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In which we are learning the unforced rhythms of grace :: my If:Gathering devotional

image source: Jennie Allen

Two weeks ago, I wrote my full devotional for the If:Gathering. Like many of the conference speakers, I was planning on sharing a meditation about Hebrews 12:1-2. I got on a plane at o’dark early and headed for Austin, ready.

But on Friday right after the first day of our gathering, I sat bolt upright in my lovely hotel room at midnight with one thought in my head: no one needs to tell these women to keep striving.

Hello, Holy Spirit, it would be nice if we could have had this chat two weeks ago, but sure, let’s go with this.

And so I rewrote most of my If:Gathering devotional just hours before, refocusing myself on the unforced rhythm of grace, the release of our tendency to work-harder-run-faster-do-more, and the life that feeds our work: our friendship with Jesus, our life in the Vine, our work as a natural consequence of the sacred company we keep.

Since Saturday morning, I’ve been asked by several people if I could make this devotional and the prayer available, so I’ve decided to share it here. This is likely a bit different than what I said from the stage, but these are my notes. I still have a few more thoughts about the gathering itself to share, but I’ll hang onto them for a few more days, I think.

*****

Thank you so much for inviting me to this gathering, for making room for me and people like me at your table. You see, I wasn’t quite sure that I would fit in. I’m not American. I’m not a preacher or a teacher or a pastor. I’m too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives. I believe that shoes should be comfortable. I’m in what Madeline L’Engle called “the tired thirties” of my life – I’m a wife and a stay-at-home mum of three tinies and my days are spent in predictable rhythms in our small community in western Canada. I’m a happy clappy tongue talking post evangelical Jesus feminist.

The only thing to really warn you about- although that might have been enough right there is this: I love Jesus. I do. Even after – or maybe because of – my years spent wandering the wilderness, in the midst of my doubts and questions and uncertainties, all of it, I still have stars in my eyes about Jesus.

Jesus.

Our Jesus. I loved what Ann preached last night – is Jesus useful to us? Or beautiful to us?

Because my word for you this morning, if I could say one thing to you from this stage, it is simply: Jesus. 

Don’t make this weekend about a to do list. Don’t go back to your life with a crippling evangelical hero complex.

Turn to Matthew 11 – and yes, I’m using the Message for or a any theologians out there who needed to have a heart attack.

“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.” (Matthew 11:21-30 MSG)

Keep company with me – you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. That’s not something we usually hear at conferences, is it? Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

in the Gospels, Jesus said no longer do I call you servants, I call you friends.

In John 15, right before he went to the cross, he said abide in me.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. (John 15:4-8 MSG)

Jesus told us in the account of the Sermon on the Mount in Luke 6 that we must “begin with our own life-giving lives….Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”  

When I chose to follow Jesus, it meant that I apprenticed myself to his way of life because I love him. Me, even me, in my little life in western Canada, I matter in the global story of how love wins.

Walk with him. Fall in step with the man from Nazareth.

Your life, as it stands, right now today, is an altar. A path. A temple. A parable.

So let me ask you, gently: What is the truth of the gospel that your life is declaring? Is it your own belief that you have to earn, work hard, run faster, do more? Or are you walking in the unforced rhythms of grace, abiding in the vine, a friend of God?

John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”  If we are disciples, we are participating in the life of Jesus now. And the way in which we engage in our lives matters.

This is how we will be known: by our love.

God saved you because he loves you and delights in you and longs to restore you to relationship. You were rescued and redeemed to be with God. He yearns to walk with you, to be with you, to see you become fully human, fully alive, fully your own self, fully engaged in loving and rescuing this beautiful world of image bearers.

God does not just want to use you: God wants to be with you because he loves you.

There’s the hint in his name itself: Immanuel. His very name is God with us. Not God to us. Not God using us. Not God for us. Not God managing us. Not God working us. Not God manipulating us. He tipped his own hand right there in Isaiah with the word about the Word, he is God with us.

Do you see the difference there? we are walking with God, holding his hand, in step wherever we go, whatever we do, “important” to the eyes of the world or not.

I’ve learned to replace the word “use” with the nouns and verbs of the New Testament: grow, disciple, walk in the way, beloved children, co-heirs, co-labourers.

And don’t forget now: Jesus called us friends.

Friend of God. Child of God. Beloved of God.

Taste and see: we are invited to the God with us life.

In co-creation with the creator, you’re a namer, a maker, an altar builder, a lifter-up of the name and the Cross, and you are a pilgrim, a disciple, made in the image of God, you are the one who walks with God.

So those things we do in this life? Great. Wonderful. Good.

