Words have what is called a “semantic range”. It means that any particular word can have a range of different meanings. Those meanings depend on context. For example, the word “day”. “What day do you want to meet?” “Back in my day…” “It’s the end of a long day.” One word, three different meanings.
A thought occurred to me a week or so ago and I’ve been chewing on it for a while. As I was thinking it through and how I might convey this thought, I felt it important to point out that the use of two specific words might be outside of their usual semantic range. These words are “grace” and “faith”. Were they read with the typical meaning, that having to do with salvation, what I’m trying to say might come across as heresy. It isn’t. As you read this, just bear with me and I think you will see the Biblical truth in it. It may even inspire some change in your own life as it has in mine.
I try to go for a 30-40 minute walk four times a week. I load up the iPod with a study or two and get trucking. Recently toward the end of one of these walks a thought occurred to me and I don’t even know what prompted it. It wasn’t the study I was listening to because I’m usually multitasking up there in the brain. I think I was just tired. Perhaps the thought of “running on empty” inspirited it because I was hungry! The though went from “running on empty” to “running on grace”.
Lately I’ve been thinking about my own history of devotional time. As a young Christian I never developed a consistent devotional time. I tried several times. I tried to keep a written sort of prayer journal. My hand got tired too fast. I tried to pray silently but my mind would be all over the map. At the time reading the Bible outside of church was kind of a foreign concept. Like all of us, habits developed (or not) in our youth can effect us well into adulthood. For me, a consistent devotional life has been a struggle. “But, your a pastor? Aren’t you always in the word and praying?” Yeah, kinda. It’s one thing to do it for study and preparation to teach. It’s another thing to do it out of personal relationship, out of love because I want to spend time with Jesus. It can easily turn into a “job” if you aren’t careful.
As I said, I’ve been thinking through this lately and pondering how I can improve in this area. It occurred to me that I’ve been running on grace in my own life. Not the grace that saves, but the grace that preserves, the grace that maintains. Grace means getting something you don’t deserve. As an analogy, think of it like driving your car when the gas gauge is in that red “E” zone and the light is on. Yet somehow, it lasts longer than it should. That’s running on grace. God keeps you going, keeps you running, keeps you in a place where you are still being used, but it feels very draining. You feel like, at any minute, you could run out of gas. Does that mean it’s possible to run out of grace? In a sense, yes. Lemme splain.
Consider David and the incident with Bathsheba. He commits adultery and conspiracy to commit murder. Does God do anything about these sins as they are being committed? Nope. For a period of what could have been as long as three years, God doesn’t do a thing. David was running on grace. Still the king, still loved by his people, still the psalmist. However, at some point God decided to deal with it. David had years to repent but he did not. God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. Until this point David was getting time he didn’t deserve. In effect, that kind of grace ran out and another kind of grace was extended. God gave David the opportunity to repent as part of this confrontation. David did repent and his tank was refilled. With what? I’ll get to that later.
Consider King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. God had a plan for him and his kingdom. One chapter after another he learned of the reality and power of God. In chapter four of Daniel we see the King’s testimony about how he finally got it. He too was running on grace, at the end of his tank. However, his pride took him to a point where God had to do something about. He gave the king a dream which Daniel interpreted. For a year after that the king did OK, but then his tank ran dry and God intervened. Eventually the king did repent and his tank was filled up.
Granted that in my situation I’m not dealing with huge sins to be confronted like adultery, murder, and being a narcissist. But I have been running on my own strength and God’s grace. At this point I have a choice. Do I crash, burn out and force God to intervene, or do i fill up my tank? Fill it with what? Faith.
I can hear the brakes being slammed and the tires screeching to a halt. I’m not talking like some faith preacher as if faith is a force that I can control or manipulate. I’m talking about the kind of faith that drives us, guides us, strengthens us, and undergirds us. I’m talking about the kind of faith that kept Paul sane and driven as he was going around the eastern Mediterranean those four times with shipwrecks, prisons, beatings, and persecution. I’m talking about the kind of faith that is trust in God for today, tomorrow, and eternity. Faith is a proactive thing. It’s something we can exercise. It’s drives us.
When we seek the Lord, when we spend time with Him intentionally and deliberately, we are filling up our tank with faith. When we pray we are going before His throne, making our requests known, and asking in faith for God to keep us, to guide us, to strengthen us. We trust Him to do all of that because those are His promises. We know those are His promises because we find them in his word (2 Peter 1:3-12). We can’t know them and hang on to them unless we have spent time in the word. As someone once said, get into God’s word and get God’s word into you. From that point on we are running on faith.
We can run on faith for a while. Some people get filled up at church or Bible study. Those things are great, but they can’t be the only source of filling your tank. At best they keep the needle just above that “E”. And, when you are the one leading the church or the Bible study (like a pastor), it’s a drain on the tank, not a filling. If you don’t fill the tank it will eventually run down to the point where you are running on grace. Grace is a great thing. Praise God for it. But it isn’t how we are to run on a daily basis. We need to fill our tanks with faith in all its forms. Saving faith, empowering faith, the gift of faith, faith that moves mountains, and so on.
If you haven’t ever thought about it in these terms then just give it a try. Are you running on faith or on grace? If on grace then understand there is so much more. Your life could look radically different if you were to regularly fill up your tank with faith. Find ways that work for you. A reading plan, a devotional system, something that works best for you. Try things and don’t be afraid if they fail because you will find something that works for you eventually. Sometimes these things are seasonal. What works for a few years might stop working because you have grown as a person. It’s time to find something new, retry something that didn’t work in the past.
If you run on grace for too long, God just might have to step in and do something about that. While the end result of that is good, the process stinks and can be avoided. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10. Think about it, then do something about it. I know I am.