How We Grow

How Do We Grow in Grace?
As Christian disciples, we are called to grow in faith through the means of grace.  When we experience justifying grace as God’s gift to us through the self-giving love of Jesus Christ, we speak of “new birth”. In this, we become spiritual infants. Spiritual infants, like physical infants, must grow to reach maturity. In order to grow, it is necessary for our faith to be nourished and strengthened by certain practices and habits.

The practices that lead toward spiritual maturity are sometimes called spiritual disciplines.  John Wesley, the founding father of Methodism, often referred to these disciplines as “the means of grace”.

What are the “Means of Grace”?
Wesley called the means of grace, the ordinary channels whereby (God) might convey to (persons) preventing, justifying and sanctifying grace”. He believed that without these means of grace our relationship with God cannot grow. Though Wesley did not believe that any one of the means of grace is essential to salvation, he taught that faithful and consistent use of them provides us with a pathway back to God.  These are the means, or ways, that God uses to transform our lives.

If we are feeling distant from God, the first question Wesley would ask us is “Are you making use of the means of grace?”

There are many practices which can help us grow in our relationship with God but John Wesley generally included six primary “means”:

  1. Searching the Scriptures—The Scriptures are God’s living word of truth, of inspiration, of challenge and of encouragement for our lives. Without reading Scripture regularly, our faith cannot grow. Wesley taught the ideal of setting aside a little time each morning and evening for Bible reading.  At Main Street we encourage you to make use of prayer guides offered on the website or another intentional plan for reading the Bible each day.  If you would like help in finding a method that works for you, please contact one of our pastors or ask your Sunday School teacher.
  2. Prayer—Learning to pray is the work of a lifetime. Just as our relationships with other people are nurtured by spending focused time listening to the other person and speaking to the other person, prayer is also a relationship that is about speaking and listening. John Wesley believed we can learn to pray by using a prayer book or by using written prayers of others. Modern Christianity has favored extemporaneous prayer— pouring forth the honest emotions and petitions of our hearts. The Psalms are the prayer book of the Church; they teach us the language of praise and thanksgiving. The Psalms also teach us that it is acceptable to bring every emotion of our lives before God—joy, anger, despair, loneliness, resentment, fear and even the desire for revenge.  We can learn to pray by praying the Psalms.  A Disciple’s Path Companion Reader by James A. Harnish offers several simple, biblical methods for United Methodists who want to learn how to pray.  Follow the Prayer Guide posts on our new website for simple suggested ways of praying.
  3. Fasting—In Judaism and among the early Methodists, fasting served two primary purposes:  repentance and preparation.  Emphasized primarily during Lent, fasting can be used as a spiritual discipline any time we fall into extremes of behavior that keep us from developing our primary relationship with God. It is important not to trivialize the practice of fasting and to realize that when we fast, it does not mean that we deny ourselves all forms of enjoyment.  The purpose of fasting is to detach from those things to which we cling obsessively and even addictively. In addition to certain items of food or drink, a person may fast from constant media stimulation, fitness mania, compulsive dieting, judging others or a workaholic schedule. Ultimately fasting means one thing—to let go of external attachments until we remember what it feels like to be hungry for God.
  4. The Lord’s Supper—Holy Communion celebrates the grace of God that is present with us as we share in the body (the bread) and the blood (the grape juice) of Christ.  We do not believe that these elements actually become the body and blood of Christ, but that through them we experience the read Presence of the living Christ within us.  Each time we come to the Lord’s Table we are offered the opportunity to confess our shortcomings and failures and to offer them to God.  In the United Methodist tradition, the Lord’s Table is open to all who come with faith in Christ, regardless of their membership in any church. As we receive anew the gift of Christ himself, we are given a new beginning through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  At Main Street UMC, we celebrate Holy Communion each Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Fellowship Worship and on the first Sunday of each month in 8:30 and 11:00 a.m. Sanctuary Worship.  
  5. Public Worship:  God calls people to gather in corporate worship—and to worship God alone.  We are called to worship regularly and faithfully because worship restores us and strengthens us for living as disciples in the world.  The early 18th century Methodists were mocked and belittled for what was then perceived as obsessive attendance at worship.  From the very beginning, participating in corporate worship and sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion has held a central place in Wesleyan discipleship.  It is necessary for us to worship consistently because if we do not intentionally worship God, we naturally begin to worship other things.  And over time, we “become” what we worship.  This makes it impossible to grow in faith without regular participation in the public worship of God.
  6. Christian Community (which John Wesley called Christian Conferencing):  Based on Acts 2: 44-47, joining with others for prayer, sharing meals, and small group fellowship and accountability, is a key spiritual practice for growing in Christian discipleship. No one walks the discipleship pathway alone.  There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. To follow Jesus is to follow Jesus in community with others who are following Jesus.  We are only given a portion of faith alone.  Together with others, we are strengthened, encouraged, healed and transformed on the path of salvation.