Methodists have an interesting term we call prevenient grace.
Coined by John Wesley, the founder of the movement in the 1700s that ultimately became the Methodist church, prevenient grace literally meanes “the grace that goes before.” God’s grace is at work in people’s lives before they are aware of it. When folks are either ignorant of his love or running from his care, God puts people, situations, and events in their lives, all designed to draw them to himself.
Jesus’ stories of the lost sheep and lost coin in Luke 15 give biblical support for Mr. Wesley’s understanding of the way grace works.
(I love prevenient grace because I have lived prevenient grace, but that is another story for another time.)
Which brings me to Cyrus, king of Persia at the time of the Exile (approximately 520 BC). Cyrus was not a follower of Yahweh — as king of Persia he most likely worshipped a number of different gods who were prominent in the polytheism of that time and place.
Yet Ezra 1:1 tells us that “the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia . . . “ The Lord moved Cyrus’ heart to the point that Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Canaan from exile in Babylon and to rebuild their temple.
So God used Cyrus — a man who did not previously believe in Him — as an agent of his prevenient grace for the children of Israel. Think about it — God uses people who don’t know they are being used. As agents of his grace.
Well . . . is it too much to believe that in the same way God can use a song like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For or a movie like The Shawshank Redemption or a novel like She’s Come Undone as agents of his grace in people’s lives? Art produced by artists who aren’t overtly (or even subtly!) “Christian.”
I dont’ think it’s too much to believe that at all.
In fact, I believe that’s one of the more effective ways in which God works.
Because I’ll opt for grace every time. Especially the prevenient kind.