But may we learn to just go do them because we love to do them, and w love to do them with Immanuel. Let them be the natural consequence of the sacred company we keep, but those things aren’t my identity, they are not The Thing or The Point. They’re not our pathway to God, or our status updates to the Most High, our measuring sticks or progress reports, our star charts in the sky.

May our daily work and our voice and our words and our prayers matter in our homes and our churches and our neighbourhoods (because for many of us, right there is the whole world). When we love Jesus, when we are free, when we are walking with, then we are a sign and a foretaste of how it was meant to be in the Garden, perhaps, God’s way of living overflowing organically: the disciple, the friend, the daughter, the heir, the beloved.

Let me read this to you from 1 John 4: if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!… When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us…” .

And now, let me pray for you as we begin our day together.

Father, here we are.  We love you.

Jesus, we just want to be with you, walking in your ways always,wherever you lead us.

I pray that that you would fill my friends here with peace that passes all understanding. I pray that we will be drawn into community so rich, so deep, so diverse that they will disagree and fight and remain in fellowship together anyway. I pray that we would bring casseroles and prayer and laughter and tears to one another. I pray we would have our toes stepped on, our feelings hurt, and that we would forgive. I pray that we would be given the gift of realizing we were wrong about some important things. I pray that we would be quick to seek forgiveness and make it right when we are the transgressor.

In the name of Jesus, I pray that we would have the guts to follow where you lead us.

I pray for freedom to reign. I pray for us to be a sisterhood of grace. I pray that our lives would become outposts, holy signs along the path, giving a lost world a glimpse of the abundant life we have found in you. Father, may we begin with our own life-giving lives.

I pray for messy living rooms, for late nights, for dirty dishes littering our counters; and I pray that we would all be given a faithful handful of friends and family to call when the darkness presses in close. I pray we would be the ones who are quick to show up at the right time for another person.

I pray that we would embody the truth that you didn’t save us, set us free, rescue and redeem us simply to “use” us. We aren’t here to earn our way, we’re not just pew fodder or a cog in a machine. Thank you being the Immanuel, God with us. Thank you for delighting in us, for walking with us.

Jesus, you have called us your friends so may we begin there, in friendship with you.

May we proclaim the Kingdom of God, your wild counter-cultural upside-down-kingdom beautiful ways, with our hands and our feet and our voice to every soul in our care and influence. I pray that we would long for prayer and for the  Scriptures. Father, may we keep secrets, may we be the ones who give away money, who share meals, who make room at whatever table we end up at, and sit alone in silence outside under the sky and be satisfied. May we hold babies and comfort the dying and be the voice of knowledge tempered with grace and wisdom.

Beautiful obscurity | Sarah Bessey

May we be the ones who do not despise the days of small things, but instead find You in our beautiful obscurity.

I pray that no matter our tool or method – parenting, preaching, cooking, writing, organizing, teaching, pastoring, whatever – all of our whole lives encompassing it all – that we will walk in the knowledge of the sacredness and purpose of our callings. I pray for dreams and visions, for the active leading of the Holy Spirit, and I pray we would never forget that we are loved, that love is our identity, our calling card, our home. As John wrote, may love have the run of our house.

I pray for perseverance and for discipline. I pray for speech seasoned with salt. I pray that when we are bored and tired and discouraged and frustrated, when we feel futile and small and ridiculous that we will remember your words in Matthew and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I pray that we would have the courage to turn around and face our lives, as they are right now. We could look it in the eye because this, right now, this is it. If we are surrounded by jelly-faced toddlers or thousands of longing, hungry souls, or if we lift our heads to find ourselves in a hospital or a back alley or a boardroom or in our own kitchen, father, may we know the truth: we are the people of Love.

I pray we would keep our eyes open for signs of your presence. Thank you for the joy of walking with you.

Jesus, we love you. And we trust you.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen

*****

Some parts of this talk are from my book, Jesus Feminist, particularly the prayer.

The videos for the If:Gathering will be available for purchase soon, I believe. My personal favourites were Jen Hatmaker, Christine Caine, Rebekah Lyons, and Amena Brown but really, the whole thing is amazing.

And the big idea moving forward? Stay local, stay connected to our communities, and read Scripture together. Yep, it’s rocket science, indeed. Sign up for If:Equip here for starters, I’ll be one of the folks in the daily videos now and again.

faith, If, jesus

49 Responses to In which we are learning the unforced rhythms of grace :: my If:Gathering devotional

  1. erin February 11, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    Thank you for posting this. I was one of the IF:Local girls….and you had me in tears. I needed exactly your words and the people following you continued to shatter me till I understood just how much God wants and loves me. Thank you for speaking to the “unforced rhythms of grace” in our lives. You blessed my heart.

