This past week was a bit of a dramatic roller coaster ride for Michelle and me – terrible conflict at the beginning of the week, but a wonderful breakthrough on Friday.
Terrible – adj; “adapted or likely to excite dread; formidable; anticipation of things mostly unfavorable.” The kind of terrible that after it happens, you think, “Did I just say that?” and “S/he is so mean.” The kind of terrible that causes you to want to give up. And yes, we did say those things. And yes, that’s what is down in our hearts. Ugly. Sinful. Putrid.
Yet the breakthrough was the breakthrough I’ve desired for years – about 5 or 6 years to be more exact.
Since arriving in Uganda I have recognized a sense of contentment in being here in Uganda, but the joy has been elusive. Do you know joy? Joy is different from fun. Fun is self-centered, even with friends or family. Fun is traveling, seeing new sites, eating at restaurants, attending a professional ball game, going on a cruise, buying a boat, buying a car, going fishing. The vast majority of the time, that’s all fun. When fun is finished (especially when its lots of fun) there can be discouragement. Fun is fun, but it’s so artificial. It’s a façade, a front, a disguise.
Joy is deeper. Joy is real because it’s of God. Yet I cannot seem to get a handle on it. I seem to be doing ministry in Uganda out of duty, obedience, call, and obligation. If fun is fun, then ministry should be hard, right? Not quite. There’s this desire for depth, for reaching the reality of joy. The “fire” is not like it should be. There’s still a strong desire to go deeper. Serving is good, but I cannot understand why I can’t reach this point, this depth, this plateau of motivation by joy, and motivation by love.
So a few weeks ago I ran across this book by John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. It caught my attention immediately and I’ve been slowly reading it.
So after this past week with all the arguing and wondering about where these marital arguments from years past are coming from, and feeling absolutely empty, I read in Piper’s book the phrase “means of grace.” That caught my attention.
About three years ago at youth camp I was introduced to that phrase, “means of grace” by JR Vassar. I studied it for days afterward. It was so eye-opening. Vassar contrasted grace empowered living to the vastly different concept of self-empowered improvement. Don’t miss it – grace empowered living (radical transforming power – Christian) against do-it-yourself-empowered improvement (world). Huge difference. This sermon was so impactful at that youth camp; I sobbed for 10 minutes afterwards and met JR Vassar backstage to talk to him. If this topic interests you and you’re tired of trying over and over again and still failing, after you finish this blog, check out this link: http://www.apostlesnyc.com/mediafiles/sermons.xml. At the website scroll down about ¾ of the way to the message on July 4, 2010 entitled, Grace Empowered Change. If this subject is intriguing, I think you will appreciate the message.
What I missed or forgot in that sermon was brought brilliantly back to light by the Gospel in John Piper’s book. Piper describes “means of grace” when he writes, “There are things we must do in the battle for joy. But if joy is a gift, it can never be earned. So legalism that tries to earn things from God is excluded. Not only that, but knowing that joy is ultimately a gift, and not a mere human achievement, also protects us from elevating technique and willpower too highly. Our strategies must be humble and dependent, followed by ‘May the LORD do what seems good to him’ (2 Sam 10:12). Our strategies to fight for joy are simply means of God’s grace. And means of grace are always modest.”
Piper continues, “The Bible illustrates the modesty of means in numerous ways.” Piper then gives the following references:
Prov 21:31 (“The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But deliverance is of the Lord”);
Psm 127:1 (“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.”);
Prov 19:21 (“There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand”).
The point being that we don’t earn a specified expected return on our investment with God. Rather the means of grace relates to God’s gifts. God decides if He will give a gift. If so, how much of a gift and the size and the proportion. Piper continues, “…joy is a gift from God…we will not trust in means, but in God.” Piper, John; When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy, (Kindle Version, 17%, Chap 4, Joy in God Is a Gift From God) Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. 2004.
Then it all clicked! I’ll explain what happened in my next post.