*Prayer as a Channel of Grace
Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:18 NIV
The chief of the means of grace are: prayer (whether in secret or in the great congregation); searching the scriptures (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon); and receiving the Lord’s Supper (eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him). These we believe to be ordained of God as the ordinary channels of conveying His grace to the souls of men and women.
So it was in the early church. But in process of time, the love of many grew cold. Some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion in doing those outward works rather than in a heart renewed after the image of God. Now, the whole value of the means depends on their actually serving the end of religion. Consequently, all these means—when separate from the end—are less than nothing and vanity. If they do not actually lead to the knowledge and love of God, they are not acceptable in His sight. They are rather an abomination before Him, a stink in His nostrils. He is weary of them. And if they are used to try and fulfill the religion they should only serve, they turn God’s arms against Himself and keep Christianity out of the heart instead of being the means by which it is brought in.
*From How to Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, published by Barbour Publishing, Inc. Used by permission.
In this twenty-second lesson on prayer, Wesley makes the clear the point that as important as prayer, interacting with God’s word, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper are as channels of grace, we must never allow the mere performance of these to become a substitute for the ultimate end of growing in the grace and knowledge of God as we are conformed into the image of His Son. In other words, ritual must never replace relationship.
In Isaiah 1:11-20, God rebukes Israel for exactly this same sin:
11″ What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. 12″When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13″Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14″I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. 15″So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 16” Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, 17Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (NASB).
Under the Old Covenant, ritual was the means of grace for God’s people. But even then, God grew weary of their lack of knowledge and love of Him in the midst of all they were performing.
Wesley’s point in this lesson is the same, as he says, “Some began to mistake the means for the end, and to place religion in doing those outward works rather than in a heart renewed after the image of God. Now, the whole value of the means depends on their actually serving the end of religion. Consequently, all these means—when separate from the end—are less than nothing and vanity. If they do not actually lead to the knowledge and love of God, they are not acceptable in His sight. They are rather an abomination before Him, a stink in His nostrils. He is weary of them.
May it be that under the New Covenant, written in the blood of Jesus Christ, we never try to make a substitute of that blood by the mere performance of prayer, Bible study, and the ordinances of the church. Never think that attending church three times a week means the slightest to God. It is our hearts, not our performance that He deems “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom 12:1 NASB).