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.

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