“The problem was, I made these ways to connect with God into burdens and self-improvement efforts. Disciplines that should have brought life were bringing condemnation.”
In my last blog post I mentioned the two authors who first introduced me to spiritual disciplines: Henri Nouwen and Richard Foster. Nouwen told me of my deep value before God — Life of the Beloved may be my favorite book. And Foster set before me a smorgasbord of ways to connect with God.
The problem was, I made these ways to connect with God into burdens and self-improvement efforts. Disciplines that should have brought life were bringing condemnation.
Eugene Peterson (a pastor who lives the reality of seeking God first) translates Matthew 11.28-30 this way in The Message: “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.”
“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” — do that and you will live. Come to Jesus, burned out on religion as especially only pastors and ministry leaders can be, and recover your life.
In the mid-80’s, an author named Dallas Willard began to be mentioned more and more in magazines and journals (those were the days before internet and a thousand resources at our fingertips!). I first read “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives” (1988). Just the title struck a deep chord in me: Could it be that God truly wants to change lives NOW just as Jesus did 2000 years ago?
Dallas Willard gave me a vision of the Kingdom of God that is as close as my very breath — eternal life begins now. The Kingdom of God is not far off, up there or in a galaxy far, far away. Whenever we submit our will (our little kingdom) to trusting our good Heavenly Father, His Kingdom comes! As simple and as hard as that. And then Willard goes on to show us how we can actually LIVE the words of Jesus. His famously helpful quote about spiritual disciplines is: “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.”
Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1 — a perfect time to try a spiritual discipline. Which discipline are you drawn to that could help you learn the unforced rhythms of grace? How can you put forth effort without making it into one more burden?