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Grace to Thanksgiving

Grace stares us in the face.

The Foundation of Culture (4)

For all things
are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4.15

In your face
The grace of God stares us in the face day by day through the culture we make and enjoy. “What do you have that you did not receive?” asked the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 4.7). Every good and perfect gift, including all our culture, comes down to us from God the Father (Jms. 1.17). All this is for our sakes, yes, but its larger purpose is the glory of God.

Most of us fail to appreciate God’s grace in such provision; we see only stuff with which to define, sustain, and enhance our lives. Like those pagan Lycaonians in Acts 14, we consume what God graciously provides, hardly ever considering that He might have something even better for us, namely, Himself.

The grace of God is right before us, but we’re too busy to notice.

In his 1903 novella, “The Beast in the Jungle,” Henry James tells the story of John Marcher, a young man persuaded that something amazing or catastrophic lay ahead for him in life. One day it would leap out at him, like a beast in the jungle, and he would either wrestle it into submission or be overwhelmed and destroyed by it.

Marcher makes the acquaintance of the young and gracious May Bartram, who comes to love him despite his egoistic tendencies. She provides him company and companionship and the pleasure of her charms and beauty; but he never seems to “get it” where she’s concerned, not even when, on one occasion, as he’s babbling away about his beast in the jungle, she rises from her chair and stands very near to him, right in his face, as it were.

Only after May Bartram has died does John Marcher realize that she was what awaited him, what had been prepared for him, and he had missed her, so distracted was he by his focus on future prospects. The story closes with Marcher, face down on May’s grave, weeping uncontrollably.

Grace despite ourselves
We are a lot like John Marcher—self-important, vain, narcissistic, and quick to take for granted our everyday blessings. We enjoy an incredibly rich and diverse cultural life, all of which comes to us by the grace of God, yet we are neither grateful nor contented; we are always about the business of seeking just a little bit more.

We are by nature self-interested, easily distracted, and only occasionally aware of the spiritual dimension of life. We are not much inclined to count our blessings because we’re too busy consuming them.

Yet the grace of God—the common grace, which is the foundation of all culture—is always staring us in the face, inviting us to reach out and embrace Him and to delight ever more deeply in His unfailing love. Perhaps if we paid more attention to the common grace of God, we would bask more fully in the saving and sanctifying grace He daily provides. How can we do this?

Evidence of common grace
A few reminders may help. We must pay more diligent attention to God’s common grace as a witness to His love, first as it is revealed in our continuance as human beings and then in the culture He provides. God made us and God sustains us, and we do well to be ever mindful and grateful.

Our lives are in God’s hands. We who believe know this truly. We must not take it for granted but allow our continuing dependence on God to yield ever-increasing thanks and praise. The culture we make and use each day bears witness to His love, staring us in the face, and summons us to give Him thanks and praise.

Similarly, the fact that human beings can comprehend the world, that we have minds and can reason, sets us apart from all other creatures. Scripture explains this, as well as our ability to be creative, convivial, and compassionate toward others because we are made in the image and likeness of God. God continues to express His grace in and through us in our ability to reason, to make things, enjoy life, and to share with others.

Surely here is more incentive to receive the witness of common grace as a summons to worship.

This holds as well for our ability to live peaceably with others in community. Where does law come from? Or the idea of justice? Or property rights? Or traditions, manners, churches, or social graces? Or local farms and businesses? These are vital aspects of our lives in community, made possible because the works of God’s Law have been inscribed on our hearts (Rom. 2.14, 15) and His common grace abounds toward us in the gifts of culture. He stares at us with loving eyes through the lives we share together in community.

We could say more, much more. It’s important we understand that the beast in the jungle for every human being is staring us in the face every moment of every day. And He charms and blesses us with His Presence and bounty, and witnesses to His love daily and unfailingly.

God rises before us, lavishing His grace upon silly human beings such as we. Whereas the culture we make and enjoy should lead us to see the glory in Jesus’ face and to worship Him with unending gratitude, it tends only to make us more self-interested, discontented, and enslaved to our selfish desires.

But we can increase thanks and praise to God as we appreciate His common grace and thank Him for the culture He provides.

For reflection
1. How does the culture we use each day encourage us in giving thanks and praise to God?

2. What might you do to see the Lord more consistently “staring you in the face” through the gifts of culture He provides?

3. Whom can you encourage in letting culture be a source of praise and thanks in their life?

Next steps—Transformation: How many ways can you observe the common grace of God at work in your life today? Write them down, and give God thanks for what these show you of His love. Then pray them all back to God before you go to bed tonight.

T. M. Moore

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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