I am on a two-day break with my wife. I was thinking about the joys of thirty-six years of marriage and realised afresh that the greatest blessing to me has been that Nelun has been the principal human medium for receiving God’s grace in my life. This set me thinking about relationships within the body of Christ, and I realised afresh how a grace perspective to life brings us great joy through God’s blessings mediated to our lives through others.
When Grace is uppermost in our lives we adopt an attitude to life of an unworthy but joyous receiver. We become open to receiving from others. Others, sensing the joy of partnership with us, find joy in blessing us. In this way others become a key medium through which God’s grace is mediated to us. This demonstrates the truth of Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
One day I would like to do a survey of all the times Paul talks in his Epistles about how other people have been a blessing to him. The list will be huge (just read Romans 16!); and you will see that the underlying sentiment in those references is joy over other people. The most commonly used reference on this today is Philippians 1:3-5: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Later Paul shows how he depended on the Philippian Christians, like he depended on God. Talking about the prospect of release from prison he says, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Phil. 1:19). Note how Paul places his readers alongside the Holy Spirit as agents of deliverance. So it should not surprise us that Paul asks for prayer for himself in eight of his thirteen letters.
After asking us to bear one another’s burdens, Paul says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Gal. 6:3). Some people want to project an image of being strong people. They don’t admit to weakness and need. In fact they often view others as a threat to their plans and to the image they want to project. I was once leading a congregation in intercessory prayer when I noticed an elderly Christian leader who I knew had been released from hospital a few days before. I told the people that we should pray for this leader and I asked him how he was. He didn’t seem to appreciate my desire to pray for him. He said that the Lord had made him strong and that he will continue serving God. Such people miss the joy that comes from relationships of mutual helping.
Yet such joy is available only to those who are willing to become vulnerable by admitting that they need help. I am sure you would have seen pictures of baby birds hungrily waiting with their mouths directed upwards for the mother to put in food. Early in my ministry I recognized that this is a good illustration of the Christian life. We need to develop the attitude of the hungry baby bird that yearns for God’s grace to be mediated to us from any of the many sources he makes available to us. That is the way we grow deeper and wider in the Christian life. Long ago I read a statement from Richard Halverson, who was at one time the Chaplain of the United States senate. It went something like this: “The growing edge of the Christian life is need.”