Grace Upon Grace:: Personal Devotions

by Edie Wadsworth on February 29, 2012

This is week one of a six week devotional study of the book Grace upon Grace  by Dr. John Kleinig.   It’s not too late to join us and this book is such a gem as it relates to the devotional life of the believer.  We are reviewing the introduction of the book this week which is called Receptive Spirituality and then we’ll dive into the 5 chapters over the next five Wednesdays in Lent.   I will post each Wednesday and then if you’re participating in the study (or even if you aren’t!), I’d love for us to have a discussion in the comments section over what we’ve read.   Dr. Kleinig is an Old Testament scholar and retired in 2009 from full time teaching at Luther Seminary in Australia.  I first heard him speak when I listened to this unbelievable two hour study on the book of Leviticus on Issues Etc.   I think I’ve listened to it 5 or 6 times.  You think Leviticus is dry and uninteresting?  Not anymore.  Give it a try and make sure you have time to really listen and concentrate.  It’s chocked full of Christ-centered teaching and will open up the OT law and its’ fulfillment in Christ  like nothing you’ve ever heard.

Let’s dive in to Week 1:: Receptive Spirituality

I’m gonna confess right off the bat that I have ALWAYS struggled with personal devotions/personal spirituality.    It’s been a constant source of guilt and doubt for me.   If I truly love God and am a christian then why do I often despise His Word and neglect to seek Him in prayer?  Why do I live so much of my life from my own strength and fail to access the gifts of Christ given freely in His Word?  Back in the day of my outright legalism, my failure to live a ‘successful’ private devotional life led me to despair.  Then I would try harder and succeed for a while.  Until I didn’t and then my friend despair was always so happy to step in   On occasion, I’d go for months with a stellar devotional life, or so I thought, and I’d be right proud of myself.  Look how ‘spiritual’ I’m becoming, I would whisper quietly as I  patted my spiritual self on the back.  But those two ditches (self-righteousness and self-pity) are not where  true spirituality are found.   As Dr. Kleinig so wonderfully points out, they are found in Christ alone.

He, like Luther, likens our posture to God as beggars.   We realize that we bring nothing to this process of spiritual growth.  We are the receivers of all good things, of grace upon grace.

Kleinig says,

“Spiritual life does not come to us haphazardly.  The Holy Spirit—and the life the Holy Spirit brings—is available to us only in Christ.  And He gives this life to us through His word and through faith in His Word.  This means that our spirituality does not come from having spiritual powers or from our spiritual self-development but depends on our faith in Him.  Because we are joined to Christ we continually receive life from Him.”

and

“Jesus does not offer us superhuman life;  He does not turn us into supermen and women with extraordinary physical and mental powers.  Instead, He swaps places with us.  He joins us in our human life on earth so that we can join Him in His life with God the Father.  By Jesus’ union with us, we share in His sonship.  Jesus’ position with God the Father,  His status and all His privilege as God’s only Son, His righteousness and His holiness,  His access to the Father,  His Father’s love and delight in Him, and the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit,  are all ours through faith in Jesus……  In short, we borrow everything from Him.”

Borrowing from Martin Luther and his study of the Psalms, he says you will find there 3 general rules for receptive spirituality:  prayer (oratio), meditation (meditate) and temptation (tentative).

Prayer

We pray for the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and the Holy Spirit enlightens us through the Word.  ”So we pray for enlightenment, guidance and understanding that the Holy Spirit alone can give through the scriptures…..The Holy Spirit turns us would be spiritual self-promoters into humble, lifelong students of the scriptures.  Prayer for God’s ongoing bestowal of the Holy Spirit through Jesus and the ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit is the foundation for Christian spirituality.

That concept seems so simple and yet it is so profound.    We approach the scriptures with humility and as beggars and we plead and pray that God’s spirit would enliven us through this powerful, living Word.  It will change  the way we read the Bible.   We don’t come with my superimposed ideas of what I think this passage says.   We learn to come asking, seeking and begging for help, answers, strength, and faith. And our Father who loves us receives us graciously and gives us Himself.

Meditation

God gives His spirit with the external Word.  ”The Word of God is a means of grace by which God the Father grants the Holy Spirit through His dear Son.  We receive the Holy Spirit through meditation on His Word.  If there is no Word, there is no Spirit.”  He describes a very specific meditation where we speak God’s words to ourselves and we listen attentively to them them with our whole heart.   “We speak it to ourselves again and again;  we read and reread it;  we compare what it says one place with what it says elsewhere in the Bible;  we chew at it in order to digest it;  we rub at it, like an herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed;  we take it in physically, mentally and emotionally, so that it reaches our hearts, our core, the very center of our being.”    Kleinig borrows from Luther who is adamant that meditation is a mostly outward activity and that we ought to beware when we use the scriptures as merely a springboard for our own inward directed ascension into the heavenlies.

