Unforced Rhythms of Grace

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“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” – Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 11:29 (The Message)

This month marks the sixteenth anniversary of my sister’s death.

She was only 55. It was totally unexpected.

These things change you. Change the way you think about things. Change the way you live.

At the time I was teaching full time and writing part time for a local newspaper. With the youngest in college and the older two on their own, it was time to pursue those dreams I’d put on the back burner to raise a family.

While teaching was my passion, I wasn’t finding fulfillment in covering school board and county commissioners meetings and election results. And while I loved the camaraderie of the newsroom staff, getting up early Saturday mornings to drive 45 minutes in all kinds of weather to type obituaries wasn’t getting me any closer to my writing goals.

Of course I ignored the signs of dissatisfaction and pushed on. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Then a post-operative blood clot took the life of my only sister just when we were getting close again. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

I shivered on the love seat for days, in shock.

Change. It’s foisted on all of us. Whether we welcome it or not.

The key to surviving it is to look to God, knowing He has a plan and purpose for us (Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 139:16), knowing He takes the rough draft of the chapters of our lives and revises them so they shine (Romans 8:28) and lead to the ending He has planned. And knowing that if we follow our Shepherd, we will arrive at that ending without burning ourselves out.

But I hadn’t been stopping long enough to listen to God.

My sister’s death was a wakeup call—to pause in my headlong rush to fulfill my dreams and be all things to all people, and determine where I was truly headed.

Davis Bunn, in his 40-day devotional “The Turning,” writes, “When we read, we give no notice to the spaces between the words. And yet those pauses are vital. Without them, there is nothing but a senseless jumble. With them, thoughts are unique, words are clear, ideas fashioned, lives transformed. So it is with the brief pauses we make to stop and listen. Our thoughts and actions take on new clarity.”

And so it was for me. If I were to die suddenly in my mid-fifties, I thought, would I have realized my dreams? Within a week, I resigned from the newspaper job.

I still get too busy, lose focus, and drift away from God’s path for me. It’s refreshing to pause, still the clamor of life, rest and recharge spent batteries.

“Are you tired? Worn out?” Jesus says. “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” (Matthew 11:28–29, The Message).

I’m a slow learner, Lord. I have to force myself to slow down. Sometimes my body, mind, and spirit are just too exhausted to push on. Remind me often to pause to reflect, rest, and recharge. Amen.

Read and reflect on Psalm 23

From God, Me & a Cup of Tea: 101 devotional readings to savor during your time with God. © 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Pressure to Perform

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If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. – John 8:36 (NIV)

I once knew a man who was very active in the church, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and serving on committees. A former music teacher, he often filled in when the choir director was out of town. And when a new Christian school was launched, he donated his time to give instrument lessons and form the fledging musicians into a band.

Arden was a man I looked up to, but not because he was so involved and had such a dynamic personality. He challenged me to think, to dig deep and analyze why I believe what I do. He didn’t offer pat answers to the questions of life or spout Christian clichés and platitudes that miss the mark and don’t satisfy.

And he loved God. He didn’t have to say it, you just knew it from how he lived his life. Nearly every time I saw him, he exuded energy and was bursting with joy.

Then one year we almost lost him. Doctors determined his heart was weak and, without a transplant, there was nothing that could be done. So Arden spent many months at home, resting.

I missed him. I missed his energy, his ever-present smile, his outspokenness, his way of getting me to think and not accept things just because someone said so.

But God worked a miracle because Arden eventually returned to church and was able to do much more than doctors had predicted. I asked him when he returned if the recuperation time at home was difficult for him.

“Weren’t you just itching to be busy?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “I could truly relax because there wasn’t any pressure to perform.”

The pressure to perform. Arden passed away several years ago, but I never forgot that statement. I use it to gauge my motivation for doing what I do: Do I teach Sunday school because it’s expected of me or because I love to teach, I love God and His Word, and instructing others fills me with satisfaction and joy? Do I write a weekly column, produce a daily radio program, and speak to groups to feed my ego and glorify myself? Or because it’s a way of telling others about the God I love? And because I believe teaching, writing, and speaking are callings from God?

Do I go to church every Sunday because it’s expected of me or because I want to worship God with other believers? Why do I try to set aside a quiet time everyday? Because that’s what was told I should do or because I hunger and thirst after God?

The list goes on. Sometimes the introspection reveals that instead of seeking after God, cultivating a relationship with Him and serving Him out of love, I’m merely playing at religion.

God’s Son died to give us freedom – freedom from sin and from the shackles of religion, from the pressure to perform.

He longs for a growing relationship with us. We cultivate this relationship, first, by seeking Him, then by serving Him.

“You will seek Me and find me when you seek Me with all of your heart,” He tells us (Jeremiah 29:13). We seek Him when we talk to Him (prayer); when we read, study, and think about His Words to us (the Bible) – and it doesn’t have to be a read-the-Bible-through-in-one-year thing; and when we are still before Him, listening in the quiet for His voice.

Then, we serve Him by serving others, using the talents He’s given us to reach out to a hurting world.

Don’t succumb to the pressure to perform. Seek a personal relationship with God first, then serve others with a heart full of love overflowing – just like Arden.

Help me, Lord, to truly put You first in my life. Free me from the shackles of empty religion to grow a loving, fulfilling relationship with You. Amen.

Read and meditate on Galatians 5

(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.