I'm not really the kind of person who is concerned about denominations within the Christian faith. If you're a Christian, you're a Christian, and there will be evidence of that in the way you live your life. Sure, we may differ on certain theological details, but the essentials are usually the same. I've never really been concerned about whether you're a Baptist, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or anything else.
I grew up in the United Methodist Church. I attend Asbury Theological Seminary, which is in the Wesleyan tradition (which encompasses many denominations-- United Methodist, Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Church of the Nazarene, etc. There's a long list). One of the requirements of the seminary is that all students take a class called John Wesley's Theology for Today. If you are unaware, John Wesley was the founder of Methodism.
Tonight, as I sat in that class, I was reminded of and moved by some of the work that Wesley did. He talked a lot about a thing he called prevenient grace. He gave a name to the grace of God at work in our lives before we even know it is God. It's one of the hallmarks of the denominations in the Wesleyan tradition. We talk a lot about it. And I'm grateful for it.
No matter what you call it, no matter the name you give to it, I think we all agree that God is a God who desires to be in relationship with his children-- and that he is at work around and in us, pursuing us.
My professor, Steve Harper, said this tonight:
Prevenient Grace is the grace that goes before... before we are even aware of our need for God, before our first desires to please God, before we have any awareness that God is searching for and pursuing us.
Grace is already at work in our lives. Calling us by name. Whispering in our ear. Preparing the way for that moment when we respond and say "yes" to God.
I'm going to come back to this one in a second.
Prevenient Grace is the grace which prevents
... it goes before us and prevents the total loss of the characteristics that God intended for us to have when we were made in the first place.
Prevenient Grace is grace which leads ... leads us into relationship with Christ, leads us to repentance, leads us to absolute abandon and surrender to God, and continues to lead us to new discoveries about God.
This does not mean that we are free from responsibility. Prevenient grace doesn't do these things for us. We absolutely are responsible to responding to this grace and saying yes to God. I believe that is absolutely key to our salvation. But this prevenient grace helps get us to that point.
So that's my 5-minute overview and I'm certain I have done an awful job of explaining it. So maybe I'll write more on this at another point. But I wanted to go back to that first point-- prevenient grace goes before.
My professor asked us a question tonight, and I want to ask it of you today: Who is your John the Baptist? John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord. He went before Christ and prepared the way for him.
So who was John the Baptist for you? Who prepared the way for the Lord in YOUR life? Who was God's "plant" in your life to get your attention? Through whom was God's prevenient grace in your life at work?
For me, there were a few folks. I made the decision to commit my life to Christ at the age of 19. But God's grace had been at work in my life since Day One. I believe that's true for you as well. But it was when I was 19 that I recognized that grace as God and said yes to him.
So who were the people that God used to get me there? Here's the short list. The REAL list is pages long. It includes parents, grandparents, strangers, and friends. But these I now name are those who were there at particularly pivotal moments in my spiritual journey. These are my John the Baptists.
Richard Luna, my youth pastor in middle & high school
Stan Copeland, senior pastor at my church while I was in high school
Sue Starrett, a very dear friend and mentor
My aunt Mary, specifically during the summer of 1997 when I lived with her & Uncle Tony
Jessica McCallister Knight, a dear friend and prayer warrior
The list continues to grow. As I mentioned before, grace never ends. And this grace that leads continues to lead me to new discoveries about God. God's people are a huge part of that.
I thank God for blessing my life with these people-- I thank God for his passionate pursuit of me. And I thank God that he calls me his daughter.