“My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Jesus, are You kidding me?
In the last six weeks I have been on the beginning of a journey – one that’s nowhere near its destination yet.
What might my Christianity look like, if I did it Jesus’ way?
My life is a long cavalcade of list items. I come from a “career Christian” family. We’re born to serve, born to promote & propagate the Kingdom of God. This is no bad thing; far from it. We’re told in the Bible to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. But being what I am (Project Girl) I tend to get lost in it.
Occasionally I see my phlegmatic, longsuffering husband get a spark of interest in something I can relate to. When he does, I sit up and take notice, and try to be a part of it. My reasoning is, this can be something we share, in a marriage that, while solid, consists of two radically different people with a whole spate of separate interests each. But here’s the trick: I frequently get carried away by these ‘somethings’. And I find myself in a place where my interest in Chris’s interests, actually takes me away from Chris. It becomes Chris v. The Things Of Chris. All good intentions: but unintended consequences.
I see the exact same thing in my relationship with God. Tanya Cross preached recently in church, “Don’t mistake what you do for God, for your walk with Him.” That’s me – so busy with the King’s business that the King gets left out. I have dedicated my life to Him, but can’t slow my body or brain down long enough to connect with Him sometimes.
My supervisor, Sarah Chandler, has been saying the same thing recently. She says the key thing is to stay close to Jesus and just listen to Him; that in any case the most fulfillment and productivity and anointing is to be found in the slipstream of what He’s doing, not what we think might be a good idea to do for Him. John 12:26 says, “Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, My servant also will be.” Sarah says that it’s easy to fill up our agenda with a long list of things which need doing, which we feel competent to fulfill; but if we just go to God and say, “What do You want me to do next?” His list tends to be 1-3 things, tops, and tailored to who He’s made us and is making us to be.
That sounds like a burden that’s light, a good deal lighter than the one I’m trying to cart around presently. It sounds like a yoke that might fit properly.
I always thought that when Jesus said “take My yoke upon you” that it meant He had some custom-built thing to lay on me. Custom-built for Him, that is. But if the phrase “do not be unequally yoked” has any meaning, then oxen were probably yoked in pairs. So to takeJesus’ yoke (the one He’s wearing) and learn from Him, would be to actually partner with Him, to be harnessed to Him, to let Him show me the ropes first-hand: not from a lofty height, but from right beside me in the harness. He’s not offering to crack the whip; He’s offering to hold my hand. Whatever the load is, we shoulder it together.
Jesus said that He couldn’t do anything independently – He could only do what He saw His Father do. His M.O. was simple: “If the Father shows it to Me – I do it.” Even Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t set His own agenda. He let God set it. It would have been understandable if He’d done whatever He wanted. No doubt every day of His earthly life, He walked past need and fun and opportunity. He would have wanted to embrace them all, but He was on a specific mission: “My food is to do the will of the One who sent Me.” Similarly He told His friends, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” He left us a smorgasbord of miracles and various methods by which they could be procured. But it must have torn at Him – the things left undone, because He had only one body to do everything with, and it needed time out with His Father to stay afloat.
One of the Bible’s stories tells of Jesus visiting His friends. Martha was busy in the kitchen, making sure everything was peachy. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, drinking in all He was saying. I ask myself wryly, was He there for the food? Or was He there to connect with His friends? I’ve always found this story difficult, because of course someone had to do food, and Martha was being the responsible hostess, while Mary sat around bludging. Since we’re told it was Martha’s home, it makes even less sense that the younger sister was the ‘inactive’ one. I’ve resented Mary at times, knowing how it feels to be the one at the hot stove (or, more typically, the one who plans a party and then realises the house is filthy!). I also know how it feels to be so flat out preparing an event, that when the event arrives, a curious numbness takes hold of you once it’s in full swing. You feel mystified that what kept you awake so many nights, now feels so surreally anticlimactic, like you’re not really there. If hard work is all you know, do you lose the ability to feel?
But what if the work of God really IS to believe in the One He sent? Everything takes on a completely different complexion.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying we should all stop volunteering or giving. The church would fall over if we did that. And I’m not saying we should stop calling for people to step up and help out. There’s a blessing in that on both sides. No, what I am saying is that, in my own case, I’ve chased activity after activity, believing that if I was physically capable, not busy, and someone told me it was God’s agenda, then I needed a solid reason if I was going to fail to be in it. I honestly can’t say whether it’s been a case of others manipulating me. Most people say what they believe to be true, and it can be decades before we realise that what we told other people wasn’t strictly true. I also believe that whatever I undertook in faith and obedience (whether to my interpretation of the Bible or to my leaders) became something God could bless me for. Since God routinely uses imperfect, flawed, headcasey people just like me, I don’t feel I’ve done the wrong thing. There’s even Scriptural precedent for serving the vision of others, whatever you personally think of that vision. So no, my life hasn’t been a waste.
