him about Jesus and they have three children together. After three years pastoring in the suburbs of Baltimore he is returning to Albany to plant Engage Church. You can follow him on Twitter.