27th August 2023 – rhythms of life

27th August 2023 – rhythms of life

What does bank holiday mean to you?

Days out, traffic, rain

I want to take you back in time, first of all in the UK, to the days of an agricultural society.  A time when the land was farms and the year was ordered around farming.  The day is ordered by sunrise, sunset; the crowing of the cockerel and the cost of candles to light the house after dark.  The week is structured around market days and Sundays; the one day when all but essential work stops and you put on your Sunday best to come to church.  Maybe you have a routine washing day, or a baking day, which helps you keep track of time.  The year is ordered around what the farm is doing; calving, lambing, planting, fertilizing, shearing, haymaking, (depending on what type of farm it is!), and various different harvests before the land is ploughed in preparation for the next year’s crops.  I found it really interesting to discover that the school summer holidays in Scotland are earlier than ours, because their harvest is earlier than ours and the schools would close so that the children could help with the harvest.

But in this year is another order too, and that is the church year.  Festivals such as Christmas, Easter, Whitsun (Pentecost), and various different saints’ days break up the working year.  As the nation becomes more industrialised, some of these days are set aside as public holidays where the factories, and shops shut and the workers can go to church.  They are ‘holy days’.

And such is the rhythm of life.  Reminders of God’s grace throughout the year, celebrations and fasts and feasts and rememberings that give structure to the day, week, year.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all wonderful.  Life is hard, work is hard.  These ‘holy days’ are likely the only holiday many people get – no two weeks in the sun in Ibiza (or even two weeks in the rain on the Isle of Wight).  Some of us would struggle today if the shops were shut on our few days off work!  But life has a rhythm, the nation has a rhythm which is not seen today.  Nature works in this rhythm – breathing in, breathing out.  A heart beating, ba-dom, ba-dom…

I worked in the cardiac ward at the hospital.  There’s a condition where that ba-dom gets disrupted.  Ba-ba-ba-dom, ba-dom-dom, ba-ba-ba – One bit of the heart is firing on a different rhythm.  The heart goes a little bit crazy, you get very high erratic pulse rates and it can make you quite ill.  I wonder if our lives are sometimes a bit like that.  We lose the sense of rhythm, try to keep going, faster and faster, or we keep going while someone else stops, or we stop while someone else is still rushing.  Life was not meant to work like that.

Matt 11:28-30 MSG translation

In the beginning, God created the world.  Whether it was actually seven days or not is up for debate.  But he ordained that for six days we should work, and the seventh day we should rest.  It is a holy day.  A rhythm for our week.

As they walked in the wilderness God set the Israelites various festivals, marking different points in their year.  Holy days, days to rest and to reconnect with the God who leads, provides, redeems.  A rhythm in the year reminding them of God’s presence at all times and in all seasons.  A chance to celebrate in the busyness of life.

I must confess I’ve been incredibly stressed this week – well, most of the summer to be honest!  Summer ‘holidays’ are not very relaxing are they?  Especially when essay deadlines are fast approaching…  We all have those times that seem just non-stop busyness sometimes.  But as I write this I realise busy times, stressful times are still part of that rhythm – as long as they are balanced by the other times where we can find rest and refreshment.

So, what are your rhythms?

What marks off your week?  Where in that week do you take your Sabbath rest?

What marks off your year?  Where in that year do you find time to celebrate God?

Not just our years, but our lives are marked by a rhythm of seasons that come and go.  The springtime when everything is fresh and new and exciting, new people, new places, anticipating all the possibilities.  The summers of growth and enjoyment and relaxation, when things swim along and life comes easily.  The autumns of productivity; harvesting and hard work but enjoyment of what you have done.  The winters where nothing much seems to be happening and it is all we can do to keep going; to work without results, trusting in the work that God is doing beneath the surface.  What season are you in today?

The changing of the seasons can be a time of difficulty.  Have you ever noticed that as we go from spring into summer, a sunny day at 16 degrees and we are all out in t-shirt and shorts; as we go from summer into autumn the same day brings out jumpers and coats!  Adjusting to the change takes time.  And sometimes our own seasons do the same; I remember adjusting from work to motherhood, and the increase in demands – even more so in single parenthood!  I know for others, adjusting from busyness to retirement, or different demands on our time or our physical abilities that limit us from doing what we used to be able to do is difficult.  But it is part of the rhythm of life.

