(Photo: Paul Tripp)
What does it look like to celebrate grace? I think the answer is found in the beginning of Psalm 122:1-2: "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.' Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem."
Envision the scene here as David speaks for the average Israelite. A farmer and his family are planning their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They are brimming with excitement as they make their plans and preparations. They are actually going to the tabernacle where God dwells, and they can't believe it! They are enjoying the same kind of excited anticipation that a family would experience as they prepare to go on a particularly wonderful vacation. They are imagining the sights and sounds. Their hearts are not just excited about worship. No, their hearts are filled with worship already. They are recounting and remembering all that God has done for them to make this pilgrimage possible. The very thought of being in the presence of God absolutely thrills them, even as it fills them with holy fear. They have not even begun the trip and already their hearts are overflowing with joy.
The second sentence, "Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem," advances the scene. Now the pilgrims are actually inside the walls of the holy city. They simply cannot believe they are there, and are repeating to themselves, "I'm inside the gates. I'm inside the gates. I'm really inside the gates!" It is almost impossible for them to take it in. They are having trouble grasping that it is really true. What are these Israelites doing? They are celebrating the amazing grace of a sovereign Redeemer.
Pastor, it's like us waking up in the morning and saying, "I'm redeemed. I'm redeemed. I'm redeemed. I can't believe that I am one of God's children! I can't believe that God has placed his love on me. I can't belive he has called me to his work! No, my life and ministry isn't always easy, but I'm redeemed. No, the relationships with people around me don't always work the way they should, but I'm redeemed. Yes, I live in a world that is broken and does not operate as intended, but I'm redeemed. Yes, I face personal and ministry disappointment, but I'm redeemed. I can't believe it, I am one of God's children and one his spokesmen!"
Like David and all those he speaks for in Psalm 122, we cannot – we must not – let the grace we minister to others become commonplace to us. We cannot let ourselves forget the awesome privilege of being God's children – a privilege we could never have earned, deserved, or achieved on our own. We must keep in view that we are not just instruments but also recipients of daily grace and will never outgrow our need of what grace alone is able to provide. We must remind ourselves that because of that grace, obedience is a privilege, worship is a privilege, sacrifice is a privilege, and ministry is a privilege. The fact that we would ever choose to do any of these things is a sure sign of the transforming grace of God operating in our hearts. Apart from God's gift of grace I would make up my own laws, worship the creation, sacrifice only for what would bring me personal comfort and pleasure, and seek to be served rather than looking for ways to serve others.
We cannot let the busyness and pressures of ministry cause us to grow complacent. We cannot be comfortable with being forgetful. We cannot let our worship and leading others in worship decay into a weekly participation in a service. At that point, ministry becomes mere religious routine rather than an expression of heartfelt worship of God. But when we celebrate grace in our hearts and allow ourselves to be gripped by the amazing privilege of being God's children, we go to lead a service of worship as those who have already been worshiping. It is the difference between passive and active, between absorbing and participating, between a focus on self and a focus on the One who came to save us from ourselves.
Only He Is Worthy
Apart from Christ, there simply is nothing else in life that is remotely worthy of this kind of celebration and adoration. Accomplishing the ultimate in ministry success, completing the most amazing physical achievement, gaining fantastic riches, attaining ministry influence and respect, receiving the highest honor in the eyes of others, seeing the most beautiful thing human eyes could ever see, consuming the most exotically delicious food ever prepared, becoming the wisest person on earth, or being loved by another human being in the most beautiful way ever – none of these things is half as worthy of the celebration that should fill our hearts at the stunning recognition that by his grace, the love of God has actually been placed on us forever. As the book of Ecclesiastes so vividly portrays, and as Philippians 3:8-11 powerfully affirms, all these other things seem vain and empty, fleeting and temporary when placed next to the surpassing greatness of knowing God.
So, pastor, how does this celebration of grace ignite your ministry? Permit me to explain in a step-by-step way.
• When you face how deep your need of God's love is, you will celebrate grace.
• When you celebrate grace, you will come to love the King of grace more deeply.
• When you love the King of grace more deeply, you will get excited about the work of his kingdom of grace.
• When you get excited about the work of the kingdom of grace, zeal for this kingdom will color the way you respond to the situations and relationships you face as you live in and lead the broken community that is the church.
• And as you live with eyes that see the work of God's kingdom of grace and a heart that loves it, you will give grace to those around you. In so doing, you will minister more faithfully, enthusiastically, and productively than you ever have before in the place where God has put you.
So, pastor, are you a celebrant? Has your life taken on a joy and focus that would not be possible any other way? Or in the course of your ministry, has the truly awesome become merely commonplace? Has the search for ministry comfort and satisfaction consumed you more than the celebration of the spiritual realities that should now define you and your work? Has remembrance decayed into forgetfulness? Have you lost your first love? If so, confess your forgetfulness. Seek God's help for your distraction. Commit yourself to a life and ministry of celebration, knowing that this includes being a soldier in the ongoing war for your own heart. And remember that you are not alone; there is daily grace for every one of those battles.
Now, isn't that worth celebrating?