But it just might have been needlessly stressful.
What if I really trusted God that my life is in His hands? Then it wouldn’t matter whether or not I could trust the people around me. It wouldn’t matter if they were impressed or unimpressed by my skills or the number of items on my To Do list. They could, if they wanted to, click their Eliab tongues at me, imagining I’ve dumped my sheep in the wilderness and come over to rubberneck at the battle, when in fact I’m on one specific mission set by my Father who owns the sheep anyway (and not necessarily the mission I think it is, either!). My big, improbable dream would become my business, between God and I.
Did I fill up my To Do list because I really believed that my destiny was in the hands of my supervisors? Jump through all the hoops – get noticed – get given opportunities – finally end up permitted to do what God’s called me to do? Has not God amply demonstrated that He’s capable of leaning on my supervisors if He has to? And has He not taught me valuable lessons in the times when He’s refused to lean on them?
So how much of my long To Do list is really pride? I could be twanging “Look at me, look at all I can achieve!” while God is quizzically coming back with, “No, look at Me, and I’ll tell you what we can achieve together, with half that much exertion and fallout, and sevenfold result.” In that case, pride ought to be trumped by sense, neh? If the One who built me and knows me is content to drip-feed me assignments one by one, then what in the world am I doing, filling up my life because I and others think it’s a great plan? Whom am I really pleasing here?
Perhaps all this time I’ve been hearing people say “Get off your butt and serve” when what they actually said was “prayerfully consider if God’s asking you to be involved in this.” Because that’s a whole other animal. One without pressure in it. One that puts Jesus back in the centre where He belongs. I really do wonder if the things I ‘heard’ over the yearswere the things that were said. Who knows? It’s true that we hear what we want to hear, or in my case, what I’m geared to hear. Matt Boulton says we often go around collecting evidence for a case we’ve already made. I’ve no real doubt that peoples’ intentions were good, regardless; so resentment would be pointless. I can kick myself for idiocy, but that’s covered by His grace already; it’s paid for.
I can, however, choose how to go on. I can resolve to smile at each offer or appeal and say, “Let me talk to God about that.” I can decide to wake up every morning and open my ears. At His knee, everything goes back into perspective, even pain. I find understanding as well as wry common sense. I find comfort and wisdom.
This is going to sound so superficial. I sat in church this morning, wrestling with one silly thought. The combination of God’s presence, moving music, and PMP (I don’t get tensionor a syndrome – I get psychosis!) was bringing tears to my eyes. And the silly thought was, “My eye makeup is going to run and be all blotchy.” Followed by an exasperated, “Well, what are you here for, anyway?” Do I go to church to pose in my best clothes and makeup, or do I go there to lay my heart bare and do business with God?
I grew up in a respectable church, and I have never yet lost the impulse to bring my best to it, though I’ve had doubts about it from time to time. I have doubts about it now. Nowhere in Scripture do I find a command to dress up in finery each Sunday. In fact, the Bible asks us to wash our bodies with water (maintain hygiene) and tells us that God isn’t fond of sweat. I don’t know where the idea evolved from – that church should be a place where we look great, Model Christians, well-heeled (for God has brought us prosperity) and well-looking (for He deserves our best efforts). All I know is, I’ve bought into it, for decades. The idea of leading worship in a meeting, looking daggy, is rather abhorrent to me (and possibly to my leaders?). Yet some of the most profound worship times of my life have occurred on camps. There’s something about being on camp – rumpled, sleep-deprived, thrown together away from creature comforts – that brings us all back to grass roots. Is it a kind of fasting? At any rate, the Holy Spirit’s work does not seem to be dependent on slickness. You can bring Him a ten-piece semi-professional band, or a single guitarist who can barely carry a tune, and His presence will fall, just the same.
There’s a much-ignored verse in the Bible that reads, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Timothy 2:9-10, NIV) The Message renders it, “And I want women to get in there with the men in humility before God, not primping before a mirror or chasing the latest fashions but doing something beautiful for God and becoming beautiful doing it.” Most of the hoohah I’ve heard about this verse interprets “modestly” as “not causing lustful thoughts in men”, but it sounds to me more like “not causing envious thoughts in other women” or “not looking so inaccessibly stylish and expensive and intimidating that normal folk can’t hope to fit in with you”. In the olden days, they would have simply lifted out the obvious by specifically banning pearls and gold. But in my humble opinion, the verse is about underlining not so much our eyes, but what’s really important in our lives. At the moment, a decade filled with “be all that you can be” has threatened to overtake us in the physical when it ought to be overtaking us in the spiritual and practical.
