Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

In John 1:16, the writer describes the richness of the newly come Kingdom of God when he states: “We live off his generous bounty, gift after gift, after gift.” (The Message) Another version, The Living Bible says it this way: “We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us- blessing upon blessing heaped upon us!” Still other versions put it this way: “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.” (New American Standard Bible); “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (Today's New International Version); and “…and out of his fullness did we all receive, and grace over-against grace;” (Young's Literal Translation).

Listening to these interpretations combined, we can envision grace coming to us in waves: grace upon grace upon grace, grace being replaced by grace already given.

Close your eyes and listen...you can hear these waves lapping gently against the shoreline...


In the NIV's version of this beautiful passage we read this description of the way in which God desires to bestow provision, both physical and spiritual, on us in the new regime initiated by his son, the Christ: “16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Briefly, these are my “takeaways” from this:

1) Grace comes in ebbs and flows. We are given blessings and then sometimes they are seemingly taken away, only to be replaced by newer, greater- albeit similar in nature- blessings later on in time. It is a rhythm that cannot be forced.

2) This grace/abundance/blessing comes from Jesus who is full of both grace and truth. It cannot be achieved through purely human effort.

3) The mention of grace and truth together is not accidental- there is a connection. In order to be able to experience fully these waves of grace that are offered to us, and in order to be buoyed through the lulls of grace, we must anchor ourselves to Truth. Not truth with a lowercase “t”-which is the truth of the world as we see it…we must be solidly connected and receiving Truth with a capital “T,” and that kind of truth is not a proposition or a proposal or a set of facts or descriptions about the world- it is a person, the Person of Jesus Christ. We must anchor ourselves "in Christ".

In his paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30, Eugene Peterson describes “the unforced rhythms of grace.” Here’s this beautiful phrase in context:

“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”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

Did you ever get caught in a rip-current? I have. One minute you’re happily enjoying swimming in the beautiful vast sea, with the shore safely before you…the next minute you realize that you are not in control, and you can't seem to get to the shoreline. No matter how hard you fight, no matter how strongly you swim, the shoreline’s safety evades you. You begin to become tired, exhausted, and all the effort you are putting forth is doing only one thing-draining you of your ability to keep your head from ecoming completely submeged. I have been there: I call these times in my life the "one nostril above the waterline" times. They are scary.

Do you know the best way to get into shore and keep both nostrils above the waterline when you feel as if you are being pulled out to sea by an undercurrent? It’s to let go, lay back, stop swimming and just float. You let go, always keeping your eyes on the beach, and you let the current push you back in.

And so it is with life. Sometimes we try to force grace. We recognize a promise that God has whispered into our lives, and when that promise doesn’t come into immediate fruition, we panic. We begin a swim toward shore which is nothing more than a lot of thrashing and flailing and we think this will get us into the safety of the sand. But it seems the more we do this, the more exhausted we get, and our efforts begin to feel, surprisingly, counterproductive. That’s because they are. All the effort in the world will not bring about God’s promise of blessing and grace one second earlier than His appointed time.

Learning to "lean into Grace" is one of the most difficult spiritual practices to do, but it is key to being able to experience the authentic trusting life of a Christ-follower.

My mother used to say to me: “God is never late. Always on time- and rarely shows up early.” She was trying to tell me to be patient; to wait upon the Lord; and to not try to force grace’s rhythms. When we attempt to manipulate the rhythms of grace, we end up wrinkling the fabric of time and history. That may sound very esoteric and mystical, but I say this unapologetically. Because Grace is mystical…

Let’s look at some examples of what happens when grace’s rhythm is forced:

~Abraham and Sarah were promised the blessing of becoming a great nation, yet rather than believing in God’s supernatural provision- they worked within their own ‘logic’ and created a ‘solution’ by getting Hagar pregnant. Their ‘solution’ became a big problem.

~Moses was told by God that he would have the blessing of being the one to free the Hebrews from their slavery, yet rather than waiting on God’s perfect timing, Moses lost his temper when seeing a slave being mistreated. He freed one slave by killing an abusive Egyptian, but the Hebrew people languished in Egypt while Moses spent many years in exile in the desert.

~The Hebrew people knew they were promised the blessing of being a great nation, but rather than believing that their God works outside the scope of the ordinary, they disobeyed God and insisted that they needed a king to become powerful. This mistake cost them much.

Granted to us by the efforts of The Truth, grace is a gift that is simply unachievable through human effort. When we try to do so, we are literally setting ourselves up as gods. Not good. Not a gracious way to live. Not living by faith, through grace. Not helpful, and never profitable.

Forced grace is not grace at all. Today, let God’s grace wash over you like a mighty river, let it carry you where God wills. Rest in it. Bask in it. Learn its unforced rhythms…