The Lord and His Tools

Isaiah 10 describes the Lord's use of the Assyrian Empire as His instrument of wrath on rebellious nations like Syria and Israel. Following this theme, my sermon focused on how the sovereign Lord continues to work out His purposes in and through the events and circumstances of history. This includes everything from international politics down to the relationships and challenges in our daily lives. Because the Lord uses "tools" to accomplish His will, God is always dealing with us, and we are always dealing with God.

But there's another perspective on the Lord's use of tools or instruments that we need to consider. The Lord has given us tools, commonly called "spiritual disciplines" or "means of grace", which He ordinarily uses as conduits of His blessings. In addition to the sacraments, the Lord promises to bless us through things like prayer, Bible reading, singing, fasting, feasting, corporate worship, confession of sin, tithing, fellowship, etc. But the Lord will not be manipulated by our use of His tools. We dare not trust in God's instruments apart from the God who wields them. When the surgeon leaves the operating room for the day, his instruments are neatly stored in the drawer and are completely useless on their own. If you, the patient, try to use the surgeon's tool as if they had some magical power to heal, you will probably only hurt yourself. If you think you can heal yourself simply by using the right tools, then you're putting your trust in the surgeon's tools or in yourself—but not the surgeon.

The means of grace are God's tools to work on us, not our tools to work on God. Spiritual disciplines do not give us leverage to make God do what we want. God will not be manipulated. He is not a genie in a bottle. We cannot control Him or obligate Him by using the right formulas or rituals. God works through ordinary means, and we must be faithful and obedient in our use of those means. But we must always seek God through His means of grace, because they are intended to bring us closer to God, not act as a substitute for God. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and our faith must be placed in God—not His tools.

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