Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

Devotion Thursday May 14

14th May 2020

True joy - that is the ultimate goal sought in the Collect appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Easter. This traditional prayer defines real joy as the product of longing to do God’s will and desiring to experience his promises. The traditional Epistle which accompanies the collect is James 1:17-21. This reading connects the divine gift of new life in Christ to a transformed life in our behaviour.  Despite the constantly changing circumstances and challenges of this world, both the Collect and the Epistle urge us to be unchanging in our devotion to God as shown by our lives.  

For the English Reformers, the connection between the gift of salvation and a life dedicated to sanctification was loving gratitude.  Because they had been made whole in Christ, all their efforts towards godliness were because they were already firmly rooted in God, not because they were trying to get there. All of their good works were a response to God’s love for them, not the grounds why God should.  Yet, at an even deeper level, our good works for God were actually his continuing “good and perfect” gifts to us, sustaining us in our salvation.  For in his providential care, God uses our good works for him to draw us even closer to himself. 

Think about the tradition of families making Christmas cookies together. The cookies are clearly useful in their own right. Families make them at home for snacks and maybe even given them away as gifts to neighbours.  But, let’s be honest, if it were just about the Christmas cookies, it would be far more efficient for parents to make them without any “help” from the children. Including kids probably adds anywhere between two to four hours to the cleanup alone! Why then do many parents still make Christmas cookies with their children today? Are modern mothers and fathers such people of leisure that they have nothing better to do with their time during Christmas madness than make cookies with their kids? Well, the obvious answer is they want to spend time with their children making a memory, building their relationship with them. Even though the cookies have a genuine usefulness in and of themselves, they are still part of a greater purpose.

Our good works are like Christmas cookies. First comes our relationship with God in Christ as a free gift. Then, as an expression of that relationship, God gives us works to do with, through, and in him. As a result, our works do not only contribute to the growth of His kingdom, they also draw us closer to him.  In essence, after we are saved, God turns to each of us and  says, "Let's make some Christmas cookies together. Let me show you the special activities which we will do together, the good things which I've set aside for you and you alone to do with me.  I'm going to companion you through all the struggles involved in cookie-making, bringing everything to a good end. As you lean on me and walk in what I have put your name on, you will experience true joy - the joy of my presence as well as the joy of your fruitfulness.”

Getting the cart and the horse in the right order is at the heart of the Gospel. We do not earn God's love. We receive it. And when we receive it, it has a transforming power in our heart. The gratitude for a relationship with God fuels our desire to express that love in service to him and others. We don't seek achievement because we lack something that we think success will satisfy. We seek achievement because it is the goal that God has given us to lead us into working with Him in the pursuit of it and to be drawn closer to him by the process. Therefore, we find true joy in our good works, not merely for the sake of the accomplishments themselves, but because, as gifts of God working in us, they only increase our loving gratitude towards him, which of course, only draws us closer to God and a more godly life. 

Let’s now ask God to increase more loving gratitude in us by praying the appointed collect.

Prayer: 
1552 Readings and Collect appointed for the Fourth Sunday after Easter. Epistle: James 1:17-21. Gospel: John 16:5-14. Almighty God, which does make the minds of all faithful men to be of one will; grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing, which thou commandest, and desire, that which thou doest promise; that among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, whereas true joys are to be found; through Christ our Lorde. Amen.

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