Grace changes everything.
This message was preached at a Sunday service I attended recently. It sounded a little catchy, a little too perfect. Of course, I know that grace changes everything. Why did it hit me weird then?
I tuned out of the sermon and began to zero in on the word grace. I wrote it down, drew squiggly lines around it, and traced over the word again and again. I thought back to a time in my life overseas when I was living in a cycle of performance and perfection that left no room for grace—for myself or others. I was so out of sorts, so out of rhythm, so out of sync with the heartbeat of God, that I nearly broke. When recovering from that time, I leaned into a scripture that kept my heart afloat, Matthew 11:28-30:
“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 (The Message)”.
I’ve written about that time, here, on Velvet Ashes, and I’m returning to this verse yet again, during a different season in my life. It’s a very busy season: I just started working remotely full-time for an amazing non-profit here in the States, my spouse changed jobs, and we dropped our oldest son off at college this summer (cue tears). My other two kids are full swing into school activities, and we are hitting the ground running with soccer games here, youth group events there, and meetings everywhere. In the midst of it all, a year after a big move, I’m still trying to “find” community and make deeper connections rather than the one-off coffee date. My schedule is filling up.
Constant change, new transitions, and embarking on new endeavors can make creating a routine difficult. It’s barely September and when I look at my calendar, my eyes pop. I wonder, “How in the world did we get so busy, so fast?” I’ve already overbooked myself, and I should know better.
But, grace changes everything.
Back-up, I told myself, Lean into that grace and think about what needs to change. I started asking myself questions, like…what is distracting me right now? What is informing my schedule, who am I accommodating, and why? When I’m not working or spending time with my family (even if it’s in the car), what am I letting control my comings and goings?
I jotted some notes down, and realized after a busy summer, I’m already on auto-pilot—soaring through my days, without attuning my heart rhythms to what God would have me learn, and do (or not do) in this season. Here’s the thing…I want to walk with God, work with God, and be near God, in my coming and going, in my waking and sleeping, in my driving, in my cooking, in my cleaning, in my ministering, in my working. I really do.
I want to WATCH how God does all the things. This means teaming up with my Savior, instead of trying to do things FOR him. This means taking a step back and asking the Lord to show me how to arrange my time, so that I might live lightly and freely in my work and my home.
Maybe this isn’t an issue for you! Maybe your personality lends itself to being more go-with-the-flow. I had a teammate like that in Kenya, and oh how I admired her (and oh, how it drove me crazy)! For seventeen years I lived in rural communities in Africa and Asia, watching people sync their days and weeks to the weather, planting, harvesting, festival days, market days and so on. I loved learning from them. In those years, there were some seasons I just “let go,” and other seasons where I had a tight grip on what my days looked like, because I so desperately needed a sense of control in my life.
What I have learned over the years (again and again) is when I give my plans, my pre-scheduled activities, and even my work hours over to the Lord, I am much more at ease and open to unplanned opportunities, to the moments when God whispers, “See what I am doing? Work with me, watch me. Join me!” And if I’m honest with myself, it’s my response in those moments that often reveal how synced-up I am to the heartbeat of God.
I’ll do it later. Not right now. Ugh, I don’t have time for this person!
I’ve been praying for this opportunity, now it’s here! Yes!
Okay God, you know what I have on my plate, please help me do this thing!
When I try to enforce a tight rhythm or strict schedule on myself (and others) I tend to be irritable, less flexible, and closed off to “interruptions.” I’m not saying it’s bad to have a routine, or create daily habits, or work off a schedule for the day, weeks, or months ahead, but it is important to guard ourselves from worshiping the schedule or making it an idol. Discerning to say “yes” or “no” to opportunities, distractions, and even certain kinds of interruptions require attention to the Lord. We will make mistakes, we will get in ruts, we will have regrets of how we use our time. But remember, that’s where grace comes in!
I can’t tell you how to plan your days, or what sort of rhythms God has in mind for you. What I can tell you is that the God of ALL grace makes us strong, firm, and steadfast, even in our struggles (1 Peter 5:10). I can tell you that living a life in tune to the unforced rhythms of God’s grace and watching Him work, has proven to be a much more satisfying and joyful way to live life. Even when I reach the end of a hectic day, I can always fall back on the gracious love of God, knowing that it is by grace I have been saved; not because of anything I have done, but because of his own purpose and grace in my life. Remembering all this—especially at the start of the school year—has helped me take a second look at my planner and how I’m “filling up” my time. Even though those “blank spaces” look like they need something there, I’m asking God to take control, so that I can watch and join Him in the ways He is working.
And that changes everything.
Are you watching? How do you see God working, so that you might fall into an unforced rhythm of grace in your own life?
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