Conduits

We didn’t go to the wedding last Friday to be dazzled by rhetorical fireworks- we went because some friends of ours were finally tying the knot after what seemed like eons of waiting! So believe me when I report that it was a tremendous surprise getting bowled over as the vows were exchanged. The words cascaded through the silent sanctuary like a dye diffusing in water. They were so different from the standard prayer book slogans you hear in so many weddings: “…to share the grace of my God with you.” I don’t typically go to weddings expecting fresh revelations of divine things, yet there I was, outfoxed and outflanked. The depth disguised within the simplicity was so arresting it held my impatient attention span spellbound the remainder of the ceremony and tinted every phrase that followed with shades of that promise.

Why did that phrase grip me the way it did? It solidified the mediation of grace concept I caught a glimpse of after Samuel’s birth. The pathos within the phrase seemed to clear away a glare that obscured some of the details in the image I had seen before. It connected instantaneously in my mind with a passage C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves. After the death of his and J.R.R. Tolkien’s friend Charles Williams, Lewis anticipated having more of Tolkien’s friendship for himself but what he discovered was the exact opposite. Lewis writes,

Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but ‘A’s part in C,’ while C loses not only A but’A’s part in B.’ In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien] reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…

That’s the part that I remembered. What’s especially intriguing though is the part that I had forgotten in the next paragraph. He concludes:

In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another (Isaiah VI, 3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.

What this means is that vow that stopped me dead in my tracks and set my mind into motion isn’t just lofty religious speech; it means that God uses us to embody His presence in concrete ways. Picture this: If I’m in front of a mountain, I see the mountain, the entire enormous jaggedness of its being massed as one gargantuan heap of data. As I see it, I really do apprehend its immensity in my sights, and yet I do not capture it in its entirety. How could I? There’s a backside to this colossus impossible for me to grasp from my tiny little sliver of perspective. There are outcroppings of rock formations and patches of flowers and other living things that I cannot perceive from where I am. My vision of the mountain then does not have a perfect one-to-one correspondence with the thing itself; it needs lots of refinement to more accurately measure up to the real mountain. I have no hope of mapping out the entire thing in all its complexity by myself. In the same way, I have no hope of charting the fathomless ocean of God’s being by myself- my enjoyment of God will suffer a deep poverty without others enhancing my vision of Him.

We need these relational avenues to God in order to deepen our communion with Him. A part of God I never knew before, couldn’t clearly make out before, is revealed to me by the Spirit whenever He directs His people to the works of kindness that refresh my soul and make tomorrow able to be faced with confidence instead of disgust. Whether it’s through Kevin narrating a sympathetic personal experience of his through the filter of Scripture, or through Kristin’s preternatural kindness to me in spite of my stubborn disagreeableness, or a loving rebuke from a friend to recalibrate my focus off of myself and back upon whom it belongs, or someone donating the necessity which I have been desperately begging God for, I taste and see that the Lord is good through these conduits of grace. 

God has enmeshed certain people within your life in order for them to mediate His grace in dimensions you would not have experienced otherwise. The same goes for you in all their lives. So, you need to stop wringing your hands in the bitter expectation of disappointment as you wait for God to come in through the front door and magically repair all the items that need fixing in your life; His fatherly hand is reaching out to you even now through His Word and in His saints to rejuvenate your meager, failing faith.

What this does is heighten the significance of our ministries to each other. Too often we misconstrue our labors of discipleship as functions of some vaguely felt sense of duty, as fog enshrouded obligation of some sort. This seems to me a pretty deficient understanding of how the church works, as though it’s merely the sum total of uncoordinated, amateur attempts at a generic sort of benevolence. Will Willimon clears the confusion:

We are not merely to do good works for and with God. The gospel demands more. We are to become the good work of God… Every time we offer a gift at the altar or offer our works of loving service in the world, we are not simply doing what God wants us to do; we are submitting ourselves to be remade in God’s image.

(The Service of God: How Worship and Ethics Are Related (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), p. 199)

When seen with enlightened eyes of the heart, our ministries to one another form the pattern of God’s care for His people. We can say with Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). This means that all our service should culminate in doxology, because both donors and recipients of God’s mercies are being conformed to Jesus’ image. We become like what we see, particularly as we see it with growing clarity.

We are organs of one body, bound together by the same Spirit, with God over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6). We are the media God broadcasts through to engage the world, a mosaic of living stones showcasing the infinite excellencies of the living God. When this is consciously shaping our understanding of the world and our place within it, Irenaeus’ famous old dictum takes on fresh life: “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.” May our eyes be opened to see this abundance of life in the service of our brethren and in our service to them.

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