The pace of grace

August 21st, 2019

The world has a pace. We call it busy-ness, activism, freneticism. And at the extreme we name it “hurry sickness.” We are all familiar with this, for we live in a world geared for it. And we know firsthand the debilitating effects of running faster and trying harder in the world’s feverish round of unceasing activities.

I went for years as a Christian without ever thinking that grace has a pace. No one ever taught me to think differently, and my extroverted personality made the speed at which I lived appear normal, even “spiritual.” I had a Bible verse for it, “growing weary in welldoing” (Galatians 6:9), and my misunderstanding of it enabled me to justify “exceeding the speed limit” in too many aspects of my life. [1]

It took an encounter with a book by my friend. Susan Muto, to challenge me to change. [2]. It has taken ongoing commitment and effort to actually change, with a lot of reversions into “hurry sickness” along the way. But having seen another way to live, through the book, the pace of grace has become both a life to experience and a call to reclaim when I fall back into the world’s pace.

Let me inject one important note here, for without it we can become cynical about the pace of grace and maybe give up on it for the most part. The point is simply this: it is easier at some stages of life to live the pace of grace than it is at other times. It is far easier to live the pace of grace in retirement than when the responsibilities of life (legitimate ones, I might add) seemed to turn me every which way but loose. God knows this about us, and in such times, the pace of grace may be more of a vision to keep than an actual practice to achieve. That’s why it is a pace of GRACE.

But even “in the whirlwind,” we do not have to become victims of the soul-draining pace of the world. We can live in the pace of grace through the practice of the spiritual disciplines–means of grace that give our lives pattern and rhythm. The disciplines of abstinence (e.g. solitude, silence, sabbath) are especially helpful.

The disciplines are not only a collection of formative activities, they are also means to help us establish the spirit of the Christian life: engagement and abstinence. [3] The pace of grace is the combination of doing and being, working and resting. If we fall prey to a performance-oriented view of life (e.g. “I am what I do”), it will be difficult to see the pace of grace which essentially says, “I do what I am,” and puts the core of life in our personhood, not our productivity.

The pace of grace comes alive in us as we practice disciplines of abstinence as much as we practice disciplines of engagement. [4] And even when we cannot fully live into this pattern and rhythm, we keep the reality and experience of it alive in little acts of everyday living that grow us in both our character and our conduct, lest in our freneticism we forget who we are.

[1] My misinterpretation was largely because I did not take to heart the fact that the verse begins, “let us not…”. In other words, I did not realize (or refused to see) that the weariness was not a proof of my spirituality, but actually a sign of its absence.

[2] Susan Muto, Meditation in Motion (Image Books, 1986), especially Chapter 2.

[3] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988). This is the book that transformed my understanding of the disciplines as a collection of good spiritual practices to viewing them as gifts from God that establish and maintain the pattern and rhythm of the spiritual life.

[4] There are numerous and varied spiritual disciplines–many more means of grace than can be put on any list. But here are some examples of disciplines of engagement and abstinence. Engagement: worship, prayer, study, service, celebration, confession, submission, guidance and fellowship. Abstinence: solitude, fasting, simplicity, meditation, chastity, silence and confidentiality. Dallas Willard’s book above looks at these, as does Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, 40th Anniversary edition (HarperOne, 2018).

About the Author

Steve Harper

Steve Harper taught spiritual formation and Wesley studies to Christian divinity students for more than thirty years read more…
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