|Obed J. PÃ©rez prays.|
Opening doors to God's grace
By Emily Snell
Join us for our free, one-hour premiere webinar on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. CT. “Means of Grace, Means of Growth” will feature the Rev. Steve Manskar, director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship, the Rev. Beth Fender, coordinator of discipleship and new streams, Illinois Great Rivers Conference, and the Rev. Tom Albin, dean, The Upper Room. Register now http://shop.umc.org/means-of-grace-overview-webinar-february-2014. Registration deadline is 12 noon CT on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Action inspired by faith has always been central to Christian tradition. From the beginning of the movement, Methodism has emphasized the importance of living out one's beliefs. Even as cultures change, engaging in certain practices continues to be among the ways United Methodists experience and share God's grace.
In his preaching and writing, John Wesley explained practices, which became known as the means of grace, as ways or conduits through which people experience God's grace, God's unconditional love. Among them are worship and prayer, Holy Communion and acts of compassion and mercy.
The Rev. Laceye Warner, executive vice-dean at Duke Divinity School, said the means of grace allow people to take part in God's kingdom on earth.
"They are participating in the reign of God and the sanctification of communities of faith," she said.
Warner said practicing the means of grace serves as an example of active faith.
"It's a living, breathing, authentic Christian faith that seeks to serve and transform the world with God's love," she said. "It's a really practical but inspired starting place for Christian faith."
|(From left) Ezekiel Gomez, Evelyn Garcia, Mykey, Nina Sicat, Mykey Lucas and Patrick Pacris participate in worship opening Relevance X in February 2013 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.|
According to an article on the General Board of Discipleship's website, Wesley wrote "general rules" in 1743 to help guide the group of young Methodists he was leading in England. These three general rules included doing no harm and avoiding evil, doing good and attending to all the ordinances of God. Within the last rule, Wesley explained the six "instituted means of grace:" public worship, private and corporate prayer, searching the Scriptures, the Lord's Supper, fasting and Christian conferencing. Today, these are sometimes referred to as "works of piety," practices that draw one nearer to God.
A second list, sometimes called "works of mercy," focuses on relationships with other people and includes those actions covered by Wesley's rules to "do no harm and resist evil" and "do good."
Two years later, in a sermon entitled "The Means of Grace," Wesley gave credit to earlier Christians who used the phrase. Wesley defined the means of grace as "outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end — to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to (people) preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace."
Wesley's ideas about the means of grace have continued for more than two centuries because they are part of the original Christian tradition, said the Rev. Steve Manskar, director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship.
"These are practices that are found in Scripture that Jesus himself practiced and taught his disciples to practice as well," Manskar said. "They've been part of Christian tradition from the very beginning."
|Jorge Berrios (left) and Bianca Longhurst receive Holy Communion from Bishops Cynthia Fierro Harvey (right) and Rafael Moreno Rivas during the 2012 MARCHA meeting.|
The Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room at the Board of Discipleship, echoed Manskar's ideas about why practicing the means of grace has persisted.
"It's at the very heart of a relationship with God," Albin said. "The Wesleyan understanding of the means of grace is so clearly taught that the early Methodist people, whether they were educated or not, could understand how to connect with God."
Though they are part of Wesley's "general rules," Manskar said the means of grace are much more than a list of do's and don'ts. They are a way to engage with God.
"Our relationship with God is just that — a relationship," Manskar said. "It's a relationship that we need to participate in, and the means of grace are the ways God has given us to participate in our relationship with him."
Albin said he believes applying the means of grace is crucial to a relationship with God.
"To put it in human terms, it's as important to our spiritual vitality as understanding nutrition is to our physical vitality," Albin said. "When we don't understand the means of grace, we are spiritually malnourished because of our ignorance."
Manskar agreed that practicing the means of grace is necessary for spiritual growth.
"These practices are how we live out that relationship in our daily lives. When we neglect to participate in these practices is when faith never grows and becomes self-centered, and we never really mature into the persons God wants and created us to be."
|Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Eurasia Area serves Communion during the annual meeting of the Southern Russia Provisional Conference.|
Much of what Wesley taught was focused on action, and Manskar said actually living out these principles is imperative for those who claim to follow Christ.
"If we say we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, we must love whom God loves," Manskar said. "If we don't practice our love of God by loving the people who are in our family and neighborhood, the people we meet on the street, the people who live on the other side of the world from us, then we're not fully living the gospel."
Albin suggested that people who want to be more intentional about practicing the means of grace should especially focus on prayer, which the Wesleys referred to as "spiritual breathing."
"You breathe in the love and grace of God. You breathe out worry, doubt," Albin said. "I personally view prayer as oxygen for the soul. Prayer is at the deepest heart of it all. ... If you have enough oxygen, you can do all the rest [of the means of grace]."
Warner said she thinks applying the means of grace begins with love.
"I would encourage folks to start with the very basic acknowledgement of the practices of love of God and love of neighbor that one pursues throughout a day or week, and then to build on that," she said.
Living out the means of grace is not necessarily about creating habits as much as it is about joining God's work in and around us.
|Seung Don Kim, a missionary of the Korean United Methodist Church of South Florida in Fort Lauderdale, walks through the CitÃ© Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Caring for the poor is one of the means of grace growing from John Wesleyâ€™s rule to do good.|
"The Spirit is already there, guiding us," Warner said. "The Holy Spirit showed up before we got there, so how can we collaborate with the Holy Spirit where the Spirit is already working?"
In order to act out the means of grace, Manskar said, people should be involved in communities that support and push members to apply Wesley's teachings.
"You need to be part of a congregation that encourages and teaches the practice of the means of grace," he said. "Then you need to be in a small group with other Christians whose purpose is to encourage and support and watch over one another in love, to help us practice our discipleship. It's impossible to do this on your own."
"If you want help, help is available," Albin said, adding that he wants people to find encouragement in courses offered by The Upper Room and a series of webinars to be offered this year by Interpreter and The Upper Room.
"I think a lot of folks are embarrassed that their spiritual life or their prayer life is wimpy, and they're kind of critical of themselves. We've kind of gotten to the point where we doubt that it can change," he said.
But people can "grow in grace," Albin said. "The Wesleyan path is just the simple steps that get us there. ...
"The truth is that we can grow spiritually."
Emily Snell is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
|Tom Brucker shares during worship at West Nashville United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.|
Learning more about the means of grace
Throughout 2014, Interpreter and The Upper Room will collaborate to provide articles and webinars focusing on the means of grace. Join us on Thursday, Feb. 27, at 7 p.m. CT for the first in this year's series of webinars, "Means of Grace, Means of Growth." Registration details will be announced soon at www.interpretermagazine.org and in other United Methodist media.
Here are other resources from The Upper Room:
"Opening Ourselves to Grace" (The Upper Room), www.bookstore.upperroom.org, four-session small group study or six-week Bible study focusing on the means of grace in the Wesleyan tradition.
Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition by Steve Harper (The Upper Room), 7-week study (also available in Spanish and Korean).