There’s something beautiful about the Way God communicates. He’s active and responsive, not passive and stagnant, and that’s just one of the things that I love about Him. He’s just as invested in my life on this earth as I am, and rather than making it seem like life is a boring prerequisite to eternity, He asks us to live into this life as a vessel for eternity to invade earth, and to invite even more to the party.
We’re all participants in life, it’s just up to us if we want to be passive bystanders or active kingdom-builders.
I’ve chosen the latter option- and my oh my, has it expanded my world beyond imagination.
In engaging a life of serving God, the Bible is considered the handbook to a Christ-centered life. Like God, who’s spirit breathed every word in it, it is an active representation of a life raring to be lived, rather than a passive rule book.
In this vein, I’ve been sitting in Matthew 11:28-30 for at least the past few months, if not longer. It reads:
“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.” [MSG]
This version is the Message version, written by Eugene Peterson as the modern take of the Bible, in today’s language. To me, it’s a beautiful representation of a life well-lived within Christ, and a great depiction of the gospel- he takes off our burden, and offers us peace and rest. The phrase “unforced rhythms of grace,” however, has consistently knocked into my brain and has been a focal point. What are unforced rhythms of grace? What was the original text stating in this place, and what are it’s implications for our lives?
the natural pattern of God’s favor
When looking at “unforced rhythms of grace,” I’m completely and 100% interested in the meaning behind each word, and the choices made to come to this poetic stance. After all, if this is what living like Jesus is like when he invites us to “walk with Him and work with Him,” it might be beneficial to learn the meaning behind the phrase. So, I first looked up the definitions for each word:
unforced // adjective, meaning “not produced by effort; natural.”
rhythms // noun, meaning “a strong, regular, repeated pattern…”
of // preposition, meaning “expressing the relationship between a part and a whole.”
grace // noun, meaning “the free and unmerited favor of God.”
While I know what “unforced,” “rhythms,” “of,” and “grace” mean individually, the implications of them in one all-encompassing unit is something I was surprised by. In created my own translation, it would read something like this:
the unforced rhythms of grace // the natural pattern of God’s favor
And this made more sense to me than ever- when we walk and work with Jesus, we get to know and understand the natural pattern of God’s favor, because Jesus is God’s beloved son, sinless upon this earth and undeserving of our punishment, but humble enough to take it to save us. Of course He has God’s favor! Of course it’s a natural pattern for His life! So in working and walking with him, we get to learn how He does what He does.
walk with me and work with me
So, how does one walk and work with Jesus, to live a restful and free and light life? You keep it simple: you do what He did in His unwavering pursuit to please and serve the Father. Some people call these Spiritual Disciplines, and some of the most well-known ones are Silence + Solitude, Prayer, Bible Reading, Fasting, Worship, and Sabbath. Jesus engaged in these practices to be able to live his life, not just to be able to tolerate it. He couldn’t move without God’s direction, and it was in these spiritual disciplines that He found that direction. These were a natural pattern for Him, and in that, He found God’s favor.
When we engage in these behaviors, His natural pattern becomes our natural pattern, and that natural pattern helps us find and live into God’s favor. Rather than being a disciplined and rigged regime, He invites us in to experience Him as Jesus did, by walking the walk that Jesus did and doing the work that Jesus did, in the form of Spiritual Disciplines. Because He is an active and responsive God, his communication with us is tailored to who we inherently are. Some of us respond better to some Spiritual Disciplines than others- which doesn’t make one or the other less or more important, but rather a way to further invest in where He is taking you, and where you can serve and in turn, find your rest.
gentle and humble at heart
One last thing: for me, I’m a words girl. I’m all about language, interweaving it and expanding it, but that does mean I also know the true power it has- words can be misconstrued, meant to mean something else, or given a completely new meaning based on context. A very wise mentor once told me that if you build your beliefs/sermons/vision of life out of one translation of the Bible, you will miss something. So, in that vein, I wanted to research into what The Message Version pulled “unforced rhythms of grace,” from, and see how it did or did not fit within my thought process.
So, my key question is: what was Jesus saying here in Matthew 11:28-30? I pulled up Matthew 11:28-30 in three other translations, and found a common thread.
THE MESSAGE TRANSLATION: “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.”
NEW LIVING TRANSLATION: “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
KING JAMES VERSION: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Based on my personal assessment, I have connected “unforced rhythms of grace” with “humble and gentle at heart,” based on the location and context of the translations. Again, because I’m a words girl, I needed definitions:
gentle // adjective, meaning “mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender.”
and // conjunction, meaning “used to connect words…that are to be taken jointly.”
humble // adjective, meaning “having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance.”
heart // noun, meaning “the center or innermost part of something.”
While they seem disconnected, the common thread I’ve found is that in order to live like Jesus, not only do we have to do what He did (i.e., spiritual disciplines), but we’ve also got to do it from the same heart He had (has). And that is where the above definitions come into play:
Jesus had a kind and tender heart, with a low estimate of one’s own importance- He didn’t go around stating for the world to hear that He was going to save everyone, bow down to Him, here’s how important I am.
Jesus lived into His identity, bestowed by the Father, and was kind and humble in the life He lived. He held his worth and identity and importance at the centermost part of His being- his heart. That’s our example. That’s our God.
That’s how, I think, Peterson got “unforced rhythms of grace” from “gentle and humble at heart”- because those who are gentle and humble at heart are actively engaging in unforced rhythms of grace when walking + watching + working with Jesus. Those who are gentle and humble at heart follow a natural pattern that has God’s favor bestowed upon it.
As a Christ follower and an engaging member of this world, I want to live a life that has the unforced rhythms of grace interwoven into my being. Spiritual Disciplines should be what I reach for first in developing and engaging in my relationship with God, because they put Him first, and if Jesus was currently walking this Earth I think he would do the same thing. But even more importantly, the heart in which I engage in these behaviors must be gentle and humble, must be Christ-centered, and must be Spirit-breathed.
partner with Jesus >> be the vessel