Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

March 2, 2011 — Leave a comment

Background music to listen to as you read

I often come to God wanting Him to take away my problems, my burdens, my cares, my sins. I want to be freed, released, lightened. I want my life to be easy. So this verse gives me great comfort:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”Matthew 11:28
That’s me: weary, burdened, looking for rest.

The trouble is I’m so focused on the promise of rest that I overlook the means of getting the rest. I don’t know if this is fostered by our push-button culture or my natural laziness and desire for comfort–maybe both–but here’s what follows Jesus’ promise:
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30.

Jesus doesn’t offer a yokeless, burden-free life to me, only one with an easy yoke. To me that sounds like an oxymoron. A wooden neck harness doesn’t look comfortable. It looks restrictive. And I know that Jesus may be gentle and humble, but He also turns the other cheek, gets whipped, won’t defend Himself and ends up dying, painfully. In fact, just a few paragraphs earlier, He says, “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” [Matthew 10:38]. A yoke, a cross–it doesn’t sounds so easy to get rest after all.

I know I’m viewing the choice all wrong. I like to think I can decide between having a yoke or having no yoke at all. But there is no yoke-free life. Following the world’s track puts a yoke on me too, and the world doesn’t care about me or have my best interests in mind. But if Jesus loves me and knows me, and desires friendship with me, then I can trust that the yoke He gives is going to be a good fit for me, a yoke of grace, love, forgiveness, strength, comfort, shelter.

I’ve seen this in action. I’ve had the privilege of knowing saints who have taken the yoke and the cross of Jesus, and what He claims is true: they are the lightest and most rested people I know. Their lives are full of peace and joy. They may experience trouble on every side, but they aren’t crushed; they may be perplexed, but not driven to despair; they may be knocked down, but not destroyed. They carry in their bodies the death of Jesus, but the life of Jesus is also visible in them, full of grace and truth.

This requires learning things such as servanthood, forgiveness, obedience, courage, truth-telling, and following Him to places I’d rather not go. But Jesus doesn’t force me to put on the yoke. He invites me but he doesn’t do it against my will. It’s my choice.

When I was beleaguered and bitter,
totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
in Your very presence.
I’m still in Your presence,
but You’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
and then You bless me.

Psalm 73:21-24

The Lord always keeps His promises;
He is gracious in all He does.
The Lord helps the fallen
and lifts those bent beneath their loads.

Psalm 145:13, 14

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