It turns out that no matter what, God can be trusted. God is with us no matter where we go or what happens in this life. I grew up in church, attended countless summer camps, was open to Jesus in high school, became a Young Life leader in college, had amazing mentors through my 20’s, married a woman who loves Jesus, graduated from seminary, had more amazing mentors through my 30’s and early 40’s, and developed many good friendships around Jesus the past 20 years. Even with all of that somehow I missed it, I missed that God can be trusted no matter what. Only recently has this reality settled in.
Jesus believed God as Father could be trusted. This appears to be Jesus’ most fundamental “rhythm of grace” that he invites us into in Matt 11:28-30. Jesus ultimate rhythm when he was here on earth was the moment-by-moment belief that His Father could be trusted. The belief that the Father would be there, that Jesus wouldn’t be left alone.
This belief that God can be trusted is the very definition of rest. If you’re wondering how trust is rest, consider the alternative. How do we ever truly experience rest if there is not trust that God is going to be with us no matter what? If that belief is not inside, somewhere down deep, then we tend to run around frantic trying to prove to ourselves that we are not alone. When Jesus offers, “rest for our souls,” he is offering something that he lived in his humanity.
Jesus invites us into this rest, this posture of utmost trust in the Father. I believe Jesus had to trust that the Father would be there on the other side of the cross. In his humanity Jesus did not know for certain that there would be a resurrection. He believed it, proclaimed it, but ultimately he had to go to the cross trusting that His Father would not leave him. Jesus pinnacle act was dying on the cross. I wonder if his greatest impact was teaching us how to be human, how to trust the Father no matter what.
We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.
Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,
“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)
The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.
I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:
As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.
I have struggled with sleeplessness off an on in my adult life. The common theme when sleeplessness sets in is worry. My mind races and I tend to try to do two main things: solve problems in my head on my own or play out possible scenarios for whatever is consuming my thoughts. As I continue during Lent to consider the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus offers, I wonder what His life has to say in regards to sleep.
The fact that Jesus slept at all is a great reminder of his humanity. He had the biggest mission statement in history and yet he slept. Maybe if part of it had to do with his Jewish outlook on when the day begins. A new day begins at sundown in Jewish culture and the first gift of God for the new day is rest. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the unforced rhythm that Jesus offers regarding sleep is to see it as a gift from God. Even Jesus received this gift from his Father.
We have the opportunity to join Jesus in beginning our day by sleeping. I believe the first gift God wants to give us each day is sleep. It’s practical surrender, and I know Jesus is very interested in us learning to live a surrendered life. When my mind begins to spin or wander as I lay my head on the pillow, I remind myself that I’m not God, I’m off duty, He’s got it. I’m off the hook, it’s not up to me. May we receive this unforced rhythm of Jesus as we learn to see sleep as a gift.
As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, I am exploring rest during Lent this year. Specifically, during these opening days of Lent I am looking at Jesus statement in Matt 11:29: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It seems Jesus is offering rhythms, rhythms that we can lean into or reject.
As I type the word rhythm it makes me think of Father Rock. He is a retired Catholic priest who lived from age 70-85 in the hills of Oregon in a private lake community. He spent his “retirement” walking with men by having them join him at “Rockhaven” (his home) for a two-day retreat. I was able to return to Rock Haven once or twice a year for ten years and it was wonderful!
One of Rock’s staple teachings is ROD (Rhythm, Order, Discipline). Father Rock’s teaches how Jesus lived his life with Rhythm, Order and Discipline. According to Rock, RHYTHM is: that which occurs regularly, what is repeated and expected. The human body has natural rhythms, thus rhythm is helpful to the accomplishment of all things human.
How do we develop Rhythm in our life? (Father Rock)
Plan your day with broad expectation
Set priorities from urgency, importance, helpfulness
Do what needs to be done today
Take care of peoples’ needs first, then work things
Make prayer part of your daily rhythm
Do major work when you have major energy
These insights from Father Rock are practically helpful for me to look at as I begin a new day/week.
What are the unforced rhythms of grace? Is it possible to learn them in 2019?
