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.”