Coming to Christ is a Proactive Journey
The pattern of asking for help before receiving it from Our Lord is found throughout Scripture.
We hear in Scripture that God will grant our requests. We are told to be persistent but not to test Him. We are also advised to trust God’s Mercy as long as we open ourselves up to it.
None of that means it’s going to be easy. As The Stream’s Tom Gilson wrote in May, the “standards of compassion” and other requirements made of Christians can be terrifying in the spiritual and physical realms.
But we must still pursue it. Sitting back and demanding God enter before we open ourselves up to him is like demanding a basketball coach teach someone who never gets on the court.
Trained to receive the Grace of Christ
The movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ” was an excellent movie with many important spiritual lessons. At one point, Paul tells Luke that he spent three years learning how to pray. According to Galatians 1:18, this took place immediately after his conversion from Christianity – a conversion which took place after years of persecution of Christians.
Paul had a lot to learn in his new life as a follower of Christ. He also, to quote Yoda, had to “unlearn what [he had] learned.”
The fact is that we all must unlearn what sin and experiences have falsely taught us. Christ’s Grace is always available, but sin closes us off from receiving it. This is a core tenet of Christianity, but many American Christians seem to believe that if they accept Jesus as their savior even once, then they are “saved.”
Very little could be further from the truth. To quote Thomas Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert, we must continually strive to open ourselves up to God:
A brother asked one of the elders: How does fear of the Lord get into a man. And the elder said: If a man have humility and poverty, and judge not another, that is how fear of the Lord gets into him.
The same is true in many mundane goals. Years of bad eating, no exercise, and sugary drinks is unlikely to be changed overnight by someone who desires to be more fit and healthier. The temptations from these bad habits may never leave – many alcoholics say they are still alcoholics despite decades of not drinking.
In other words: faith must guide our works, whether they are internal or external. And our free will must choose to be open to God’s Graces. Given our propensity for sin, this requires a lifetime of training and a lifetime of hope for those Graces.
The pattern of asking for help before receiving it from Our Lord is found throughout Scripture. Not being a biblical scholar, I did notice that Christ tended to provide miracles after they were requested. Looking at the entire list of Christ’s miracles at CatholicCulture.org, one can see that almost all of the miracles which provided material benefit were directly requested by the recipient (or, in the case of the paralytic, his friends) or after showing a willingness to follow/serve Christ (as when Peter received an overabundance of fish after allowing Christ to teach from Peter’s boat, or when the thousands followed Christ before He created the multitude of loaves and fish).
The raising of the widow’s son in Nain is a rare example of Christ providing a miracle without any pro-activity from the recipient. And this is good – it reminds us that Our Lord does love us, that He does see our grief and our needs.
But it’s just as good that we see many more examples of the need to, like Paul, humbly spend our time pro-actively humbling ourselves and training ourselves on how to best receive God’s Graces. As Paul noted in Galatians, works without faith are useless – and grace is what allows us to do good.