  2. dukeslee February 11, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    So I already gushed over you in person. But I’ll say it again. I just love you. I love how you love Jesus. Your morning devotion? It was one of my very favorite moments at IF. Oh … and the moment right before, when you and Jennie stood shoulder to shoulder. I wrote about that over at my place. Wish I had taken a picture of that moment.

    Keep those stars in your eyes, sister.

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

      That was a Moment with a capital M, Mrs. Lee. Loved loved loved meeting you in “real life”.

  3. InspiredRD February 11, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    I sat in my car this morning and meditated on the verses from Matthew 11. You know the mess I came home to, and these words are ministering to me greatly right now. Thank you for blessing me with your words, with the way you listen to the Holy Spirit, and with the best hug I’ve had in a while.

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      I’m such a hugger. Hope I didn’t smother you. :-) So glad to know you in real life now, too, and to be friends. Love and prayers as you walk it all out.

  4. elora nicole ramirez February 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I’m crying again.

  5. Nicole February 11, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Sarah, thank you. Thank you for your love and the way you listen to Jesus. Thank you for walking into surprising places and sharing freedom. I am grateful for you.

  6. Rhesa Higgins February 11, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this beauty with us! I LOVE Matthew 11:28 in the Message…I love it so much that it named and shaped the ministry life I lead. http://www.eleven28ministries.org

  7. Karen Yates February 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    Your talk settled a piece of my spirit, Sarah. Just, thanks.

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

      Thanks, Karen. also so good to see you.

  8. Katie February 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing! Re-read Jesus Feminist in the last couple of days, curled up on the couch with a blanket, sort of luxuriating in your sheer -enthusiasm-. There’s a tendency to write books on God and Jesus that sort of place themselves at a distance, and your writing is so headlong, take-no-prisoners excited and enthusiastic…

    Just what I needed for this week! So I guess I should thank you for writing that book again ;)

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      I remember someone in an interview calling me “earnest” and I had to laugh because I SO AM. I know it. I can’t even pretend anymore. :-) Glad that comes across, Katie, and glad I got to spend a few days with you on that couch. xo

      • Katie February 12, 2014 at 4:31 am #

        Earnest! That is a really good word for it! I couldn’t think of it, ‘enthusiasm’ was the closest I could get.

        I feel like we kind of don’t have enough people being sincerely earnest anymore, or at least not in the books that are being released.

  9. Darryl Willis February 11, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Gee. I feel like something of an interloper here. But can I just say that I love your writing? Something reminiscent of Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning, I think. Blessings and thanks!

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

      Wow, Darryl, thank you! Those are two of my favourites, so that means a lot to me.

      • Darryl Willis February 12, 2014 at 9:09 am #

        The praise is sincere! 8^)

        Nouwen is pretty much my favorite, along with N. T. Wright.

  10. Taija Young February 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Thank you for posting this! I wanted to be part of IF: gathering but wasn’t able to… I loved being able to read what you shared and feel connected to this beautiful sisterhood of women filled to the brim overflowing with grace.

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks, Taija. Glad you were able to be part of it here, too.

  11. Laura Werezak February 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    This one brought tears to my eyes today, especially the paragraph in the prayer about peace that passes all understanding and forgiveness and reconciliation. Needed that today. Wish I could have been a part of this awesome conference.

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

      Thanks, Laura. It was quite special but I’m glad that it meant something to you today, right here, as well. To be honest, the local component or offline component was the real difference maker for me with this event. I loved that people in their lives and communities also got to be part of it.

      • Laura Werezak February 11, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

        Thanks for the encouragement that just reading this DOES make me a part of the conference! I remember your post on how accessibility was a difference maker for you and the team of women who planned If and I agree wholeheartedly that this is what our church needs. I’ve heard amazing feedback from my mother, who attended an If:Local gathering in Oklahoma and it blessed her socks off.

  12. Jenny King February 11, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    thank you for posting this! You were one of my faves of IF.

  13. R W February 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    You used some of my favorite parts of the Message NT. Thank you for this lovely reminder. May we always find Him in obscurity. :)

    • Sarah Bessey February 11, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

      I just can’t help it, I love preaching from that translation. Glad I’m not the only one who loves it.

  14. Francie February 11, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Some of my best moments at IF were hearing you give this devotion and getting to meet and talk with you. These words are a balm to the soul though must admit they sound even better when read in your beautiful Canadian voice. Your writing is a continual source of wisdom, peace, and inspiration to me. You make me think, laugh, cry, remember that loving Jesus is much bigger than people’s differences and divisions, and know that God is with us.Thank you.

  15. danielle February 12, 2014 at 7:05 am #

    Enjoyed seeing/hearing you at IF via my computer!

