By Chuck Griffin Editor, LifeTalk
Acts 1:8 (NLT): “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”
In my Sunday sermon at Holston View United Methodist Church, I mentioned what are sometimes called the “means of grace.” That’s a very Methodist phrase for spiritual practices that create an encounter with God.
An encounter with God should bring about very positive change, of course. I would compare the offer God is making us to a rich man saying, “Any time you come to the corner of Church and Clonce streets, I will give you a bag of cash.” We likely would go to that obscure intersection quite often.
God is offering us much more, saying, “Meet me in these spiritual practices, and I will mold you for eternal life, letting you experience its joy now.” All the cash on the planet cannot match the value of eternal life! If we can better grasp what is being offered, we will regularly engage in these spiritual practices.
John Wesley talked about many different ways we can encounter God, but I’m going to focus the rest of the week on what he called “works of piety.” We will begin with the tremendous impact Scripture can have on our lives.
Paul told a young pastor in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” And Paul was referencing just the Old Testament—remember, as he wrote this letter, he was creating an early piece of what would become the New Testament.
Bibles used to be hard to come by, but that’s no longer true in our digital culture. We can carry multiple translations on our phones, and if you have a little trouble reading—for example, I have friends with dyslexia—there are audio versions.
We also need to be sure we are working from a plain-English translation we can understand. Again, there are many options. I’m particularly fond of the New Living Translation, and Bible Gateway will let you explore a huge list of translations.
With all the resources we have available, encountering God in Scripture mostly is about taking time out of our too-busy lives.
The Bible is a library, meaning you cannot read it the way you would read a novel, but if you’ve never read it from start to finish, I would encourage you to do so. It helps to start with the big picture, understanding the library and its broad themes. Read just three chapters a day, and you’ll finish in a little more than a year. Don’t get bogged down on the lists, like the census data in the Book of Numbers. Where necessary, skim!
You will walk away with a deeper understanding of some basic truths. God is our creator. Creation rebelled by sinning, rejecting God’s will. God loves his creation so much, however, that he began to work to restore us, despite our sins. Through a particular people, the Israelites, a savior eventually came into the world, God among us in flesh. He died to free us from sin, and then rose from the dead to prove his victory. The Spirit of God sustains us now, until such time as God completes his work and we are restored to him in full.
Once you have those concepts in mind, you can dive into the individual books and letters, developing a deeper understanding of these life-changing truths. We are talking about a lifetime of study—you just keep going deeper and deeper.
It does take a little work to learn to process Scripture. The chapter numbers and verse numbers, which are not in the original manuscripts, make the Bible look like a book full of rules to be cited, but don’t be misled. There are powerful stories and mysteries to meditate upon. God wants to use all of Scripture to reach deep within our souls, helping us understand there’s so much more to life than what we simply have experienced.
It also is good to come alongside more experienced Christians. Find a small group of people committed to continuing the great traditions of the church as they delve into the gift God has given us all.
The other means of grace we will consider this week are prayer, fasting, the Lord’s Supper, and participation in the life of the church. Stay with me this week. I pray we will see how all of this comes together to give us a much fuller experience of God.
Lord, may your word work in us in new ways, making us better equipped to be citizens of your eternal kingdom. Amen.