The “Optional Extras” of Christian Faith?

21 Jul
To say grace or not to say grace when you are in a public place?

 

This week I was involved in a discussion about whether it was right or expected by God that we should give thanks for our food before a meal when eating in a restaurant or elsewhere. Naturally there was a range of opinions, with some people enthusiastic, and others reluctant. What intrigued me most, however, was the argument of those who thought it to be a bit of a tangential issue, a bit of a sideshow, or some kind of optional extra for those who felt like it.

 

Of course when we think about the biggest issue of Christian faith, the salvation of our souls, then everything else can be said to be a side issue, but unless one is on one’s deathbed and about to breathe one’s last, once salvation is taken care of, there’s a lot more living to be done!

 

It’s funny how often we can be tempted to refer to something as a side issue. It’s often the line with which we end the discussion after we have been shown something in the Bible which disrupts ouir comfortable theology. It’s the line we use to comfort ourselves that we aren’t doing so badly. We argue the rights and wrongs. We ‘um’ and ‘ah’. We find a way to wriggle out of doing the thing that would glorify God, rather than seeking to submit. And while we may be stubborn and disobedient to one (or several) of God’s clear commands, at least we can point to the fact that we’ve got the main issue sorted. We then feel safe to remain just as we are.

 

Of course, one could argue that giving thanks for one’s food is not necessarily commanded. We do, however, see it in the life of Jesus (at the feeding of the five thousand, and the four thousand, and the Last Supper) and Paul talks about it too (see e.g. 1 Tim 4:3-4). However, that doesn’t really go to the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is, literally, the heart! For while saying grace is not necessarily commanded in Scripture, it is an opportunity to involve God with one’s day, to remind oneself of His goodness, to meet with Him and to commit a time of eating and fellowship to Him. If our hearts want God to be Lord of everything, and glorified in us, our own comfort takes second place.

 

What changed it for me?

 

Since I was baptised with the Holy Spirit (a secondary, post-conversion experience, with speaking in tongues, etc.), I view this whole business of what some people deem the “optional” elements of the Christian life very differently. Being filled with the Spirit on an ongoing basis has totally changed the way I think about both God and how I serve him. It means I no longer do this little dance about whether something is a choice, or right or wrong, or tangential, or a minor issue. Rather, love for God overflowing from the presence of the Holy Spirit within me means I want to put Him first in everything and please Him in everything – the details as well as the big-picture stuff. If I was married: I wouldn’t sit weighing up whether doing something nice for my wife was the “done thing”; I would just do it to express my love for her. It’s the same with loving and serving God.

 

I’m not attempting to judge anybody or try to fix where they are at spiritually. What I am saying is that that when I didn’t have the Spirit in me in the same way (for a whole 6 years after my conversion) I too tended to dwell on the pros and cons rather than Just Doing It, and somehow I always came down on the side of NOT doing whatever it was that I had opportunity to do. Expressing love for God has become far more instinctive since I started living a spirit-filled life, and I would recommend it to anybody.

 

It’s no longer about feeling coerced into observing rules, but rather we do the things that please the Father’s heart because our hearts are full of love for Him:
“We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)

 

When we are full of the Holy Spirit, we seek to please God in all things. Suddenly, those issues that our legalistic minds once told us were optional extras become opportunities to meet with God and manifest His glory. God-in-us becomes unlimited in His potential to work through us when we give Him that kind of access. And that’s why I say grace in public places.

 

PS While I was putting this post together, a man added his story to the discussion.
He told of how he stopped at a truckers’ café for a full English breakfast sometime last year. He gave thanks for his food – and a young couple asked him what he was doing. After two hours of conversation, he led both of them to receive Christ as saviour. The couple now attend church and the man has been invited to attend the Christening of their first child. God works through our submission and sacrifice!

 

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