I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age. This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Or, at least part of a solution, a cure, to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us. This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV. So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light. The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.
But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it? As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”. And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He? And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying. And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…
We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb. But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not? As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!”
It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments. A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved. We choose to live this way. We call it normal human life. As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.” As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.
Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. But do we take these statements seriously? Do we believe them? Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden? I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human. These things seem anything but easy and light to us.
We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus. And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens. The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).
Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis. We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself. I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!! Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me. We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head. But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…
We are saved by grace, amen!!?? Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us. We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness. Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!
Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is. Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals. No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better. And he kept training, he kept training. And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.
This is true for everything we do in life, is it not? A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon. If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do. We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).
The same is true of the Christian life. A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.
If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry. Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town. Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV. There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.
After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting. During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer, often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.
It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing. He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for. It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.
So, what’s my point? This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about. We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot. We will surely fail. If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life. Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be. If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete. If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal. If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.
We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us. This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps. If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”
Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us. But Jesus does expect us to follow Him. These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.
Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make. It will seem the only sensible thing to do. For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike. True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.
Im going to finish here. We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles. You will never make it. The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5. No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.
Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human. I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives. There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Matthew 6:33 ESV
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
1 John 5:3 ESV