Running On Empty
I’m the type of person who gets gas when the gas light goes on. Yes, I know I have 80kms, but I don’t like looking at the light. Susan on the other hand, will see the gas light come on and drive the car until it’s running on fumes – literally.
While we’ve never actually run out of gas (yet), I remember once driving up to the gas station with the “kms to empty” readout at “0“. Susan’s always been more exciting than I am, so while I drove frantically, having visions of needing to push the car for the last 500 metres, she was thrilled she got the tank to zero and was chanting “oh yeah, baby!” as we went along.
Imagine if I pulled up to the pumps, but instead of putting fuel in the car, I pulled out the owners manual, read up on the car’s functionality and then drove off. That’s what it’s like to wrongly confuse the wise guidance of God’s law with the animating power of God’s grace.
Consider the flow of the New Testament epistles. In every letter, the apostles invite the church to live out the liberating implications of being a child of God. Without exception, they all begin with a call to behold, not a call to behave. None of the letters begin sounding like, “Good morning church. I am writing to encourage you to live a life of love and obedience with intention, vision and on mission. Step #1….”
Sadly, I have done lots of preaching and parenting that began like that.
Calling a heart that is running on empty to be more loving, more sacrificial, more obedient, more on mission is a fools errand. If we observe a lack of love and good works in our churches or in our children, that deficiency will not be remedied by simply calling for more love and good works.
The apostles approach gives us insight for ours. The epistles all begin with “preaching” Christ not simply “namedropping” Him.
“Preaching Christ” begins with talking candidly about how our sin is met by God’s grace. Not only does His grace cover us when we fall flat, but it is increasingly refuelling us to stand firm. The construction of the letters to the New Testament churches reveals that the first half (or more!) of every letter is dedicated to “refuelling the church” by reorienting them to God’s grace. This requires discussion about how there are dark, regions in our hearts that go deeper than we’d care to admit, and despite that, God’s grace continues to stretch further than all our sin. Preaching Christ involves both exploration and confession. Since we aren’t chasing after behaviour management, we are willing to look at the sin under our sin and explore not only what we did, but confess why we did it. We do this without condemnation, because God’s grace for us in Christ means our status before God is irreversibly righteous even though our substance remains sinful.
“Preaching Christ” enables us to acknowledge our vices and engenders our hearts to put on His virtues. Before calling our children or our churches to live out Christ’s virtues, we must continually refuel their hearts with God’s grace so that over time, they desire and internalize His virtues. Preaching Christ is reminding hearts that are running on empty that they are God’s children by gracious adoption, and as such, their life has a new narrative. Spiritual maturity is downstream from preaching the grace of Christ because in order to internalize and live out Christ’s virtues, our hearts must be liberated from their vices – and for that we need grace.
“Namedropping Christ” is giving His name an honourary mention as we bypass His grace and disregard why hearts are running on empty in favour of making a beeline to behaviour management. I know this because I’m guilty of having done this.
To borrow from James K.A Smith, “discipleship isn’t information acquisition“. We don’t come to church to learn how to think our way out of one set of behaviours and think our way into new ones. At our core, we aren’t primarily ‘thinking things’ as much as we are lovers. We loved and worshipped our way into self sufficiency and we need to love and worship our way out. 
Good News …
“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6
Being a minister of God’s grace is not reserved for theologians. If it were, the early church would have fizzled out in the first century under Rome.
The good news is that the renewing work God began in you when He rescued you by grace, He is completing in you now as He continually reforms you by grace.
May you know God’s love toward you, the power of His grace working in you more and more deeply. As one being refuelled by His grace, may you minister His grace to others who are running on empty.
 Paraphrased thoughts, “You Are What You Love”, James K . Smith
Here are some resources I have found helpful for family convos about God’s grace around our dinner table:
Jesus Storybook Bible – (preschool)
Thoughts to Make your Heart Sing – (elementary)
The Gospel According to Pixar
The Story of Everything
The Mockingbird Devotional
Good News for Anxious Christians
New City Catechism