  16. Jessica Lillard February 12, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    Hi Sarah! I hosted an IF:Local in Cleveland, TN, and when you said “I pray that when we are bored and tired and discouraged and frustrated,
    when we feel futile and small and ridiculous that we will remember your
    words in Matthew and learn the unforced rhythms of grace” it just blessed me so much. I work about 20 hours a week so I am home a lot with my two year old. He is wonderful, and I love being home with him. So when I get bored I feel horribly guilty & ashamed, because I am truly grateful to be able to stay home as much as I do. When you prayed that over us, I felt a chain break inside of me. I wept feeling the compassion of Jesus on me, like it’s really okay to get bored. It happens to everyone. Feel it & move on. Thank you for your beautiful message you gave to us. I wrote about your message in my blog. http://wordpress.com/read/blog/id/54811315/

  17. Angie February 12, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    Challenging,encouraging, convicting…freeing.

  18. ro elliott February 12, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    Sarah…as an older woman, as I could be the mother of most of these ladies, I watch IF from my home…my heart was so encouraged…I loved what each woman had to weave into the tapestry of the weekend…but you…you were my favorite…”God doesn’t want to use us but to be with us”…if we think about it…in what other relationship would we think “using” would build a loving relationship…your words filled with His Love spoke of the simplicity of living in a love relationship with Abba…and if this really isn’t our starting point all else will be come striving…preforming…thanks for being willing for God to come and have you do a 180…blessings and grace to you~

  19. Amy Butterfield February 12, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I drove from Ohio to a friend’s IF: Local in Tennessee, and was so very touched by the words spoken by all of the beautiful women. I have Jesus Feminist at my bedside, to read after I finish Jennie’s Anything. I was touched by simplicity of your message, the honesty of your heart, and the tenderness with which you proclaimed, “I love Jesus.” Thank you for answering the call to speak your heart. Although we were separated by miles, and I was with you via technology, I felt in your presence … through HIS presence. My heart is happy.

  20. Alison Stow February 12, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    Sarah, I LOVED that you were a speaker at IF. I was IF:Local, and I was right smack in the middle of Jesus Feminist (have now finished) and so excited to see you there. I’m super jealous of the women on here saying they got to hug your neck. You’ve made such an impact on me, here on your blog, and in your book. I loved this talk and thank you for sharing it in writing. I loved seeing you backstage and that you truly are an introvert, like me. Please keep graciously, honestly encouraging women to love Jesus in the way they are called.

  21. Karin Fields February 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Thank you for this, Sarah. Jesus Feminist came across my path right when I needed it and so has this devotion. I feel like we humans are in a constant struggle between ego and success influenced by the world and humility and peace that can only be found in our Creator. Your words remind me of 1 Thess. 4:11 (my ego wants to take credit for remembering this, but I literally just googled “Live a quiet life” because I couldn’t remember where I read it). My ambition so rarely is found in “living a quiet life” and resting in the love of God, but it sounds pretty great right now.

  22. pastordt February 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Beautiful, Sarah. Did you make it all the way through without tears? Somehow, I doubt it. :>) Those Holy-Spirit-midnight-moments are somethin,’ aren’t they?

  23. Jen Hatmaker February 13, 2014 at 6:51 am #

    HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS. No. Cannot. Too many. I just love you forever.

  24. Bonnie Gray February 13, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    Hi Sarah, I haven’t met you yet and I wasn’t at the In:Gathering — but I’m meeting you know, here on this page, in between the words, right in your heart — on this journey together to make love our home — with Jesus. And I think I’ve found a new friend. :) I hope the day is unwinding well for you today… as we step into Valentine’s Day tomorrow. I’m going to Target now to buy some chocolate and gummy worms for my two boys and a hubby (coke bottles for him) to give with Vcards. Take care.

  25. Emily February 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Hi Sarah, I really appreciated your writing and prayers and find so much encouragement in your message. I just hesitated at the word of God you referenced from Matthew interpreting it as Jesus asking if we are tired of religion, we can come to Him. We can of course come to Him in all things – frustrations, etc. for our Churches are led my humans but guided by the holy spirit. I think it is important to recognize that Jesus in fact established the Church and finds a great need for it! We are the ones who fall away and start our own Churches – that is why there are thousands of protestant denominations and counting. We all are doing our best to follow Christ but there is truth beyond what we believe to be true. For further reference and a different insight/perspective please read: http://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/churb1.htm.

  26. fiona lynne February 20, 2014 at 6:02 am #

    I know I’m late to comment on this but I wanted to come back and tell you it’s been on my mind since I first read it here last week. This is the grace I know I need and somehow always slip away from, away from those unforced rhythms and back to the expectations and guilt and self-imposed burdens. Thank you for heeding the Spirit and speaking these words. x

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