Temptation

“Temptation is the touchstone that God uses to access our spirituality…. Temptation reveals what is otherwise hidden from us…..and tests the authenticity of our faith and proves our spiritual health.”

As long as we operate by our own power, with our own intellect and our own human notions, the devil lets us be.  But as soon as we meditate on God’s spirit-filled Word and draw on the power of the Holy Spirit by meditating on it, the devil attacks us by stirring up misunderstanding, contradiction, opposition, and persecution.  He mounts that attack through enemies of the Gospel in the Church and in the world.  The purpose of his attack is to destroy our faith and undo the hidden work of God’s word in us.”

This section on temptation hit me like a ton of bricks.   The past few months, I’ve been much more diligent about making time to read and study.  Instead of feeling more spiritual and knowledgeable, I’ve felt so inadequate.  I’ve wondered if I really even have faith, at times.  I don’t see any self-improvement, only a host of new sins and struggles.   But that only serves to drive me back to prayer and to the scriptures.  Hmmm, prayer, meditation, temptation.   I think I finally see that the pattern.  It’s not glamorous and it’s not some spiritual ladder to heaven.  It’s daily dying and rising.   Our lives are hidden in Christ and we shouldn’t look for some sort of measurable ‘growth’ or improvement.

“Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus.”

 

***********************

Okay, it’s your turn.  What are your thoughts?  Don’t you love how he focuses so heavily on Christ and what we receive from Him—and not so much on what we do or don’t do?

 

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Southern Gal February 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I’m going to have to read this again in the morning because my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders right now and I don’t want to miss anything.

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2 Jenny@ADropintheBucket March 1, 2012 at 3:05 am

Edie,

Thanks, first of all, for inspiring me to read this book. I’ve been a journey lately of becoming more spiritual. I am overseas and I find myself very lonely right now, and it seems like that is a calling from God to become closer to him (again). So, with this book and discussion, along with reading “A Purpose Driven Life”, I really do feel like I am going to find myself in a good place at the end of Lent.

I have to agree with your thought on temptation. I have been wondering about that lately, and why there always is the temptation for certain things that I work so hard (and think that I am doing a good job at) avoiding. After reading his thoughts, I have to think that it is because I am becoming stronger in my faith, and the devil is trying to find his way with me.

Thanks again-look forward to the coming chapters.

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3 Candace March 1, 2012 at 7:44 am

I love these thoughts, Edie! I am not reading the book (though now have it on my wishlist on amazon) but I love the things you have quoted here. Much food for thought. I also wanted to let you know that I appreciate all the links you give us at various times from Issues, Etc. I have listened many times to the segments you have linked to and enjoyed them very much! I am listening to the Lev. link you gave us this morning. A few thoughts. :) First of all, I wanted to listen because in my daily reading (the chronological bible in a year for 2012) I am at Leviticus!! What fabulous timing for you to share this link! :) It is funny, because in our small group at church, we are studying Galatians – so quite the contrast in my studies at this moment! The law in Leviticus and freedom in Christ in Galatians! I actually kind of like that I’m reading both at the same time.

Anyway, I have started listening to your link (admittedly I have not finished it yet!!) and it just brings out so many questions. The speaker (who is the author of the book you are studying, correct?) says that in America we have lost all sense of God’s holiness and that nothing is sacred anymore. I wish he would give specific examples of this. What things is he talking about? I kind of get that he is discussing worship – but what in worship (specifically) is not sacred? Would he come into my church service and say we are not focusing on the holiness of God or worshiping in a way that is sacred? Is only tradition sacred? Is contemporary music not sacred? I don’t know…this is hard for me! Mostly I don’t want to put words in his mouth…but I just am not sure what specifically he means…I would love to hear your thoughts on this!! :) What does sacred worship look like? He says that worship is all about God and His Word…I totally agree!! It is not about me!! But it seems to me that what is sacred and “about God” could be very subjective?? Not sure…just rambling!!

Edie, I do so love these posts that spur me on to prayer and meditation!! You are a gem!! :)

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4 Candace March 1, 2012 at 7:45 am

{so sorry if this posts multiple times! My computer is not acting like it wants to post this comment!}

I love these thoughts, Edie! I am not reading the book (though now have it on my wishlist on amazon) but I love the things you have quoted here. Much food for thought. I also wanted to let you know that I appreciate all the links you give us at various times from Issues, Etc. I have listened many times to the segments you have linked to and enjoyed them very much! I am listening to the Lev. link you gave us this morning. A few thoughts. :) First of all, I wanted to listen because in my daily reading (the chronological bible in a year for 2012) I am at Leviticus!! What fabulous timing for you to share this link! :) It is funny, because in our small group at church, we are studying Galatians – so quite the contrast in my studies at this moment! The law in Leviticus and freedom in Christ in Galatians! I actually kind of like that I’m reading both at the same time.

