You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 (New Living Translation)
“Well, what are your plans for the New Year?” It’s a question often passed around every late December and early January. It makes for good conversation around the break room at work, or in the foyer at church before or after worship, or while we’re waiting around between Sunday School and “church”. We all like to make plans. Whether it’s about that vacation we will take this year, or that perfect vacation we would like to have; plans for that “perfect” house we would like to build someday; plans about our careers or seeking a new career; plans for retirement. It is good to make plans, to dream for something better. But what about God’s plans? Did you notice some very important phrases from our Scripture this morning? “You made….You watched……You saw…..(clearly implied) YOU recorded….” Sounds to me that our God is a very busy God.
Now, don’t misinterpret that last statement to mean that God is too busy for you. The spiritual reality is that God’s “busyness” has to do with us and our daily lives. God desires to be involved with our lives; every day and every moment of that day. So, this week’s word is PREVENIENT GRACE. Now, there’s a word that sounds really big and important—prevenient. Let me tell you a story about this word.
It was in late March of 2004 when I received a call from another pastor, Lyle Holland. Now, Lyle and I did not travel in the same circles; in fact, our only connection was that many years ago we were both in the former Florence District. Other that time, I can’t remember that we served in the same district. Now, we would see each other at Conference events and speak to each other, but that was the extent of our friendship, until March of 2004. Lyle was the Spiritual Director for Alabama Walk 269 that would be held May 13-16. He had been praying and seeking for one more Assistant Spiritual Director and he thought about me. Allow me to give you a backdrop to that phone call.
I had just been informed that I would be moving to another appointment in June against my wishes and most of the congregation I was serving. To say the least, it was a time of great anxiety. The second fact that stands out in my memory was that it was less than a year since I had been on my walk. As we conversed on the phone, I told Kyle that the date really didn’t look good to me since I would be in the middle of packing up for the move that would happen less than a month after the Walk. I was concerned about my inexperience and the fact I was in the middle of a tough season in my life. And just about the time I was going to tell Kyle no, in the middle of my sentence, I lost all common sense and told him I would be glad and honored to serve. (What in the world have I just done????) Then Kyle told me all the clergy talks had been assigned but one, Prevenient Grace; and that would be my talk.
Prevenient Grace? I remember something about that from my studies, it was a Wesleyan term, so I should know something about it, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to remember about prevenient grace. So, I did what most people do when they find themselves in over their head—-I prayed! I prayed about what to say and how to say it, and for God to help me remember where I heard that word before—prevenient.
I was so relieved to find I had a basic outline to go by. So I sat down at my computer and began my research and started to write. The first word I typed was, of course, Prevenient! My word processor immediately flagged that word as being incorrectly spelled and offered many suggestions, none of which was the word “prevenient”. I looked at my outline again—this is the way the Upper Room folks said it was spelled, so it must be right. But the computer failed to recognize it as a correctly spelled word. And then it hit me (actually the Holy Spirit hit me, real hard); many times we fail to recognize the activity of God’s grace we call prevenient grace.
I pulled out my notebook from my own walk (Alabama 253) and there it was—the perfect definition of prevenient grace: Prevenient Grace is the grace that goes before us, calling us and leading us into a relationship of love with our Heavenly Father. And more than that, it is the nature of God’s grace that is always going before—calling to us by name, leading us, guiding us and helping us through the tough times of life and faith. I have come to understand that as God’s grace goes before me, He is leading me and preparing me for whatever may lie ahead. Grace doesn’t stop being prevenient just because we have finally said our own “Yes!” to Christ.
He is still going before us. But, I wonder, like my computer’s word processor would not recognize the word “prevenient”, how many times are we guilty of not recognizing God’s grace that is always before us? I found a way to stop my computer from telling me that the word “prevenient” was a misspelled word—I added the word to the dictionary. From that point forward, it always recognizes the word prevenient as a real word, not a misspelled word.
When we add the word “prevenient” to our vocabulary—when we make the intentional and conscious decision to recognize the many ways God’s grace is at work in us and around us—it changes everything in us and for us. The Psalm for this week reminds us that God is busy—busy showing us that He cares about us, and best of all, He takes care of us. After working Walk 269, to be completely honest, I still didn’t want to move, I still didn’t like my Superintendent, and there were still of couple of folks at church I didn’t like. But I didn’t blame them any more and I was able to accept these changes because I KNEW that God’s grace was going before me and that with His grace, I could and would face any challenge.
When we live with sense that God’s grace is always going before us, then we will be able to say: “Good! Lord, It’s Monday! What shall we do together this week?”
Let us pray: Lord, I have to confess, many times I’m like that computer—I simply cannot recognize that your grace is going before me. But Lord, I know I need that grace. I need that grace to help me to continue to live in this wonderful relationship based on love, not rules. Remind me that you are very busy showing me your love and offering me your power. Help me to add to my mental vocabulary and to my spiritual vocabulary this strange word, Prevenient! Then, may I remember that you really are going before me, and like those disciples on the way back to the village of Emmaus, open my eyes to the ways your grace is working in my life! Amen and Amen!