Often I have reflected on the relationship between our Christian duty and our growth in Christ-likeness. We would like to better reflect the character of Christ, and certainly it would seem that is God’s desire. We understand that sanctification is a work of God’s Spirit, that the fruit we reflect in our Christian growth is the fruit of the Spirit. It is not the fruit of our own works. And yet our work is involved.
Earlier in these pages, I have sought to give some hopefully helpful reflections on these matters. (Note that the links on this page are to an earlier Blogger edition of this blog.) In doing so, I suggested that one way of thinking of our involvement in the process of growth is to think of our acts of devotion or obedience as acts by which we put ourselves in the ‘way of grace’. If it is so, as we believe, that the Holy Spirit ministers grace to us in the sacraments or in prayer or in the reading and hearing of the word of God, then it makes sense for us to put ourselves in those places where these things are taking place. In my participation in worship, I am not changed as a reward for or as an effect of my obedience, but I am changed as the Spirit of God chooses to use that circumstance to change me. The work is his. It is my joy to find those ‘thin places’ between earth and heaven (a concept I think I am stealing from N. T. Wright) and to place myself there. If I never go to where God’s Spirit is known to work, then it should be no surprise to me that I am rarely the recipient of grace.
All that said, I have rarely heard others speak in this way. However, recently I found in reading Samuel Bolton’s The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, an English Puritan work published in 1645, something very similar.
“How often does a believer go to prayer with a dead heart, and rise with a lively heart! He begins with a straitened heart and rises with an enlarged heart; he begins dejected and ends comforted! How often, when he could find no such motion of God leading him to duty, has he yet met with God in the midst of the duty, and enjoyed God, in a prayer, in a glorious sweet way! … God loves to meet those that are in His way. Though the miller is unable to command the wind, yet he will spread his sails, and thus be in the way to use it, if it come.”
I take this as some positive confirmation that perhaps I’m pointing our noses down a good path previously trod.