Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Praying for God's Grace?

For some reason I have set up a tracker on this blog to remind me of how few people read it. But one of the most interesting side benefits of Sitemeter, other than humility, is that it shows me where the visitor came from, geographically as well as digitally. And if the referring site was a search engine like Google or Yahoo, it also shows me what the visitor's search query was. Very interesting sometimes. Amazing what searches will lead people to The Den.

And one of the most frequent searches that bring cyber-visitors here is "prayer for God's grace" or some close variation. They usually end up visiting a post I did some time ago about God's amazing grace in even hearing or listening to the prayers of sinful and rebellious people like us. Never mind the amazing grace of God in choosing His people for eternal life, in sending and sacrificing Jesus Christ on behalf of His people, in doing so only on the basis of His sovereign love and justice, and all the other expressions of His undeserved favor. Just the fact that He even listens to the selfish, whining pleas of human beings is an act of grace beyond my comprehension.

But it seems to me that there's something more implicit in this frequent search phrase. It seems as if people are looking for a means to enter into or be recipients of God's grace. They want to know how to pray to get His grace. They're looking for a set of words, a formula, a mystical incantation that will result in God being obligated to send His favor to them. So they go where so many of us go in this i-age whenever we need to find something out. We Google it. These people go to the vast shared knowledge of the entire world contained on the Internet in an effort to find the key to God's favor, just like they'd search for a recipe for spam salad or guacamole.

But doesn't that seem like a concept that's totally incongruous with grace? The idea that we can find some set of words that if uttered in sincerity will automatically result in God showing His undeserved favor to us? Grace, by definition, cannot be appropriated or coerced, from God or anyone else. It is a gift freely given, under no obligation to do so. In fact, this kind of idea that God's grace can be manipulated is in some sense like a meritorious work which puts God in our debt to favor us. It's expressed by Paul in Romans 4:4 like this: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." If we seek to obligate God to show us favor, we are in reality seeking to earn it. Which is impossible.

But there's also a sense in which we must pray for God's grace in order to receive it. But not by murmuring some formulaic prayer that will indebt God to us. Rather, the Bible indicates that the words that we utter to seek God's favor are less important than the attitude and heart condition that we bring to the request. We read in James 4:6 that "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." This principle is all through the Old and New Testament. The prerequisite for receiving God's undeserved favor is an attitude of humility, repentance, dependence and need. And this is true both in the initial receipt of God's grace in saving faith, as well as the day to day reception of God's sustaining grace in the life of His people. God's grace can only be received by those who acknowledge their deep need for it, and their complete lack of deservedness of it.

I hope that those of you Googling for "a prayer for God's grace" find this post. And that you also find the true and sufficient grace of God in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, accessed by your recognition of your need for Him as payment for your sin, and your expression of that need in trust and faith and repentance. Then, and only then, will you find what you really need.

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