The Stewardship of Grace
Acts 13:43—. . . Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
The life and authority of Christ invades the church through divinely orchestrated acts of grace. Our stewardship is to observe carefully and cherish what God initiates. Jesus is always in the lead if we will take time to notice His footprints of grace.
God, by grace, is the initiator of all Kingdom activity. Our effectiveness in ministry comes as we learn to observe His activity, cherish what He is doing, and cooperate. Here’s what Jesus the Vine says to us: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16).
My ministry mindset immediately began to change the first time I heard Manley Beasley say, “Jesus never initiated anything but rather waited on His Father.” Jesus Himself said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). Again, He reinforced, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 5:30).
Jesus is telling us that He obeyed the Father’s will, did the Father’s work, and spoke the Father’s words. God alone initiates anything that is eternal. “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). History is always His-story. He chose to create; His grace found Noah, called Abraham and Moses, and raised up the judges and the prophets. He ordained John the Baptist, sent Jesus through the Virgin, called Peter for the Jews and Paul for the Gentiles. He gave the Revelation of Jesus to Jesus and signified it by His angel unto His servant John (Revelation 1:1). So why, for years, did I think that I had to come up with genius ideas to sell to my congregation, then whip them into action and make something happen for God? Because that was all I knew from the impressions I was given. Well-meaning, we were missing God’s movement of grace.
To the church, Jesus as been given to be the active Head of all things (Ephesians 1:22). He is the Groom who initiates, and we the church are the bride who responds to Him as our beloved. So, the life of the Vine—Jesus—enters the soul of the church by grace, and we are blessed.
Grace brings salvation (Titus 2:11), teaches us to live godly (Titus 2:12-13), teaches us to give generously (2 Corinthians 9:6), enables us to suffer joyfully (2 Corinthians 12:9), and enables us to serve acceptably (Hebrews 12:28). This is none other than the dynamic life of Christ in the soul of the church giving her the desire and power to obey God. I love Acts 4:33, which capsulizes the church condition. “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”
So, where do church servants look for grace?
In every person who walks through the door. Where are they in their faith journey, and how can the church serve them in taking the next step of faith? No respecter of persons, please, and don’t forget the babies.
In open door opportunities. Be wise to distractions but alert to relationships.
Through heart changes. Testimonies from changed hearts can cross-pollinate spiritual growth in others and build a platform for ministry.
Through heart stirrings. God is in the business of calling out men like Paul and Barnabas to His work.
Through repentance and faith in salvation. Celebrations over the newly born-again bring joy and encouragement. Make a big deal of the attitude of repentance.
Through natural and supernatural giftedness. Do a survey of gifts, passions, and callings. Give each person a place to use them. Empower and resource them for their ministry.
Through knowledge. Do your best to tap the intelligence of your congregation and show respect for their knowledge. Don’t be afraid of the smart ones, and don’t belittle those who seem limited. Still water often runs deep, and everyone knows something you don’t.
Through physical resources. Every church has resources available to them. We are wealthier than we realize. The key is to recognize these gifts from God that are to be employed in spreading the gospel. Don’t “poor mouth” your congregation. Give them respect and dignity for who they are and what they have. Say “grace” over them.
Through hardships. God uses trials to build bridges which lead to relationships and ministry. People admire your strengths, but they really relate to your weakness.
Through other ministries. Don’t be an island. No ministry is a know all, do all, self-sufficient fortress. We need to network, share resources, and partner with others who can bring to the table the things we need but don’t have.
The list above is meant to get your started in looking for grace. There are many more. Just keep looking.
Pause to Consider
Let me finish this reality with three short yet important reminders:
We can be steadfast and diligent while we are watching.
After the great movement of God’s grace initiative at Pentecost where three thousand souls were saved, the church activity was described like this, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42). Since the Day of Pentecost, the four functioning operatives of the church have remained the same:
Gospel review and remembrance
Prayer connection with Jesus
Evangelism was a natural by-product which grew out of this transforming fellowship.
The point here is that, while we function by grace, we don’t have to be graced out doing nothing while waiting on grace. God has clearly outlined our function, and we can continue steadfastly in season and out of season.
One time I attended a revival conference where the speaker was clearly emphasizing sovereign visitation of grace as in Jonathan Edward’s revivals. During an interactive time, one person asked, “What do we do in the meantime while we wait for such visitations?” The answer given has encouraged me through many dry seasons. “Be busy about the biblical disciplines of the church and preach the Word.” That is sound advice that always stands the test of time and weathers any storm.
Cherish and treasure every morsel of grace made available by God no matter how small it seems.
The Lord loves it when we really value His gifts. God loves a cheerful giver, but He also loves a thankful receiver. When talking about the Word of God, here’s what Jesus said, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Matthew 13:12). He gives this same truth in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:29).
What does this mean to us who are seeking to be good stewards of God’s grace initiatives in our lives? In the words of Matthew Henry, “These are those to whom this knowledge is not given, and a man can receive nothing unless it is given him from above (John 3:27) and be it remembered that God is debtor to no man; his grace is his own; he gives or withholds it as pleasure (Romans 11:35).” The difference must be resolved into God’s sovereignty. Note the rule God observes in dispensing His gifts. He bestows them on those who improve them but takes them away from those who bury them. The one who has true grace and uses what he has is promised an abundance.
Speak often of the grace God has given to your congregation. Help them see it, too. Celebrate God’s gifts and invest them in Kingdom ministry. The motivational gifts in Romans 12:3-8 have been very helpful to me as I have sought to match gifts with ministry.
A few years ago, this idea of stewarding the grace you have was illustrated on a mission trip my wife and I took to Nicaragua. Our daughter Johanna and her husband Bob were ministering there, equipping Latino pastors for their work. One day Bob and I visited one of the pastors who shepherded the flock and who literally lived in the city dump. This was a congregation that lived resourcefully from what the city of Managua threw away, yet the pastor of the “Lathureka” trash heap found grace to have purpose and vision for his sheep. Grace always wins the day.
Never forget that humility always precedes grace in the lives of believers.
A proud church will find itself fighting against the Lord Himself. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). A church that continues well in the stewardship of grace must be vigilant about taking spiritual inventory starting with the leadership. No matter how well we may appear to be doing, we can still be failing because we have left the sense of our desperation for Jesus in a first-love relationship like the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. We can be deceived into thinking that we are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing like the Laodicean church in Revelation. Such an attitude can overtake us in our lack of awareness and make Jesus want to vomit. In the words of Del Fehsenfeld III, “Humility is the starting point for Life with God” (Revive Magazine, August 2015).
From Belief to Behavior
Have a gathering to:
Bow low before the Lord.
Point out all forms of grace evident in your ministry.
Ask for wisdom in how to move forward in cooperation with what God has initiated.