So where in those seasons can we find the God who gives rhythm to all things?  How can we take time to bless him in it?

We have to remember that our lives are held in his hands, and these times are a part of life.

But the same goes for church!

Church life also works best in rhythms.  It’s a bit of a tension for me, because I like to try different things but at the same time I really like routine and regularity.  I’ve recently got back into a better daily routine with my prayer life, which is a real blessing.  Sundays tend to be a ‘busy’ day in church for many of us, and other points in the week too where we pause to reconnect with each other and with God, be it over tea and chat or in a Bible Study or prayer meeting.

Now, it is possible to try to do it all, and sometimes that all goes a bit fast and out of control too, like that heart beat that gets out of sync.  We have to remember to find those ‘unforced rhythms of grace’.  But we also have to breathe out as well as to breathe in!  Try breathing in, take a nice deep breath.  Now breathe in some more.  And some more.  How does that feel?  Surely it should be good!  We breathe because we need oxygen, all we need to do is take it in isn’t it?

We can’t live by just taking in.  And our spiritual lives, our church life can’t live by just ‘breathing in’ God, and what he and the church have to offer.  We also have to ‘breathe out’.  To breathe out the stuff that isn’t good in our lives, yes, and also to breathe out that life-giving air to others.  To give back to church, to give away to those outside the church.  That, too, is part of the rhythm God intended for our lives.

That’s our moment-by-moment rhythm, and our weekly rhythm.  We still acknowledge the church ‘seasons’, albeit we don’t revolve around saints’ days as much as the medieval church but we note for example harvest, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost.  Those special times in church life when we have a particular focus.  And then summer – the time of rest.

Claire Blatchford wrote a ‘thought for the week’ last week which sums it up:

For me, August is a month when the diary, inbox and phone messages go strangely quiet (this is not a challenge for you to try and change that!). It is still the traditional holiday month when we take time away from normal activities before we enter ‘the silly season’: September through to Christmas. Many churches don’t have the usual meetings and activities during the school summer holidays, even the TV schedule changes. But come September everything starts up again, new TV series begin (as I write this, the final contestant of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing has just been announced!) and the autumn round of meetings happen once again. Suddenly there isn’t a free night in the diary. Perhaps your life also has cycles like that – the calm before the storm.

I believe the month of August is always an important time; it is a time given to us to prepare for the new challenges and opportunities that will arise in the coming months. Some of them we know about already, other things will crop up in the coming months.  We all need those quieter times to help us prepare for the busier ones. Jesus certainly had them in his life and he regularly created space; to be still, to listen, to prepare and to anticipate all that was to come. I encourage you during these coming weeks to follow His example. The last quarter of 2023 will no doubt be a hive of activity for each one of us so why not take the opportunity during a quieter time to prepare for the busier one which is to come.

The life of the church has seasons, just as our own lives have seasons.  Springtimes of work and growth and fruitfulness, summers of enjoyment and perhaps relaxation, autumns of preparation and ‘settling down’, winters where nothing much seems to happen and hard work seems to bring no results.  Unfortunately they don’t always go in order!  We are entering a new season in our church life, and I can’t say what that season looks like.  What I can say is that God will be in it.  That his grace is great whether in the excitement of summer or productivity of harvest, or in the cold of winter where all the work is going on underground and everything looks bleak.  God is there.

The point is, we need to recognise those seasons.  We cannot harvest in springtime, we will do nothing but uproot seedlings.  If we look for growth in winter we are likely to become discouraged and give up.  But if we listen to God, if we learn the rhythms of his grace and work with him in them, we find that work becomes a joy; that there are times for feasting and celebration, times for rest and refreshment as well as prayer, work and discipline.  Jesus says, 28-30 “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.

Let us pray

Lord thank you that you order our lives with your rhythm, that we might live well and faithfully.  Help us to work alongside you, to learn that rhythm rather than fighting it with our own desires and needs, so that we might know your joy and peace.  Help us to know you in every season and worship you as Lord and Saviour, seeing your grace in good times and hard.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.