Between Sundays: Life in the Means of Grace
With ten minutes to spare, David sat down in the pew that had become his usual spot—the top right balcony. He looked up to see Dan, a friend whose wife recently left him. It was messy, and news of his wife’s affair had made its way through the congregation even as the elders prayed and worked behind the scenes to help. David quickly prayed for Dan: “Father, I cannot imagine what Dan feels at every moment of every day, but I remember the verse I read yesterday morning that said that we have a merciful and faithful High Priest in the Lord Jesus. Please help him know that you are touched by the feelings of our infirmities. Help him to know you are not distant, but near during this time of horrific suffering.”
The service began with the usual Call to Worship. David remembered the text from Psalm 95:1: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” Honestly, he didn’t feel like singing, or really even being there. Last week had been a hard week. His presentation before the management team hadn’t gone well, and there was talk he might not be a good fit for his job. And yet, when he heard the presiding minister read the words, “the rock of our salvation,” his mind began to focus on those words. He needed a rock at the moment, and the salvation he had heard about since his childhood was becoming more and more valuable to him. “Salvation,” the pastor stated from the pulpit, “is our greatest need, and God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
“Right now, I feel like I can do nothing for myself,” David thought. Then came the opening hymn: “Come We That Love the Lord.” It spoke of “marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” This was one of David’s favorite hymns from childhood, and today, the words, “We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground to fairer worlds on high” helped him remember that no matter what he faced last week or would face this week, the Lord Jesus himself had walked on earth and lived perfectly, died vicariously, and rose victoriously for him. Slowly his mind focused on the words of the Bible, and when he prayed, he began to pour out his heart to God.
A verse came to his mind as he began to pray with the minister: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” David began to pour out his heart to God in prayer. He remembered how he slandered his friend, Michael, who had slandered him. He asked God to forgive him; he knew he should be praying for those who were standing against him at work. Slowly, with each mention of his sin, he grew simultaneously more concerned and more comforted. The more he thought, the more sin he remembered. The more sin he remembered, the more he worried about his soul. When he heard the words from the minister promising God’s forgiveness, he thought, “I have no hope because I can’t stop sinning—at least in this life.”
The sermon focused on Romans 5:1–11. It was a difficult passage to understand, but as the pastor explained what it meant to stand justified by faith and to stand in the grace of God, even through trials and sufferings, a confidence in God slowly grew in his heart. “God is building something in me,” David thought. “Even though it’s hard, and I hate all I’m going through at work, I know the Lord has promised to never waste trials. He uses them to change me and make me more holy.”
David was up early on Monday morning to exercise. As he jogged, he listened to Scripture. This morning it was hard to concentrate because he didn’t want to face everyone in the office. It felt as if everyone was against him because of what happened last week. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” This was the verse that stuck with him from his morning Scripture reading podcast. “Father,” David prayed, “I am scared about what might happen, but I ask that you help me in everything I will face today.”
By the time he walked into the office, he saw his boss coming down the hall. His heart fell and dread overtook him. Suddenly this hymn came to mind: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am Thy God and will still give thee aid.” He took a deep breath and walked on. His boss greeted him and said to him that he would be working with him to get things more on track.
David immediately thought, “I am terrible at this job and really terrible at everything I do.” Suddenly, these thoughts drove him into sadness. Three weeks ago, the assistant pastor preached a sermon on prayer and speaking truth to ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Father, I am really scared and feel terrible at the moment. I worry life is about to fall apart, and then I will be all alone and not know what to do.” As he prayed, he began to realize that no matter what happened, God was in control of his life.
Last week his best friend, James, reminded him that the pain of his past didn’t have to keep affecting him every day. More talking, praying, and simply applying the truth of Scripture helped him to arrest bad thoughts before they took over his mind and sent him down a path of despair.
As the week progressed, each day seemed to get a little easier. David’s routine helped him stay on track spiritually and at work. Wednesday night, after mid-week Bible Study, he had his weekly dinner with James from church. This was his favorite time of the week because when they got together, they always talked about the Lord and encouraged each other. Somewhere between laughing and walking and eating, David’s loneliness drifted away.
During his devotions on Friday, David glanced at the upcoming order of worship online and noticed the congregation would be observing the Lord’s Supper. As he took a few moments to reflect on the table, he recalled that though he had asked God to forgive him for slandering Michael, he had not yet reconciled personally with him. He felt like he couldn’t approach the table in good conscience. So he texted him to set up a meeting. After reading Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, he took courage and was resolved to the task. Even though confessing his sin to Michael was humiliating in the moment, the forgiveness and reconciliation he received ended up being life-giving for his soul.
Saturday, he reflected on Friday’s conversation with Michael, he recalled the joy he felt when he witnessed Michael’s baptism, and the thankfulness that his profession of faith meant he was a genuine brother in Christ. Those memories reminded David of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace he now shared with the rest of his congregation, leading him to strategize how he might do spiritual good tomorrow for other members of his church.
By the time Sunday returned, David found himself in the same place—the top right balcony. The service began, and all the familiarity reminded him of the foundation for his trust in God. David hadn’t missed a worship service in about six months. His life had become bound up with the people and the work of the gospel at work in this church. Week by week. Sunday by Sunday. Their pastor had taught them through the “ordinary means of grace.”
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The service began with these words. The sheer predictability of the next 90 minutes was the opposite of boring. Instead, the words of Scripture and the songs of the saints and the sermon from his pastor worked to transform his heart, their hearts.
“I can’t live without these words and this place,” David thought.