I happen to appreciate Eugene Peterson’s adaptation of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message Bible:
“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.”
I especially love the phrase that has actually gone around the world “the unforced rhythms of grace”. Peterson is unpacking in current culture expressions the profound truth of living and traveling through life without a lot of excess baggage.
You can’t separate genuine rest, or better expressed, Christ as our True Sabbath rest, without integrating the “unforced rhythms of grace” into your life, seemingly especially in the hour in which we live.
When I was in High School in 1970, the late Alvin Toffler released his landmark book, “Future Shock”, and it was widely read, even as it still is today. His entire evaluation of the flow of history from the first wave, to the second, to the third was brilliant. The “third wave” referred to the digital age that was then just dawning. If you never read the book, the “first wave” referred to agricultural society which lasted globally for thousands of years until the Industrial Revolution began in Western Europe in the 18th Century. He called the Industrial Revolution “the second wave”.
With the dawn of the digital age, Toffler’s “third wave” he accurately stated that change was occurring an an ever accelerating pace due to the increase of information available and the influence of the computer, and what would eventually become the world wide web. That “third wave” brought with it an increase in knowledge unprecedented in all of human history, something which is strikingly similar to what the prophet Daniel is told about in Daniel 12:4 But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
All of this relates, in my estimation, to the desperate need for a recovery of ‘the unforced rhythms of grace” in our daily lives. The sad reality is this, the information age has aged this generation. The increase of knowledge in the day in which we live has led to the increase of stress at every level.
Our ancestors faced great stress, however it was stress of a different kind. It certainly impacted them, and they had to become stress-hardy and resilient in both the agricultural wave, and the industrial revolution wave. However, the stressors were tied in the agricultural age to food, shelter, barbarians, and the threat of plagues, famines, and contagious diseases. In the Industrial Age it was tied to adapting to city life, and finding gainful employment in factories, and finding adequate means of learning a new trade and developing new skills sets to keep up with where industry was taking things.
Advances in medicine, technology, food production, economics, and government worldwide has changed the playing field. In fact, that third wave saw all of these areas explode with information that has proven helpful as well as harmful to our well-being.
So we face stress in a context that is totally unlike what our ancestors, or even our great grandparents and grandparents faced. There is no question that stress causes psychological pain because of the events that trigger it. In a fast-paced culture where even change itself is changing, according to the experts, the very foundations of people’s well-being can be shaken. The levels of unhealthy tension are increasing in our day.
All the more reason to rediscover the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Christ has promised us.
Unhealthy tension makes it more difficult for us to function at our optimal best. At a physical level our brain and nervous system get caught in that tension. That tension makes it difficult to be able to discern the healthy impressions of the Spirit that come from “the unforced rhythms of grace” which are usually quite subtle (i.e. – the still small voice), and more often than not drowned out by the “noise’ of the culture that is driving it.
In a needs-driven culture, we need to take a step back and learn how once again to be led by the Spirit. You will either be swallowed up by the activities of coping with change and be needs-driven, or you will intentionally slow down to the speed of revelation and become Spirit-led by “the unforced rhythms of grace”.
The stressors make so much noise in our minds and hearts that they block our whole being from discerning those impressions that are designed to help us carry out our intention in the most creative way possible. There cannot be creativity and true knowledge, true knowing, without us “coming to the quiet”. “Be still and KNOW that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), is an invitation to slow down to the speed of life, light, and revelation, and learn Christ’s “unforced rhythms of grace”.
Eugene Peterson uses three phrases to capture what he sees in relation to unhealthy tension, even as it relates to rules and regulations about your life in and with God. Those three phrases are:
2. Worn Out
3. Burned Out
The last of the three is actually horrific. Burn out is not fun at all. By the time someone is in that place, so many areas of their life are out of cadence, out of sync, out of sorts, out of touch, and out of rest. The burned out individual has become so driven to achieve that there is not cadence or rhythm of grace in their life. They are more than tired, they are more than worn out; they are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually weary. When someone is burned out they are in a state of chronic, unrelieved stress. Not only can they not manage their time, they cannot manage the very energy of their life. They are physically and emotionally wiped out. They become cynical and start detaching from people and places that once were important to them. The feel powerless, ineffective, and is if they have no accomplishments they can celebrate.
They suffer from all sorts of physical and emotional issues. There is also a profound loss of joy. They become pessimistic and irritable. Their ability to be renewed becomes all too challenging because they are running so fast on the treadmill of the needs-driven culture, and going nowhere fast, that they don’t know how to slow their pace down. They lose their equilibrium and head for a big disruption when they lose their balance and fall from the false momentum they have been building.
The real hope for restoration and renewal, in a consumer-driven, exhaustion-driven, no-boundaries-between-work-and-play culture, is in Jesus and His “unforced rhythms of grace”.
Getting in His yoke and learning “the unforced rhythms of grace” means at the very least, learning the dynamic balance between what is necessary and what is unnecessary in your efforts and actions to bridge the gap between our current unhealthy tension-filled reality, and God’s desired “effortless-ease” reality of His restful and relaxed place in Christ.
Effective action in the current culture is impossible without letting go of the unnecessary so that there can be a “letting come” of the fruits and rewards of “the unforced rhythms of grace”. Grace is a RHYTHM that is governed by God and does not change. Of His fullness we have all received and grace upon grace. There is a constant movement of waves of grace. One wave comes in as another is going out. Unlike Toffler’s “third wave” the ebbing and flowing of the waves of grace leads to deep transformational change that shifts our observations of reality. Those shifts change our perceptions, our interpretations, our thoughts, feelings, judgments, and actions, and yield results that exceed our highest expectations.
In the movie “TAP”, starring the late Gregory Hines, the movie opens with Hines in prison, listening to the sounds as well as the silences between the sounds from everything outside the prison taking place on the streets of the city, from jack-hammers at construction sites, to footsteps walking every which way. Hines’ character, a phenomenal tap-dancer who was down on his luck and limited by prison bars, could still move his feet to the unforced rhythms he heard coming from the street outside his prison window. He turned those sounds and patterns of sound into dance steps. He ultimately danced his way to freedom in the movie.
The passage in Matthew that this series of statements from Jesus flows out of is His prayer to the Father, whom He thanks for “hiding things from the wise and the intelligent” and then “revealing things to babes”. In a day when knowledge is increasing, change is changing, and stress is increasing, our driven-ness for knowledge and wisdom sometimes wears us out and burns us out. It seems according to Jesus, that being a “know it all” is precisely the position of someone who knows nothing at all, because they are out of sync with His Father, who actually “hides” things from know it all’s, and reveals it to “babes” who have learned “the unforced rhythms of grace” and are willing to hear the sounds of God’s cadence in the silence, and then dance with the Lord and let Him take the lead.