Barriers to Grace (3 Parts)   by Chris Schaffner

Our souls are most at rest when we are filled with and aware of the unlimited grace available to us at any given moment. 

It’s my belief that when spiritual disconnect occurs it is often because we, of our own free will have stepped out from underneath the umbrella of God’s grace and mercy. Grace is one of the sustaining forces that guide and direct Christians in life and ministry endeavors (or it should be) so, when we leave grace’s embrace we shift into manual drive and run on self-will alone. This is exhausting and can clearly drain our tank dry in a very short period of time.

The three biggest barriers to embracing or returning to grace are historically familiar enemies:

1. The world

2. The flesh

3. The devil

Possessions, pleasure, and power. These three are a deadly triad to the soul. All three of these were created by God for good purposes but when one relies on them outside of God’s guidance and grace they become tools for self-serving (they become idols). Ironically, these are the three temptations Satan presented Jesus with in the desert.

The world we live in is very unstable. Being insecure is a trait of being a created being. We are dependent by our very nature. Therefore, when we are outside the realm of God’s power we will naturally try to grasp on to anything within our reach. Image you’ve just survived a shipwreck and are treading water among the wreckage. There is debris floating everywhere so you frantically cling to whatever you can to keep you afloat. This is a picture of the human soul that is separate from God and don’t think for a minute that just because you’re already saved or in ministry that it can’t happen to you too. My prayer is that you will ask God to open your heart and mind to the reality of these barriers to grace and how you might be clinging to the wreckage of a ship that is going down.

Father, I pray for courage as I begin this journey, for I understand there is work to be done, burdens to be released, feelings to be shared and joys to be celebrated. Grant me the courage to be silent that I may hear Thy voice; to persevere, that I may share Thy victory; and to remember, lest I forget the way by which Thou has led me. And when this journey is done, O Lord, may I have the courage to see Thy guiding hand in the friendships that have been made, in the hurts that have been healed, and in the strength that has been given. Amen.

PART 2: In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us the remedy for the deep soul sickness we are prone to suffering from. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that prayer, fasting, and benevolence are all habits the soul depends on for sustenance. Jesus reveals to us in chapter 6 of Matthew that the only way to be set free from the addiction to possessions, pleasure, and power is by the practice of these three remedies. Through prayer we admit our dependence on God’s power and align our will with His will. If we want our prayers answered, we could start by praying for what God wants. Through fasting we tame the flesh and its desire for sensual, hedonic pleasure. Through benevolence we begin to see our money and possessions as an opportunity to contribute and not merely consume.

Like the three barriers to grace, the remedy revolves around the three loves of God, our neighbor, and ourselves:

-Prayer leads to an increase in love for God.

-Fasting teaches us to love the temple (mind and body) the Spirit resides in.

-Benevolence is directly related to our commitment to our love of neighbors.

The remedy should be more of a lifestyle (daily) habit than something we ascend to during the holidays.  The successful practice of prayer, fasting, and benevolence positions our hearts, minds, and souls to be filled anew each morning.  Imagine only eating food at the beginning or end of each week and expecting that would be sufficient to get through the whole week.  Basic economics tells us that any business that has more inventory going out than it does money coming in is doomed to fail and go bankrupt.  Why do we treat our spiritual life any different?

Historically I have tried to squeeze these disciplines into my already busy schedule.  I have a bias for action and would rather be handing out food to the homeless than praying for them.  Is that good or bad? I’m not sure but it is what it is.  It’s how I’m wired.  The conclusion I came to was that I had been pouring out to others more than I had being poured into me.  This was not sustainable, and I crashed- and so did everything I had made dependent on me; family, work, ministry, community involvement. These were all good things but they were being done in my own strength, and that is a limited resource.

It was precisely because of the crash that I had to make some changes in my daily habits. I was encouraged by a spiritual friend to put the big rocks in first. The big rocks for me, as laid out by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew were prayer, fasting, and benevolence. It was then suggested that I fit everything else in around the big three.

FYI: Video to watch about sand and rocks – Priorities & LIFE…  http://www.morethandodgeball.com/?s=barriers+to+Grace

Father, Your Word is my compass, and it helps me see my life as complete in Christ. I cast all my cares, worries and concerns over on You, that I might be well-balanced (temperate, sober of mind), vigilant and cautious at all times. I tune my ears to the word of wisdom and set my heart on a life of understanding. I make insight my priority.

Father, You sent Jesus that I might have life and have it more abundantly. Help me remember that my relationships with You and with others are more important than anything else. Amen.

PART 3:  As fallen humans we all live in a state of alienation that is the result of identity confusion.

Both theology and psychology realize this reality and both work to resolve this confusion between the true self and the false self. One is born out of a theology of the Imago Dei and the other from destructive narratives we are fed from birth. So what determines which identity wins out over the other? This insightful Cherokee story sheds light on the spiritual battle that rages inside each and every one of us.

The Two Wolves

A Cherokee elder was teaching his grandchildren about life.

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me… it is a terrible fight between two wolves.

One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, hatefulness, and lies.

The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, humbleness, kindness, friendship, generosity, faith, and truth.

This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too.”

The children thought about it for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather,

“Which wolf will win?”

The Cherokee elder replied…

“The one you feed most.”

Paul shares a similar insight in Romans 7:14-25:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Can you feel the tension?  It’s the battle for our soul. This idea that we are omnipotent gods is the classic serpent’s myth from Genesis and the root of all of our troubles. (Gen. 3:5)  This illusion of omnipotence, even when subconscious, alienates us from the five loves of God, self, others, creation, and our enemies (we’ll explore these in another series). This is the deep soul sickness we all suffer from.

What habits do you have that feed the wrong wolf? 

What needs to happen for that to change?

So, what disciplines do you practice that feed the right wolf?

What are the fruits of those disciplines?


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