Thanksgiving or delight is an overflow of the heart, the spontaneous response to God’s favour.
“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.”1
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” Well, yes. Yes I am, I thought upon reading those words one morning. Summer is hot—full of sweaty, heavy work. Summer is crowded with delightful people visiting my state, inviting me to join them for celebrations or conversations. This is excellent—but also draining. I crave weekends with no plans or expectations. I tend to burn out like a sparkler sometime in late July. Everything is an eager spark right until the end of the wire. Then I’m simply a bare, hot piece of metal—useless and a bit dangerous.
As if this were not already a difficult season, this summer has been full of more violence than any other which I can remember. Our country, culture, and world seem to be gathering speed for a headlong crash into something history-making, or perhaps even history-breaking. My emotional empathy feels stretched to capacity, to shattering. News reports begin to glance off of me, as if real humans were not killing others or being killed. I feel stuck inside an insidious nightmare from which I cannot wake. I fear losing feeling in my heart—in my outstretched hands wanting to comfort, wanting to heal, wanting to help those who have been bereft of loved ones, safety, and homeland.
Sometimes I shove grieving off to a more convenient time, because I simply cannot bear it and everything else my daily life calls out of me. So, I run to whatever will help me escape the things I don’t want to consider or process. They might be the exact same things that normally breathe life into me, but rather than receiving them as gifts, I grasp at them, hoping they will save me. I try to force stories or visits with friends to block out the darkness, the bleeding wounds I cannot heal, the world full of people whom I cannot turn toward God.
Jesus calls, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” Come. I drag my heels a good bit. Rest is deeply appealing, but when? When do I have time to get away with Jesus? It all depends on what I long for. There is always time to do what my heart longs for. One more dinner with friends, one more chapter, jotting another e-mail, a walk under the stars before bed. . .But am I seeking to meet Jesus in those places, or am I using them to distract myself from the destruction I cannot control or stop?
Patiently, so patiently, I hear my Saviour invite, “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.” Watch how I do it. How can I do that? The answer is not difficult: read the gospels. Study Jesus. How does He treat broken people? How does He treat hardened people—like the arrogant religious leaders? How does He seek rest and refreshment for Himself? What is His motivation, His heart’s desire? What work is He is doing which He is calling us to join?
Digging through the gospels shows me layers of answers to all of those questions. In recent years, I have discovered that the last two go together. Over and again in the book of John, the desire of Jesus’ heart is to glorify His Father and to obey His will. What is that will? The Father desires to bring His Kingdom to earth. But here is the astonishing part: that is the work which Jesus is calling us to join in with Him! He has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. He has chosen the weak things to exhibit His strength. The Father is bringing His Kingdom through Jesus working in us. We are repealing the corruption and darkness of the Fall by the wholeness and light of Jesus in us.
“What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings, and for that matter, one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honoured in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.
God’s recreation…began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit…what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted.”2
Our sorrow and suffering are not meaningless. Our work and creativity have an eternal purpose. God’s own beauty, infused in this world and spread through us, is not made for destruction. We are building the Kingdom of God with every act of love, with art and creativity, with thankfulness, with every meal shared. We push back the darkness by the creative and recreative light and love of Jesus at work in and through us. It is not something demanded of us, rather, it is a gift given to us that we get to join Jesus in building the Kingdom.
I begin to understand what Jesus means when He says, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Grace, charis. It means both thanks and favour. God’s favour is not forced upon us, and we are not forced to give thanks for His gift. Thanksgiving or delight is an overflow of the heart, the spontaneous response to God’s favour. There is that thrumming rhythm of God’s grace gifted to us, our thanks to Him, and our delight or joy in giving thanks. So it goes, over and over. It is our choice to receive the invitation into the dance, to let Christ through us build His Kingdom. We must constantly lean into the rhythm, to learn to step into the dance “freely and lightly.”
- Matthew 11:28-30, The Message, trans. Eugene Peterson.
- N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (New York: New York, Harper Collins, 2008), 208-209.