Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace


[ RELATE with Helen] 

“I discovered that my most important work is not to build a great ministry, but to build a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus.”

By Helen Burns | Twitter: @helenburns

Last year, John and I marked the 25th anniversary of serving as lead pastors at Relate Church. We were encouraged to take a sabbatical by several pastors we respect greatly. It seemed like a good idea and the right thing to do, so we spoke with our board about it and it was decided we’d take three months off to completely disconnect ourselves from the work of the church.

When the three months were still far off, I found myself looking forward to it, but as the time grew closer I discovered I was agitated and irritated at the whole thought of it. I simply couldn’t imagine what I would do with myself.

The sabbatical proved to be an intensely personal, profound and revealing time in my life. I needed it more than I could have imagined. It was so good and healthy for our staff, our team and church as well. I discovered that the world, the church and ministry was better off with a fresh and renewed me. It was so necessary for many reasons and it has impacted how I do life and ministry.

“I discovered that my most important work is not to build a great ministry, but to build a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus.”

Jesus taught us how to do this: “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.” – Matt. 11:28 (MSG)

I love the language that Eugene Peterson uses in this verse: “LEARN the unforced rhythms of grace.”  I know I am still learning and discovering the truth in this, but I am committed to being a good student. I have to learn to take the pressure off and just be.

Be still.

Be present.

Be thankful.

Be a branch. Jesus is the Vine and I am simply a branch. Apart from Him, I can produce nothing. It serves the purpose of my life well to disconnect from everything else but never from Him who is my life. This demands being intentional about rest, recovery, restoration, replenishment, refueling which, in turn, will produce a personal revival.

It’s so easy to say those words, but for me to live them is extremely challenging. I am not great at getting quiet and just “being.” I am much more adept at being Martha than Mary. I’m good at it for a while and soon I find myself in my default mode, which is being a Martha. “Oh Martha, Martha” is how Jesus addressed her–it’s probably not good when Jesus has to say your name twice in order to get your attention. I can hear Him now … “Oh Helen, Helen!”

So, here’s my personal confession about learning to be still and know that He alone is God … I have read the following words from an article written in the Sydney Morning Herald by Lee Glickstein often as I am teaching others to build healthy marriages and families.

He writes: “We live in a fast-paced society. Instead of letting timesaving devices, such a microwaves, computers, etc. provide us with more leisure time, we have allowed them to raise our expectations about how much we should be able to accomplish in one hour. So we rush about, trying to have it all and do it all, eating fast food, speed-reading books and communicating via curt voice mails. We operate on high-tech time. The rhythm of the natural world is different–think of the pace at which the ocean waves roll in and out and the time it takes the sun to set or a bud to become a flower. The natural world is never in a hurry. It has its own tempo, and nothing is so urgent that it can’t follow its own, gentle, yet deliberate pace.”

Indeed, I have challenged others to disconnect so that they can reconnect, and yet I am so guilty of not practicing what I am preaching. So, I am going public with my commitment to be intentional about turning off all technology for 24 hours (in a row!) in the coming week.  There you go–I said it! Now I will do it and let you know how it goes. I can promise it won’t be as easy as saying it. I am deciding to be as intentional about not being distracted as I am about hearing God’s heart and voice.

I want to invite you, also, to be intentional about finding rest and peace for your soul–to embrace Sabbath rest into your life. I would love to hear from you as you share what God is saying to you. I believe that in doing so we will provoke one another to do what is right and honouring to God. I also invite you to ask me how I am doing with my commitment–accountability would be very good for me.

Only in God do I find rest; my salvation comes from him. Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold! I won’t be shaken anymore. Psalm 62:1-2 (CEB)


Dear SheLoves friends:

Let’s take Helen up on her challenge! Please join us this month in sharing your thoughts and discoveries on Twitter by using the hashtag #shelovesrest. God speaking to you about rest? Come share it with the community. Find a good quote? The perfect pin? Please share it! We’d love to lean into Rest with you.

Or, why not leave a comment right now … We’d love to hear what you think!


About Helen:
 Helen Burns and her husband, John, speak around the world on the topic of relationships. They host the popular TV show “Relate with John and Helen.”

Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

Latest posts by Idelette McVicker (see all)

Idelette McVicker


  1. Hilary Murdoch says:

    Thank you so much for this Helen, it’s so relevant to where I am at right now… I’ve been reflecting and blogging about a similar theme… I’m not on twitter so i will share here… http://hilarymurdoch.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/i-will-be-still/ is a poem around that invitation to be still and know that he is God… and this one is a poem I wrote at the start of a taking a few days ‘retreat’ http://hilarymurdoch.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/easing-gently-towards-the-shore/

  2. Nicola Brennan says:

    A word in due season Jesus told me this morning that i need to sit at His feet wherever i am whatever i am doing. I have to do a martha as i am a busy mum with 4 little ones. But that doesnt stop me from sitting at His feet in my heart as i walk out my day bieng concious of His presence and direction as i seek the balance that is our shared delight. Its on every area to much work for me. This is why i must allow His Grace to work in me (unforced) i lay back into His arms and allow Him to move in me to make the changes, my heart is open and willing my flesh is weak and so i depend on His strength and His grace to take me through the nessasary changes needed. I have to let go of trying to force change to lean to myself. “Unforced” It is the grace of God that establishes my heart. I become weak that He is my strength. The power of God rests upon me. Oh precious is the relationship we have with Him. Thankyou so much for sharing your heart. It blessed me. Nicola

  3. a good friend of mine had invited me to go to a short conference with her this fall, called “The Need to Pay Attention”, being led by one of my favorite writers….I replied back, as I usually do, “oh, that’s during the week I have to do {insert huge task, special event coordination, giant work project, etc etc etc}”

    After reading this, I decided to make room for that conference :-).

  4. Love the Message version of that verse. I’ve been living those unforced rhythms for a few years now and it’s amazing how God works when we slow down! I would love to have you join our conversation
    about Sabbath and pace of life, how it impacts us spiritually, at my blog, Deep Breathing for the Soul:

  5. fiona lynne says:

    I’m on holiday in the beautiful Swiss Alps and I am still finding it hard to rest – that’s when you know you have a problem! I think I tend to define my worth in what I DO rather than who I AM and then resting feels like laziness and I start to fear people will not notice I’m gone – I want to be needed so much that I don’t have time to rest. When I write it out I realise how upside down that all is.
    And then there’s the fact that rest frequently comes with silence in some form – silence from work demands, silence from technology, silence from stress, and suddenly I’m able to hear all those thoughts I’ve been crowding out with the noise of busy-ness, and I hear the Spirit prompting me to deal with some things I’ve been putting off…
    I’m so glad for this monthly theme – it seems to be coming at a very good time for me. It’s time to rest a little.

  6. Your post is honey for my soul. Thank you … I so love your heart.

  7. Randi Riggs says:

    What a great message. After realizing we were together but constantly distraced, my husband called for a 2 hour technology break one evening. Just two hours was so refreshing!

  8. Great post,Helen. I also love how Eugene Peterson rephrased the familiar passage from Matthew in the Message.

    A few years ago–during my workhorse for Jesus era–I had to have an epiphany in my spirit to slow me down. It was as if my Creator said to me, “Unplug from every ministry you’re in. I will love you even if you never do nothing for me. And I will prove it. Sit down and do nothing.”

    The first few months were so bewildering. I didn’t know what to pray anymore since most of my prayer energy was consumed with praying for all the ministry obligations I had taken on. I soon learned to relax and soak in the presence of God in my prayer times without having a To-Do list or business meeting with God. I actually discovered during this time how deeply rooted the love of God is in my soul. A no-matter-what kind of love. Immovable. God loves me and I love God and we are good.


    Ugh,hate the Buts….

    The bigger test I was to discover was the People of God. Since I was now “useless” for ministry, my phone stopped ringing. I wasn’t at church as much or connected. My entire social strata was built on volunteerism and ministry in my church. Once I left that strata, well….Pam who??

    Though I felt completely secure in the love of God, I became very insecure when it came to God’s people. Seemed my acceptance was based on performance. That was a tough one, and though it has been several years since I drew back, I am still recovering from my codependent tendencies to serve in the church for acceptance.

    Grace,grace,grace has become a new wilderness for me. Especially the kind of grace I need to live in and extend to the institution that used me up and abandoned me.

    I can see in my comment here that this post of yours is indicating that I still have a lot to recover and heal up from. There still remains an ache in my core that once I stopped serving, it seemed every church I have ever been a part of, stopped seeing me. I became Invisible Woman.

    And that,I can tell ya, is my worst fear : to be met with indifference.


    Guess I’ve got some blogging to do.

    Thanks again Helen for this post!!!!!

    • Your response really challenges me, Pam. I’d love to read how you work this out … definitely sounds like a blogpost!

    • Hilary Murdoch says:

      Thank you for sharing this Pam, I’d love to read more about your journey… sounds like God has got you in this journey… but the journey continues for sure…

  9. #sheloveshelen and #shelovesrest!

    This is SO what my heart needed to hear.

    And 24 hours without the internet? I’m in! Wait…can I Tweet about it? Just kidding.


  1. […] a short sabbatical from blogs, social media and the internet in general. It was a suggestion from SheLoves Magazine along with a gorgeous writing on grace. This was something I had been craving for some time […]

Speak Your Mind