I clicked on her Facebook page with eager anticipation of seeing her husband again—an old friend—and their two children, now grown and likely with families of their own. Our two families had been among the up-and-coming leaders in our church many years ago. I viewed them both as spiritual giants. They struck me as humble. They knew Scripture deeply and walked daily with God. We left the church for seminary, they for another city and a higher rung on the corporate ladder. Surely, God had big plans for us all.
That was 20 years ago.
The pictures that stared back left me in stone cold silence. The husband was MIA. Another man stood in his place, a sight that brought instant queasiness to the pit of my stomach. The children were absent, too. Her philosophy of life was there, but it mentioned neither Christ nor any other god: “If you want to be somebody, you’ve got to grab life by the throat before it grabs you.” The lone sign of religion was a linked article from a popular prosperity preacher, titled “Finding the Better You.”
Two clicks later, I located her husband’s Facebook page. Same thing. New woman, new worldview. No kids, no God—nothing I recognized from the family I once knew.
What happened? Where are the kids? What destroyed their marriage? What shipwrecked their faith—assuming they’ve left it behind? It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
Then it hit me: This could have been me. It could have been my family. By no means do I presume to know the true condition of their hearts—perhaps they will repent and return to Jesus—but it struck me that there is only one difference between my story and theirs. God has granted my wife and me persevering grace.
In my prayers, I rarely fail to be grateful for God’s saving grace in Christ; but I realized that I seldom thank him for daily grace that keeps me saved. Since making that discovery, I have prayed for our former friends, but I have also thanked the Lord for continuing to send daily waves of grace onto the shore of my life.
Preserved to Persevere
When was the last time you rejoiced over God’s preserving grace? In preaching on James 4 recently, I landed on verse 6: “But he gives more grace.” I am continuing to believe, to repent of daily sins, to read the Bible, to preach and teach God’s Word, to write about the things of God, to love my family for one reason: God continues his work in my heart.
Our debates over “once saved always saved” or the perseverance of the saints are often one-dimensional, with little nuance. God’s Word anticipates that the grinding mill of time and circumstances will eventually unmask pseudo-believers as false converts (e.g., 1 John 2:19; Parable of the Sower; and so on).
Jesus the Prayer Warrior
I am persevering in God’s grace because God’s Son is praying for me. Right now, at this moment, as I type this sentence, Jesus is at the Father’s right hand praying for me—for all his people. Our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer gives a powerful sampling of how Jesus is interceding for his people:
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me . . . While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost . . . I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth. . . I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17)
Jesus also interceded for Peter, knowing that the Devil would sift him as wheat, but that he would return—because Jesus prayed for him. The end of John’s Gospel recounts Peter’s restoration.
If you’re a discouraged believer, take courage that Jesus is praying for you at this moment. His prayers aren’t like ours; they’re not muddled, they don’t arise from mixed motives, they’re not fallible. He prays perfectly, and the Father answers. Every time. You are persevering in grace because of your great high priest’s prayers, for you, at the Father’s right hand.
Delight in Prevailing Grace
This is not to say we are passive in our perseverance. We continue trusting Christ through many dangers, toils, and snares. It is fully biblical to say both that we are persevering and also that God is preserving us.
I see God’s sovereign hand as I reflect on some of the more difficult turning points in my life. There were college professors who tried to talk me out of my faith, but Christ was greater still. My father died without warning when I was 22, six weeks before my college graduation. It broke my heart, but Christ was greater still. My wife and I lost our first child to a miscarriage. We grieved profoundly, but Christ was greater still. My first pastorate was filled with trials and ended long before I had planned, but Christ was greater still.
Are you still following Jesus through struggles and hardships? Are you clinging to him in spite of a thousand voices telling you to grab on to the things you can see? If so, thank God for his preserving grace. He has preserved you, and he will preserve you, through any difficult days that lie ahead—until he completes the work he began and you see him face to face.