“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.” – Jesus
Does He, though? … give you rest? Really?
I believe that He does. It’s the actual difference that following Jesus makes- at least, the biggest difference I notice in my own life.
I want to take a season of life to do some writing about the connections I’ve seen between following Jesus and experiencing inner peace. I see many people whose lives are in knots, desperate for peace and rest. They are riddled with guilt, desperate for contentment, and generally restless in their souls.
Hopefully, some of these thoughts will connect with you. Maybe you’ll find some concept you’ve been missing. Maybe something will trigger you to begin to ask what sort of condition your soul is in right now. Maybe you’ve been settling for meaningless rituals, rather than a peace-giving friendship with Jesus. Maybe you’ve never thought much about Jesus or even considered the impact He could have on your well-being or the well-being of your family.
Here we go:
Principle #1 You Can’t Force The Water
Have you ever gone fishing on a lake in the morning?
When I was growing up, my Dad and I would spend many summer mornings fishing on Lake Dalrymple in Canada. At sunrise, the water was like glass. It was beautiful. The mist off the lake was breathtaking. The Canadian Loon gliding by was the only evidence that we weren’t sitting on top of a giant mirror. I love moments where my inner being resembles that water.
Later on, as the activity on the lake increased and the temperature and winds began to shift, the lake would get a bit choppy; even whitecaps at times. When this happened, there was no real way to return the water to a calm state. You just had to wait for conditions to improve. Obviously, it would have been ridiculous to go out and try to force down the water. If you tried to manhandle the water into submission, it would only make more waves.
I’ve come to believe that our souls are the same way. You cannot manufacture peace. Peace is the result of the absence of fear and stress, not a result of ignoring anxiety. So often, we try to choose peace. We do the George Costanza, “Serenity now!” We take a deep breath, count to ten, and fake calmness. “How are you?” “Good!”, we respond. Trying to convince ourselves and the asker.
I think this is an enemy to the peace Jesus came to bring. Sad, because for many churchgoers, this is expected behavior. Good Christians would never admit that God’s grace is not sufficient for them! They would never own up to the disappointing reality that life situations have outgrown their faith.
If you want to experience the peace and rest that only Jesus can give, it starts with being real about your heart’s true condition.
Here’s how it played out in the gospels:
In the tenth chapter of Mark, we read about a very wealthy man who seeks out Jesus: “a man ran up and knelt before [Jesus] and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
According to what follows, this man was deep into his religion, which was the same religion as Jesus. So why was he so desperate? He had sat, stood, and kneeled at all the right times! He believed in God! Why was his heart not at rest? Why was he afraid he may be missing out on God’s way of life? Perhaps the condition on the inside wasn’t quite as polished as the churchy life he’d been presenting.
“19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ 20And he said to him, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’ 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
In Jesus day, it was common for rabbis to refer to a portion of a well-known concept and then rely on the listener to fill in the blanks. When Jesus lists a few commands here, he’s referring to the entire counsel of Old Testament laws. What he’s really doing is exposing the man’s heart; or at least the man’s problem with image management. Jesus suggests that a person must obey everything perfectly to be right with God. (Side note: Jesus is bating the man to expose his heart, which will then showcase God’s love. He knew that it wasn’t humanly possible to actually obey all the rules. Nor is perfection necessary to be right with God.) The man responds with an astonishing affirmation that he has, in fact, obeyed “all” of the rules since he was a kid! Wow! Perfection!
This faith superstar was in the presence of the Messiah, divine Royalty! He does what he thinks he’s supposed to do. He projects that all is well with his soul. Jesus isn’t fooled for a minute. He goes for the jugular. But notice the grace! May it move your heart one step closer to peace that only Jesus can give!
Here’s the progression:
1. A man runs up and asks for Jesus’ spiritual affirmation.
2. Jesus says it could require a perfect inner world.
3. The man fakes it! “I’ve always done everything right, Jesus!”
4. Jesus then forces him to choose between his wealth and his God. The man chooses wealth. (So what do we learn about his real spiritual condition?)
5. Jesus knows what’s going on the whole time, you can tell by the interaction. Jesus still says, “Follow me.” In Jesus’ culture, this was a rabbi saying, “I’m choosing you! You’re good enough for me!” Jesus knows that this guy is a mess inside, but he was still good enough for Jesus!
6. Jesus “looked at him and loved him“! Did you catch that in the text? Jesus knew the condition of the man the whole time and He loved him anyway!
Jesus knew the man was a faker, a poser, a hypocrite, or whatever word you like for that sort of thing. He knew the man would choose money over God (aka idolatry)! He still loved him! He still invited him to follow!
The first step to finding the peace that Jesus gives is honesty about the peace you don’t have right now! Get real with your feelings, your failures, and your pain.
Jesus loved the man as he was. He invited the materialistic, idolatrous hypocrite to hang with Him! The Rich Ruler could have just been honest with Jesus. It wasn’t Jesus who walked away! It was, rather, the man who turned away. He decided he would rather keep a facade, which really gained him nothing or he wouldn’t have run to Jesus in the first place. He clung to image management, rather than choosing an adventure in grace. He walked away from a life of inner peace and genuine fulfillment.
Principle number one: If you want peace, start by getting honest about the chaos of your inner world.
Get a spiral notebook and write a letter to Jesus. It may feel awkward. Try it. I’M TELLING YOU… TRY IT! Tell Him about the inner chaos and anxiety that you are experiencing. Nothing is off the table! Write it all out! Write out every disappointment. List all of your fears. Spell out, in detail, every failure. Then hear the Savior say, “I love you. I am always with you, and everything I have is yours. Now lay it down and follow me. I heard all that, and I still choose you!”
Rip it out of the notebook and throw it away. You’re done with it. I promise you will feel a lift!
More to come…