So in my silly moment where I was deciding on changing my life versus changing my morning’s look, I wondered how many other things in my life were similarly artificial. And what they were costing me and my family, in terms of their maintenance. And then Ben Teefy got up and started preaching on how we can look great while being numb inside …
I’m going to tread on some sacred cows, but keep in mind, I’m in the swing of the pendulum right now. It may take me some time (and a few swings back and forwards) to come to a healthy balance. I left church this morning echoing the death-stick dealer in Attack of the Clones: “I need to go home and rethink my life.”
I can go on being a poser. I’m quite good at it. It’s not that I’m insincere; I try really hard to keep the inside huffing and puffing after the outside, and I try to be honest with my friends, inside the church and out. But it’s hard work staying “up there”. I have yet to fully comprehend the mysterious phrase “rely on God”, just as I have to admit that I am still not immune to others’ approval. My game face, while not a poker face, is not misleading you. I believe everything I sing and say. I just find it hard to measure up to them.
There are many things in my life that sound like Good Ideas or even God Ideas, but which have wound up bringing bondage to my life. Here are some of them: dress up for church. Be in church all the time. Serve. Have a quiet time. Read your Bible every day. Tithe. Repeat everything you’re told to repeat. Come to this, come to that, come to everything. Show your support. Look the part. Tell everyone you’re doing well. Hide the dirty linen. Deny the dirty linen. Take responsibility for the dirty linen. Take up your dirty linen and follow me …
So I’d just like to examine a few of those and see if they really hold up.
MEME: Dress up for church
BASED ON: Respect for God’s house
ALSO CONSIDER: Look approachable, 1 Tim 2:9
MEME: Be in church all the time (and on time)
BASED ON: Do not give up meeting, Heb 10:25; They met daily at the temple & also ate together, Acts 2:46
ALSO CONSIDER: There’s a difference between forsaking something, and not being its slave. If I get angry every week because my kids make us late for church, to the point where they dread Sundays, how is that making them disciples?
BASED ON: Jesus came to serve, Mark 10:45; Use your freedom to serve, Gal 5:13
ALSO CONSIDER: If your gift is serving, serve, Rom 12:7; Righteousness, peace, joy, mutual edification is serving God, Rom 14:17-19
MEME: Have a quiet time & read your Bible every day
BASED ON: Jesus often withdrew to pray, Luke 5:16; Go into your room privately and pray, Matt 6:6; They met & prayed a lot, Acts 1: 14 & 2:42
ALSO CONSIDER: Nowhere does it say this must be daily, or before breakfast, or how long it should go for, or that it should all be in one clump.
BASED ON: Bring the tithe to the storehouse so there is food, Mal 3:10
ALSO CONSIDER: The BC tithe was Israel’s entire tax and social welfare system. We have a totally different tax and social welfare system.
Putting aside some of these things is bringing a new freedom to my heart. For years I’ve wondered why, if “it was for freedom that Christ has set us free, no longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery” I felt so worn out by chasing all the things people said it was good for me to chase. Mostly their solution for this was not to ask if I was being ridiculously overinvolved, but to tell me I could get more energy if only I were better entwined with God. This just led to further guilt, though that’s not their fault. Most sermons urging more participation are not aimed at the hardworking but at the not-working-at-all. You know I believe very strongly in spirituality and social justice and a work ethic. But for me, Professional Christianity is about to give way to authentic Jesusness. I hope.
The thing is, despite being a born priss, I have a dream. I dream of a church where things are so down-to-earth that the worship leader gets up in trackydackies to do his job. Come to think of it, perhaps the modern shift to tidy jeans is much the same, to my parents’ elegant generation, as sweat pants would be to mine. Yet I dream of a church that, while not disreputable, is not respectable. A place where you can come and do business with God, whether or not that might mean sobbing on the floor ‘til your nose runs, or howling ‘til the tormentors have finally relinquished their hold on your life. Where nobody is interested in how dignified you are – so long as you’re afforded an opportunity to get free. Note, there is a big difference between dignified and dignity. People should always be afforded dignity. But only a fool thinks, when the door to her dank, sweaty, despair-ridden cell finally swings open, that her clothes are too stained for her to run out into the sunshine. And no one should keep that door closed because the stains might embarrass her as she comes out into the light. There might be a case for tunneling in some other way so she can come out a back entrance; but it’s roundabout, and if we all dropped our expectations that we should be magnificent at all times, it would be unnecessary.
So I’m moving from Martha to Mary. I’m still finding it difficult to still my twitching hands, racing heart, anxious feelings, and my mind as slippery as soap, and simply sit at His feet listening for His voice. But I’m making a start. Everything else can wait.