I’ve recently been reading Eugene Peterson’s book Practice Resurrection which is essentially a Peterson-style study of the book of Ephesians. What particularly stood out to me was something that followed on from his discussion of Ephesians 1:3-14. In this one sentence (in the Greek), Paul overwhelms his reader with the sheer number of activities that God performs on our behalf in Christ. These aren’t minor activities either; they are activities at the very heart of our salvation. He blesses, he chooses, he predestines, he lavishes, he makes known, he unites.
At the end of this litany of God’s actions one is left gasping for breath. Into that gasping, Peterson speaks this vital reminder: the Christian life is not about doing complementary works that mirror God’s in order to “get in on the action.” That’s often our temptation: to do something that makes us co-workers, to treat God as a colleague or a peer.
Peterson reminds us, however, that the Christian life is primarily marked by receptivity. That’s it. These activities of God have been going on well before we arrived on the scene, indeed, he chose us “before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). So what makes us think we can do anything to further them along? They are God’s activities, gifts we receive.
If we allow this idea of receptivity as core to our Christian identity to sink deep, it has the power to reshape our entire view of the Christian life.
It transforms the spiritual life and particularly the spiritual disciplines not just from being checklist items to grace-initiated activities but goes even one step further. When we realize that our lives are to be punctuated by receptivity those grace-initiated activities are transformed into opportunities to be open and aware of God’s presence. In other words, we don’t need to do anything, other than ensure our own openness to God.
Prayer ceases to be a task to do at the end of the day. It becomes a description of a continual receptivity to God and awareness of his presence regardless of our activities. Spending time in Scripture becomes more about receiving the Word rather than mastering it (more on this soon). And so on throughout the disciplines.
It’s not that our actions cease or we ought to stop in pursuit of God, but our pursuit of God needs to be marked more by allowing ourselves to be chased than by running out of breath trying to work out some formula of how to track God down. Because God’s already done the work. He has blessed, he has chosen, he has predestined, he has lavished, he has made known, he has united.
May we receive the good gifts of our Father this week.