Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
Today I am aware of my own weariness and that of others in the midst of so much change that we have already experienced and knowing there is more ahead. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, there is a great temptation to want to control what we can control and to do what we can do. That is normal and even necessary. But the problem arises in the way we do it. Are we relying on our own self effort, or are we trusting God and his grace to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves?
In Jesus’ day, people were overwhelmed by the reality of their lives, even the religious requirements they thought were necessary in the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus says to them: “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 11:28-30, The Message).
I know that everyone is experiencing a challenging time right now due to COVID-19. The vaccine is being administered, but it will take a while to put this crisis behind us. Our senior pastor will resign in 28 days, and there is still uncertainty about that. And then each of us has our own personal challenges to face. What is it that God wants for us? How do we experience the “unforced rhythms of grace”? I don’t know what that will look like for you, but today I thought I would share what it looks like for me.
I am very disciplined, but as is true for many, it can be difficult to keep focused. So these days, I’m following the KISS principle (keep it simply, saint) to experience the unforced rhythms of grace of God in my devotional life. I read a short selection in a devotional book, meditate on a psalm and another short passage, and then engage in three simple repeated prayers: The Lord’s Prayer, The Jesus Creed, and breath prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer: In his wonderful book Desiring God’s Will: Aligning Your Heart with the Heart of God, David Benner writes: “When it comes right down to it, there are really only two possible prayers that can be prayed. One is entirely natural, one is absolutely supernatural. Whether we choose to pray or not, one of these will be praying itself. The choice is not whether to pray. The choice is which prayer to pray. The prayer that comes most naturally for all of us is ‘My name be hallowed, my kingdom come, my will be done.’ This is a prayer of independence and willfulness. It is the liturgy of the kingdom of self.
“The prayer that goes against our nature and that can become our prayer only through the action of divine grace is the Lord’s Prayer. It inverts everything in the liturgy of the kingdom of the self—‘Thy name be hallowed, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.’ It is a prayer of surrendered autonomy and willingness. It is the liturgy of the kingdom of God.”
In the fall our sermon series was Kingdom Living. I challenged the Women’s Bible Study participants to pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, and I did so myself. I offered myself to God by slowly meditating on each word, even saying it in my own words. Some people don’t like to pray rote prayers, believing it is mindless and not personal. But my desire was for God to work that prayer into my heart, my soul, my life to help me want what he wants no matter what. Praying daily “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” has been something I can do as I trust God to do in me what only he can do by his grace and power. I will continue to pray this prayer daily this year.
The Jesus Creed: In the fall I also began to engage in a practice Scot McKnight suggests in his book The Jesus Creed. When asked what was the greatest commandment, “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:29-31).
Pete summarizes this command, known as The Jesus Creed, in a phrase that is his weekly benediction: “Go from this place to love the Lord and love the people, serve the Lord and serve the people.” If this is the greatest commandment and our Lord’s desire for us, the natural question to ask ourselves is how we can become more loving? There is no one way. And in truth, it’s a lifelong journey, but saying this creed daily keeps the centrality of the need for love and service before me.
Right now I am reading a book on prayer by Henri Nouwen, who also recommends simplicity in prayer. He writes, “One good way to listen is to listen a sacred text: a psalm, or a prayer for instance … repeating it slowly in the mind, word by word, sentence by sentence. In this way, listening to the voice of love becomes not just a passive waiting, but an active attentiveness to the voice that speaks to us through the words of the Scriptures.”
Breath Prayer: Nouwen also shares how slowly repeating the prayer of St. Francis regularly over a long period of time transformed his restless emotions and feelings and enabled him to experience the peace and love he was longing for.
That reminded me of a similar experience I had when I graduated from college and launched into college ministry as a young adult. I was very anxious facing an uncertain future. I prayed this prayer repeatedly as I listened to John Michael Talbot’s musical arrangement. When I was ordained nearly 25 years ago, this was the prayer sung at my ordination.
I’m grateful the Lord brought it to mind again in this time of transition. The poem and the song paint the picture of what it looks like to love and serve the people, and I’ve decided that is a good breath prayer for me now.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
While I do spend time studying the Bible to teach and interceding for my family, friends, and others in need of prayer, these are a few simple practices that are helping me experience the unforced rhythms of grace in a time of uncertainty. I trust God will use them to shape me to become the kind of person who wants God’s will and loves and serves the Lord in concrete ways. I share them with the hope they might prove helpful to others as well.