Eugene Peterson did a marvelous job with his interpretation of the Bible through the Message. In a few sections particularly, I believe he captured the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and the truest meaning of the Greek text, perhaps more than any other biblical scholar. Matt 11:28-30 is one of those sections.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Throughout Lent this year I’ll be looking at Jesus’ teachings and promises around rest. To kick it off this Ash Wednesday, the “unforced rhythms of grace,” statement of Jesus stands out. So what are the unforced rhythms of grace and how might we learn them?
I believe the unforced rhythms are the rhythms that keep us in tune to ourselves and God. The once atheist turned follower of Jesus CS Lewis wrote, “The first job each morning consists in shoving [all other voices] all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, we are wise to ask ourselves if we are doing this on a consistent basis. Are we “shoving back…letting the quieter life come flowing in?” It’s not easy with the demands of the day, but the alternative is to keep living the opposite. Perhaps we call it the forced rhythms of antonyms of grace: disfavor, deformity, unkindness, pride, works.
As hard as it can be to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, it is comforting to remember that it is the way of Jesus. It is what he modeled when he walked the earth. His teaching have a way of keeping us grounded in the rhythms of grace that we were designed for. As we consider the unforced rhythms of grace, it is not so much a new learning, as it is a returning to that which we were created for.
Being comfortable is of primary concern for most of us. We want things that give us comfort. We want to be isolated from pain. We want a certain amount of money in our bank account. We want stability. We want all of our relationships to be going well. We want to know that things are going to turn out ok. Put simply, being comfortable is very important to us, or at least it is to me.
One year ago this week Anna and I celebrated the release of my book Am I Loved? with a group of family and friends. As I looked around the room that night a year ago I was overwhelmed with gratitude for two things: God’s love for us and His display of love toward us through people. It was simple incredible to stand among a group of people that we get to live life with. One of the things I said in a short reflection with the group that night was that God’s story is always better, always more adventurous and always more creative. Little did I know that God’s story for our family in 2018 would involve getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
If you know some of our story, or have followed this blog in 2018, you know that things took a downturn with Anna’s cancer in the Spring. You may or may not know that things took a downturn for me as well in May and that due to stress, anxiety and sleeplessness I had to be hospitalized. Standing in front of family and friends in January at the book launch was comfortable for me. Sitting in a hospital four months later wondering if my wife was going to live and if I was going to be ok was very uncomfortable.
A quick reflection on followers of God in the Old and New Testament reveals that human comfort just doesn’t seem that important to God. What seems important to God is for His people to learn what it means to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I guess more simply put, God is interested in trust. Our learning to trust Him no matter what is going on in our lives. Our willingness to believe that He is for us and with us no matter where life takes us. The wisdom of Isaiah tells us,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)
As our family enters 2019 we are attempting to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. The last two years haven’t played out the way we thought, not by a long shot. But what we do know now, perhaps more than ever, is that God is with us, and that His love toward us through people has never felt more real.
Thank you so much for your support and prayers this past year, and especially this summer. Anna completed 12 weeks of chemotherapy in mid-August. We recently had a CT scan to check on the progress of treatment and we are very encouraged with the results. According to the oncologist, the scan shows no sign of the original tumor. In addition, there was extensive lymph node activity in May. As of this latest scan all lymph nodes appear normal with no invasion. There is still a small amount suspect cancerous activity in the liver so the doctor has prescribed an additional 6 chemotherapy treatment in hopes of getting the cancer to full remission. We are taking a deep breath around here and are very grateful for how well Anna’s body is responding to treatment. Thank you for continuing to hold our family through this season of life.
In May a friend was reading Psalm 18 and pictured Anna, the kids and me standing in a wide-open field being held by God and God’s people.
But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!
God made my life complete when I placed all the pieces before him. When I got my act together, he gave me a fresh start. Now I’m alert to God’s ways; I don’t take God for granted. Every day I review the ways he works; I try not to miss a trick. I feel put back together, and I’m watching my step. God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his eyes. (Psalm 18:16-24)
Anna and I have returned to Psalm 18 many time the past 5 months and we feel like this experience of being held by God and God’s people has come to fruition over and over as we have “placed all the pieces before him.” Thank you for being among those who have held us through this season of life. We are so grateful for you!