There is an idea in the study of human nature known as a tipping point. My computer’s built-in dictionary defines a tipping point as small changes resulting in larger, more significant differences. But, unfortunately, definitions fail to adequately convey the feeling it gives us.
By the way, we can reach a tipping point in either direction. In other words, small changes can make things much worse or better. So it depends on which way the momentum is headed. In this article, I’m focused on the good kind of tipping point.
How do we know when we’ve reached a tipping point?
Imagine you’re climbing. You’ve headed up a steep incline where each step requires more and more energy. Finally, you reach a point where each step takes more energy than you feel you have. But about the time exhaustion has you convinced it’s best to turn around, you feel a change in the amount of effort it takes for each step.
Suddenly you’re not climbing. Instead, each step is effortless in comparison to your earlier experience. So you’re not climbing, but you’re also not coasting. And you’re progressing at a faster pace than before. It feels like you’re running, yet it’s taking less energy.
What’s different? Your bank account balance is the same or less. The challenges keeping you up at night are still there. So why aren’t you worried? The nightly news describes a dangerous and violently divided world. So why aren’t you panicked?
I’ll tell you what’s happening. You’re no longer just surviving. You’re thriving!
This week we continue with a prayer by Jesus on the night of His arrest. Last week we learned that Jesus prayed that His followers are guarded, guided, and unified. As His prayer continues, Jesus asks that His followers are sanctified, sent, and One with God. Finally, Jesus prays for His followers to thrive.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
I call “sanctified” a fifty-cent word. I say this because it isn’t used in ordinary language and doesn’t roll off the tongue. But sanctified is also one of those words where it’s hard to find a substitute.
To be sanctified is to move towards a tipping point of eternal goodness and joy. Different translations choose other words for this process. For example, the Good News Translation uses “dedicated” instead. However, I’m not sure this makes it any easier to comprehend.
The New Living Translation version translates this part of Jesus’ prayer request as making us holy. While holy may be a more common word, it still leaves us wondering what this looks like when the process is complete.
What will life be like if we are sanctified, dedicated, and holy? Will we all be wearing white robes and strumming harps? Or will we simply be a little more pleasant to be around?
In Christian theology, sanctification is an example of divine grace. Which means that we don’t earn sanctification. Because it is a free gift from a God who wants the very best for us, sanctification is available to everyone. We simply need to accept it, take it in, and allow it to do what is required to move us to the holy tipping point where everything changes. That place where each step is easier than before.
One way to think of divine grace is to break it down into three types. First, before sanctification begins, we know God as a result of prevenient grace. Think of it as God reaching out to us. But less like a telemarketer or spam and more like a wake-up call for something we don’t want to miss. We may initially feel annoyed if we’re sound asleep, but we’re grateful that we won’t miss out.
Wait! What I wrote doesn’t do justice to prevenient grace. Remember, the God who created everything thinks enough about you and your well-being to reach out. Let that sink in for a moment.
The second stage of grace comes after we notice God wants us to know God better. Perhaps we make a point of attending church. Some of us may even join a Bible study group while others simply spend more time talking to God. There are as many ways to get to this next step as there are people. And speaking of people, someone else almost always says or does something that seems to trigger our awareness.
And if we stay tuned in to God’s nudging, we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior through justifying grace. This idea comes out of scripture and can be confusing. Remember that holiness is a destination we move towards, but God accepts us just as we are. God put justifying grace on display by living among humans in the person of Jesus Christ to make sure that we seriously consider God’s offer of grace.
The impact of prevenient and justifying grace is often described as repentance or as a change of direction. Decades ago, I wrote a poem about my own experience. Here’s what it was like for me:
What do you feel when you hear Church bells?
Is it a sound that signals hope?
Like the lost seaman hearing the lighthouse horn,
it sings comfort to my soul.
But an alarm also sounded, time to change course
before my journey ends.
But why? Why in the world and beyond would God put so much effort into saving folks like me who don’t show any indication that they want or need saving? In a word, love.
Who hasn’t seen the reminder? It appears on billboards, tattoos, and stadium jumbotrons. According to John 3:16, God loved the world enough to save us. And God’s love is so complete that we’re given a choice as to whether to return God’s love.
If you think about this seriously, this idea will resonate with you. There is love, and there is the degree of love that offers freedom to the beloved as to whether they choose to return our love. Humans didn’t invent love. We each discover love through divine grace.
And this is where we begin to change. At least, this is what it looks like to observers. The truth is that we’re not really changing as much as we’re shedding layers of baggage that we’ve accumulated. As a result, we start becoming the person God created us to be rather than the person the world shaped us into.
Can you see now how sanctifying grace can seem like work for a while, but as we discard unnecessary weight, our steps eventually get easier?
Divine grace is inseparable from divine patience. Even the most faithful followers wander to and fro instead of staying tuned into the Holy Spirit.
Robert Morris writes, “That’s where the disciples were at this time in their lives; they were connected to Christ—but not altered.” So we know that some of His followers were saying the right words, but they still held onto human ideas about God’s love.
The world uses conflict to sway opinion. Whether through negative comments on social media, harsh words in conversations, or worse. We allow anger to bubble up and out. And frankly, it often looks like the most offensive get the gold. But their rewards are both temporary and unsatisfying. We never find peace in unkindness and aggression.
Each Sunday during our series, Pray, we’re collecting prayer requests. You can submit a request online from our website home page. In addition, prayer request forms are located around the church and during water and food giveaways.
You can join us each Sunday in person or online by clicking the button on our website’s homepage – Click here to watch. This button takes you to our YouTube channel. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
Content for this series is based in part on:
Robert L. Morris, Jr.. Pray Like Jesus: What We Can Learn From the Six Recorded Prayers of Jesus. Bloomington, IL: Westbow Press, 2019.