God’s Grace: Shipping Not Included

At a prayer meeting a few years back, the church leader in charge of the event stood and encouraged everyone to gather in groups and begin praying together for various needs. He also encouraged those present to “make declarations” over any situation being prayed for. And then he made a rather provocative statement: “Nothing in the Kingdom of God happens without a declaration.”

Having been around enough prayer meetings in “faith-based” churches, I knew that “making a declaration” was nothing unusual. It meant stating a prayer request in the affirmative, such as “I declare God is going to heal my mother” instead of “God, please heal my mother.” It is seen as a way of adding “more faith” to an otherwise ordinary prayer (if there is such a thing). So that did not catch my attention. But the church leader’s final statement, “Nothing happens in the Kingdom without a declaration,” did.

Was it true nothing happens “in the Kingdom” without a declaration? And what did that mean, exactly? Did that mean nothing good happens in the Christian life without us making a point of making declarations? If for example I prayed to God concerning a situation but failed to “make a declaration” about it, would God not listen to my prayer?

I would like to think that the church leader’s statement was simply a misstatement — an unintended exaggeration of the facts. That what he was really trying to convey is that making declarations can be powerful, but did not mean to imply they were the only way in the Christian life to achieve, say, answered prayer or any other thing. Most likely, this was the case.

But it got me thinking about a fundamental question: If the Christian life is essentially about bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth, then what are the means by which this is accomplished? If it is not “making declarations,” then what is it?

If the Christian life is essentially about bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth, then what are the means by which this is accomplished? If it is not “making declarations,” then what is it?

Clearly whatever it is, this is what every able-bodied Christian should be devoting his or her time to. It would do no good for any of us to devote our time to anything else, no matter how important. After all: If we are not bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth, our efforts, both personally and corporately, are futile.

At least, this is how many of us in the faith-based culture have come to view the Christian life. For us, Jesus’ sacrificial death has made available an abundance of blessings, and the whole point of the Christian life is to find a way of accessing those blessings and making them available in our own lives and the lives of those around us. The privilege and purpose of the Christian life is to “pull down the blessings of God” to Earth. In fact, this becomes the necessity of the Christian life: If there is an abundance of riches at our disposal in Heaven, trying to live for any other purpose than bringing them down to Earth is to fail.

Understanding then how to bring Heaven to Earth (as Bill Johnson calls it) becomes vital. How then is it accomplished? Any respectable faith-based (and let’s be fair here: Bible-believing) church member would answer: It is by faith alone. All the riches of Heaven are ours through the channel of faith. As Jesus Himself states, “Everything is possible to him who believes.”

Scripture draws a clear distinction between faith and what it calls “works.” Works are any attempt on our part to earn what God has otherwise freely given. Eternal salvation is the shining example of this: Jesus has freely given entrance into Heaven to anyone who accepts, by faith alone, His sacrificial death on the Cross for forgiveness of sins. It cannot be earned. So it is with all things in the Christian life.

But there is a steady if not growing trend in the revival culture of sending a mixed message, as our opening story illustrates. We believe it is by faith alone that we receive God’s promises, but in the next breath we say that nothing in the Kingdom happens without a declaration. We say faith alone is required, but we talk a lot about finding “keys to breakthrough.” We stress the importance of faith, but we then say thankfulness is the key to breakthrough, or thinking positive thoughts, or honoring leadership. Or fasting and praying.

There is a steady if not growing trend in the revival culture of sending a mixed message regarding what is required to experienced God’s blessings. We say it is by faith alone, but in the next breath we say nothing happens without a declaration.

Don’t get me wrong: All of these things, in and of themselves, are good. (Who is going to argue that being thankful, or praying, is not a good thing?). But in our pursuit of finding “new keys to breakthrough”, we run risk of erecting new requirements around the simplicity of faith. We do not realize (at least,  from my perspective) that every new “key to breakthrough” creates not only a possibility but a necessity. If thankfulness is the key, then not only does it become possible to experience breakthrough through the practice of thankfulness: It becomes necessary. If honoring leadership is the key, then not only can I experience breakthrough by honoring leadership: I must. If making declarations is the key, then not only does something happens when I do, but before long, nothing happens when I don’t. A whole new body of requirements suddenly emerges, which becomes the new mechanism for experiencing God.

The problem with such thinking is that, simply put, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot simultaneously maintain the thought that God’s grace is by faith alone and God’s grace is by some other means — namely, one that requires human effort. The issue here is not whether we do these things (or whether they have their place in the Christian life). Rather, it is whether we think God’s grace is potentially held up or blocked by a failure to execute an action on our part. To suggest that any activity is necessary in order to receive what Jesus freely purchased with His own Blood is, regrettably, to render the doctrine of faith null and void.

This strikes at the heart of another fundamental question in the Christian life: Is God’s grace being poured out freely, or is it being withheld, such that it requires effort (and perhaps cunning) on our part to wrestle it out of God’s hands? Do we freely receive it by faith alone, or is it necessary for us to work really hard, or figure out how to get it down here from up there?

Is God’s grace being poured out freely, or is it in some way being withheld, such that it requires effort (and perhaps cunning) on our part to wrestle it out of God’s hands?

I think many of us — as much as we would like to say otherwise — have been persuaded it is the latter. We have come to believe that God requires us to work really hard at figuring out how to get His abundant grace from the throne of Heaven down to our personal lives. For us, the message has become: “Jesus paid the price for us to receive his grace in full, but He did not pay for shipping.”

I would like to propose this is not the case. I would like to suggest that God’s grace flows freely, and the simplicity of faith alone is required for us — who have been purchased with Jesus’ own blood, and who are now fully accepted by Him — to receive it. And further, the real challenge of the Christian life is not us finding a way to wrestle grace out of God’s hands, but allowing God’s grace to flow freely the way He desires — without us, out of fear or for other reasons, shutting it down.

I would like to propose the real challenge of the Christian life is not us finding a way to wrestle grace out of God’s hands, but allowing God’s grace to flow freely the way He desires — without us shutting it down.

But as we wrap things up, how are we to account for the vital role of the things we have mentioned — such as declaration, thankfulness, honoring others and even prayer? Are we saying they have no place in the Christian life? Absolutely not. They simply make poor substitutes for faith. In fact, all of these activities — in their right place — flow from faith, and are the effects, not cause, of God’s grace.

Declaration provides a good example. God’s grace, flowing freely in a church service, prompts an individual to declare something (a word of healing, for example). Being a product of God’s grace, it has its intended effect (a person is healed). Now we might be tempted to mistake the act of declaration as the cause of the outcome, but in reality both the act of declaration and the outcome were the result or effect of the ultimate cause: God’s grace. For without God being behind the the prompting, the declaration would have no effect.

This is not to suggest that seeing a cause-and-effect relationship between the act of declaration and the outcome is a mistake. (Certainly if the individual kept his or her mouth shut, the healing might not have taken place.) Our folly, however, is mistaking the act of declaration as the ultimate cause: We see declaration as the new key to breakthrough, instead of God’s grace. We begin to put our confidence in the power of declaration, not the grace of God. What ends up happening is we begin to undercut the very foundation of our experience, putting confidence in our own words, actions and capabilities, instead of God Himself.

But if we see God’s grace through the simplicity of faith, our focus is no longer on our actions, our words or even ourselves. It is on allowing God to be all that He desires to be, both in us and through us. And all of these things — thankfulness, declaration, honor and prayer — become its beautiful expression.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s