Tammie Grimm ~ A Pipeline of Grace: Pros and Cons

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A proposed pipeline in my community has caused me to consider the nature of Christian faith and our lives as disciples. I’m not talking about the political, economic or environmental ramifications of pipelines, but the pros and cons of using the analogy of the Christian way of life, our discipleship, as a pipeline.

On one hand, the idea of having a pipeline to God, to supply our lives with the divine grace, sounds like an ideal concept. And, in some respects, Christians have access to any number of pipelines by which God’s grace is poured out. Spiritual disciplines and other practices of faith, such as prayer, reading the Bible, attending church, participating in acts of mission and service are known to Wesleyans as being “means of grace.”  These activities serve as channels designed to deliver and pour out God’s grace into a Christian disciple so it may flow out into the world.

On the other hand, the image of a divine power located in a far off distant source that can only be accessed when a believer taps into the pipeline reduces God to far less than the omnipotent, omniscient deity the Triune God of the universe already is. The corresponding picture of a believer who can control God with the turn of the spigot makes God a little too much at our command rather than us as servant leaders doing his will.

One of the more predominant pipeline proposal signs that has popped up in my community refers to the fact that a pipeline delivers its resources or its refuse 24/7/365. As some neighbours have noted, the promise of the benefits of constantly available energy resources can have problematic consequences. Without a doubt, this also draws a strong analogy to the Christian life as well.

It is incredible to think of, to realize God’s grace is always available for renewal. In one sense, it is how the whole Kingdom of God was advertised and announced by John the Baptist. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”(Matthew 3:3). Jesus’ life and ministry demonstrated that the Kingdom of God has arrived, breaking in with powerful inroads through healing and miraculous works as the lame walked, the blind saw and the hungry ate.

Tapping into the means of grace as a channel to have divine power and grace made available 24/7/365 is a comforting and empowering promise upon which Christianity rests. But it doesn’t quite tell the whole story or describe the importance of rhythm, the need for ebb and flow in our lives. Humanity is, after all, created for work for six days and rest on the seventh (Genesis 2:3).

The proliferation of internet news outlets and cable channels that produces a 24-hour news cycle helps paint the picture of the upside and downside of constant availability. On one hand, it is great to be able to catch up with the world, but watching for any great length of time can create anxiety and restlessness in a viewer, never mind reveal that from hour to hour, newscasters are repeating themselves and looking for a new angle. The spiritual life cannot be sustained at full tilt. Seasoned disciples know that growth and strength come from periods in the desert. The words of Ecclesiastes rings true, “for everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven”(Ecclesiastes 3:1).

One argument for pipelines is that they help transport remote resources to a nearby location. This is both problematic and helpful as it confronts the Christian life: problematic because it allows us to think of God as a distant entity in a fixed location who cannot traverse the distance that divides heaven and earth, and helpful because it provides a way of thinking about who disciples are and how they act – as ministers and agents of God’s grace. In some ways, disciples are pipelines of God’s grace, not merely using the spiritual disciplines so they can tap into the reservoirs of divine power and grace to use for themselves, but allowing their lives and examples to be used as a conduit of God’s grace that fills them up and pours out of them to others.

The real deal is that divine grace isn’t a commodity that needs transportation from one point to another, but a divine resource available in abundance. Disciples need to be the channels and conduits of God’s grace. Our very lives should be the faultiest of pipelines, too. The divine grace we receive is not ours to dispose of as we see fit, but should pour out of us and splash into the lives of others. We need to be as soaked and as saturated in God’s grace so that it flows through our lives and into our environment -pervading all of our lives so that we are not just energized, but fulfilled to the point of overflowing, allowing the goodness of God’s love to be available to all.

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Tammie is a PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, UK researching the implications of discipleship in the Wesleyan tradition and contemporary adult learning theory for doing theological reflection. She currently resides in her native New Jersey and is an ordained deacon in full connection in the North Carolina Annual Conference.

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