Anyway, I have started listening to your link (admittedly I have not finished it yet!!) and it just brings out so many questions. The speaker (who is the author of the book you are studying, correct?) says that in America we have lost all sense of God’s holiness and that nothing is sacred anymore. I wish he would give specific examples of this. What things is he talking about? I kind of get that he is discussing worship – but what in worship (specifically) is not sacred? Would he come into my church service and say we are not focusing on the holiness of God or worshiping in a way that is sacred? Is only tradition sacred? Is contemporary music not sacred? I don’t know…this is hard for me! Mostly I don’t want to put words in his mouth…but I just am not sure what specifically he means…I would love to hear your thoughts on this!! :) What does sacred worship look like? He says that worship is all about God and His Word…I totally agree!! It is not about me!! But it seems to me that what is sacred and “about God” could be very subjective?? Not sure…just rambling!!

Edie, I do so love these posts that spur me on to prayer and meditation!! You are a gem!! :)

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5 Liz March 1, 2012 at 8:23 am

Again, so glad that I found your blog right before you started this series! I was looking for something for my Lenten season, and here you were with a great book suggestion.

God is definitely at work trying to tell me something about temptation, because not only did I find you (and therefore this book) which so clearly speaks about the blessing that facing temptation can be, but that message is everywhere for me right now! My husband and I are also re-reading Purpose driven life (Jenny, have you read it before too?), and right as I started Grace upon Grace we also read a few chapters in Purpose Driven Life relating to temptation and spiritual growth! And guess what our Pastor preached about this past Sunday? TEMPTATION! He touched on Jesus’ temptation in the desert, just like the book does, which really spoke to me.

I’ve always struggled with “interior” thoughts that are more influenced by the Devil’s work than the Spirits, and so this teaching about temptation has hit the mark for me. 2011 was a spiritual and emotional rock bottom for us as a family due to some very challenging issues. It forced my husband and I to see ourselves for the Beggars we truly are. We’ve seen the Spirit working in us recently though. As tempting as it can be to claim “our accomplishments” in getting back into the Word, now more than ever we KNOW it is the Spirit. We KNOW the He is fighting the battle to win our hearts back to Him! And we are so THANKFUL for the Grace upon Grace that he continues to show the beggars like us!

Also, I loved your phrase:
“But those two ditches (self-righteousness and self-pity) are not where true spirituality are found.”
It’s so tempting to get caught up in the self-righteousness and not feel like we’re in a spiritual “ditch”, but oh we are! Thanks for leading this study and your insights.

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6 Esther March 1, 2012 at 9:52 am

Your thoughts matched mine almost exactly. I am so excited to be reading this book–and my husband is reading it too, for his circuit book study.

My two favorite quotes: “Mediation is indeed a matter of the heart, but not only of the heart. The way to the heart is from the outside to the inside, from the mouth through the ears into the heart. In meditation we inwardly hear what is spoken to us outwardly.” And the other: “Therefore, the enactment of God’s Word in the Divine Service determines how and on what we meditate. Just as the Scriptures are read in the Divine Service, so we read them aloud to ourselves as we meditate on them. Just as the psalms are sung there, so we sing them to ourselves.” After I read that, I found myself shouting, “YES!” I absolutely loved how he connected public worship to meditation.

I am itching to get started on the next chapter–what a blessing this book study is to me! Thank you, thank you!

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7 KTG March 1, 2012 at 11:17 am

This has been me for 20 years.I keep trying to be spiritual and “failing”. I need this digesting of God’s Word and your section today reminds me of a verse “the word of God is living,operative… Hebrews 4:12.

Thank you for this series Edie. The Lord Jesus holds me together. I’m a sinner saved by His grace alone!

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8 michelle March 1, 2012 at 11:43 am

Wow! You said what has been in my heart but haven’t been able to put into words. I’ve discovered, especially over the past 4 years, that the more I study His word, the more I realize how inept I am. I claim to know nothing but Christ crucified. All that I thought I knew and all that I thought I had become was nothing more that self-righteousness. He’s so good, patient, and kind. He is Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Rapha, Jehovah-Nicci. He amazes me in the fact that He seeks relationship with me. I think I may have to get this book. What amazes me is that I am not Lutheran nor do I know anything about Lutherans, but I agree with so much that you write. Thanks for so willingly sharing.

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9 edie March 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I’m working on my comment section so that it will support ‘nested’ comments. It’s so much easier to have a discussion that way but none of the plug-ins I’ve tried will work. Be patient. I’ll be back soon to discuss! Thanks for participating:)

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10 tara March 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm

“It’s not glamorous and it’s not some spiritual ladder to heaven. It’s daily dying and rising. Our lives are hidden in Christ and we shouldn’t look for some sort of measurable ‘growth’ or improvement.”

“Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus.”

thank GOD for showing us this very freeing truth. it is about him…it is about following after him. It isn’t about us or anything we can offer on any given day.

what freedom there is in loving him and daily dying and rising to follow him.

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11 edie March 2, 2012 at 6:32 am

Well friends, after searching high and low for a way to make this forum more discussion friendly, I can NOT seem to find a plug-in that works on my blog. I’ll consult some help for next week but for now, we’ll make the best of it.

Jenny,
I think you are so right about temptation. Our specific temptations –that we can never seem to truly overcome—-are the very things that keep us dependent on Christ. Becoming ‘stronger’ in our faith is such a paradox because we become stronger by becoming weaker (in our own flesh) and more dependent on Christ for our every need. So glad you’re joining our book study.

Candace,
I LOVE your comment and am so happy you’re following along! How wonderful to find Dr. Kleinig when you’re already studying Leviticus! I’ll be emailing Dr. Kleinig this weekend to see if he would mind to join one of our discussions and I’d love it if he could answer this for himself because I’m sure I will not do the question justice. I don’t think he would necessarily equate sacred with tradition but he emphasizes that God has chosen (not us) what elements He will use to communicate His holiness (to bridge the gap between He and us). He has chosen physical means (the Word, water, bread and wine) to sanctify us and save us and it seems that we often forsake those things that He has set apart in search of our own things or our own ways to come into His presence/to be sanctified. The beauty of having tangible physical means as a way of communicating His love and grace to us is that those things are external to us (things we receive) and not a spirituality that is generated from inside of us (by our own faithfulness of devotion etc). When we hear the Word or take the Lord’s supper, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God forgives and loves us. We don’t have to wonder if our faith is strong enough or if we are becoming more and more spiritual. He does all the giving and we do all the receiving.

On the issue of contemporary music, I don’t think he would say that there is anything wrong per se with the genre of music. I’ve heard other pastors say that this type of music has almost become a ‘sacrament’ in the church—replacing at times the things that God has given us as a means of grace. I don’t think that’s always true but it may be a temptation to use the music as a means to manipulate people into certain emotions.

Hope you and your girls are doing well! Blessed Lent to you:)
xoxo

This podcast might shed further light!
http://issuesetc.org/podcast/582092110H1.mp3
and here’s on on contemp. music
http://issuesetc.org/podcast/722040511H1.mp3

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12 Candace March 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

Edie, thanks for the follow up comments! :) I will check out those podcasts as well, thanks for the links!

{{have you tried disqus? i have had good luck with that on my blog! seems to work well!}}

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13 edie March 2, 2012 at 10:59 am

I had disqus before and when my site upgraded to the new pro photo template, disqus didn’t work anymore. I’ve sent them an email but haven’t heard back. I’ve literally tried every other threaded comment plug-in I can find. SO frustrating!
Hope you have a great day:)

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14 Ruth March 2, 2012 at 8:26 am

Edie-I am so looking forward to receiving this book. It sounds exactly like what I need right now. I will dive right into it and i can already see there will be many notes to take on it. I have always struggled with time for reading and prayer and felt very much the way you used to. So proud of ny own spirituality when I did and beating myself up when I didn’t. It was all my own work and not the work of the Lord in me.
I am hoping this little treasure arrives soon so I can dig in. Looking forward to approaching the Scriptures with humility and as a beggar through Christ’s magnificent grace.
Hugs,
Ruth

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15 Southern Gal March 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Your thoughts on the cycle of prayer, meditation, temptation are what I observe in my own life. When I get to the play where I think I’m doing “all right” I realize I have nothing right. The legalism that plagued my life for so long is hard to shake sometimes. But it is easier to spot along with reasons to extend grace to everyone. Thanks for sharing this.

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16 Amy March 3, 2012 at 8:26 am

I have recently been wrestling with the idea of all they we have in Christ, that we do not claim. My prayer life is so pathetic at times. He waits to pour himself out. Peace. Grace. Love. And we struggle and fear and barely get by all on our own strength. We as His children sit at a feast laid out before us and yet, we are starving. I love your reflections on prayer, I get it. Thanks for writing this…

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17 17 Perth March 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

Holy cow. I absolutely love this. I am with Southern Gal too–I am going to have to read and reread this over again….Thank you for posting.

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18 Lisa March 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

Edie, I quick got the book on my Kindle so I could be apart of this! Love, Love, Love it. Beggars. That’s the term that gets me. I get derailed time after time~ although I never realized it, somewhere lurking in the depth of my heart is the need to impress or be viewed as organized, supermom…. ouch. A beggar is what I am, dressed in my filthy rags, sitting at the feet of the King of Kings, who lavishly dresses me with Royal robes and pours out HIs grace on me. AHHH! I beg for more. Lord, have mercy.

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