becoming Jesus’s disciple

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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 11:28-30

If there’s one thing we need above anything else as Christians, I think it’s to learn to become followers of Christ. It is a false division, the idea that we can be Christians, yet not followers of Christ. That’s actually baked into Christendom, in which Christianity was more or less a part of your cultural heritage. You were Christian because you were born in a certain nation-state, infant baptism the sign of that. Or it was a part of your heritage to go to church every Sunday. It actually would be better if we would see ourselves less in individual terms, and more as individuals who are part of community in Christ. Too often in the United States, we see ourselves as individuals whom God is working on, with our personal devotions, etc.

Be that as it may, we’re faced with things as they are, not as we would like them to be. And besides, if we’re honest, we have our hands full with our own problems, beginning with the one we see in the mirror. So how do we really know what’s best?

Jesus’s invitation was to those of his day and for all generations to come. It is as someone put it, the idea of being yoked with an older experienced cow, and thereby not only beginning to learn the ropes, but being helped along. In fact Jesus calls his yoke easy, and his burden light. No matter how hard we try, we just can’t make this work. Only Jesus can do that.

But we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. Jesus first tells everyone who is weary and burdened to come to him for rest. That’s where we must start. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking we can launch right into the serious part. We must start at the beginning. We need to come to him for rest. Yes, with all our agitation, indeed restlessness, burden, worry, whatever it might be. We simply come to him. That’s where we begin in really being his disciple. In and through Jesus.

 

“incremental”

The word “incremental” has become an important word for me at work. It probably is not hitting the precise meaning, or the way it’s used, but I see it as meaning little by little, to add up to making work easier for me and others. It’s not like I’m trying to slough off of hard work, but making it manageable, and being willing to relax more when things don’t work out, even when mistakes are made. But to keep pushing on this direction.

I used to work full tilt, kind of trying to do something of this, but with more of an accent on working hard. I still work full tilt, but in a different way. Now it is more thoughtful in terms of trying to keep myself relaxed and through that example, to help us all do the same. So that others aren’t stressed out, beginning with the fact that I’m not stressed out. Of course I can’t handle how others do their work, but hopefully my example can rub off on others, if it’s really helpful. And part of my goal is to make everyone’s job easier, so that they can concentrate on what’s in front of them, to minimize the extra they have to do.

This is making a world of difference for me. I keep thinking of the word, “incremental.” I have it firmly in my memory, finally now, or so I think. But my first thought as far as my work is concerned is to do it little by little, in manageable chunks, even if that means more movement on my part, which it inevitably does. And trying to avoid being in a hurry, insofar as that’s possible. I find the hard work is in a sense easier, certainly easier to manage, and therefore less stressful. In fact there seems a fallout in stress, none or not much at all. Kind of a part of my goal, to avoid undue stress beyond just the normal minimal stress each part of the job requires.

Add to that just lately, I realize I won’t entirely achieve this, so that I have to depend on others to pick up where I can’t. So learning to relax, even when I can’t always achieve “incremental” as I intend to. But making it my first priority as far as the nuts and bolts of my work is concerned; to do so incrementally, little by little, with plenty of room to get things done comfortably. Something I consider clearly to be a needed help of wisdom to me from God. Sometimes in God’s generosity, a kind of wisdom given to anyone. And for us “in Jesus”, it is always in and through him.

stress points

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Psalm 4:1

It’s interesting to note the 22 places the NIV translates “distress” in the Psalms. And if there has ever been a more stressful time in my life, I’m unaware of it. One has to think in terms of event, length, and ramifications. The world has had stress points right along, but this Covid-19 pandemic, with both its health and economic issues, coupled with the political division where I live in the United States, certainly brings stress to a new level.

Over and over again in most of the passages related to distress in the Psalms, enemies are involved. And it seems that way today. Almost worse than the problem itself, is the response to it. And I think people would largely more or less agree with that, whatever their position is.

What the Psalms reminds me is in line with what the first Psalm with this translation quoted above tells us: Our appeal is to God in prayer for relief from our distress. That is now with reference to both the virus, and perhaps more acutely, people’s response to it. There’s no question that some will be pushed to the brink economically. And there is undeniably plenty of fear of catching the virus itself. Not to mention the illnesses which have occurred, along with the deaths. What I find the most challenging is how people are so fiercely divided over it. And fear abounds.

What is needed from us as God’s people? Regardless of where we might stand on this issue, we need to find God’s peace from our distress. We need to be a steadying influence of God’s love and truth in Jesus to the world. That is what we need to trust God for, right in the midst of the stress. That God’s light and peace would break on us, so that others too might see, and come to or be strengthened in faith, themselves.

Does that mean I think our position on the pandemic and its effects is unimportant? Not at all. But in the midst of everything, we as God’s people as a first priority should want to put our trust in God. And the first step often needed, especially during a time like this is to find the relief we need from our own distress. In and through Jesus.

dealing with the unexpected

Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:25-26

We have gradually for the most part been able to take in what is occurring worldwide with the coronavirus pandemic. It is unsettling for sure, and potentially life-changing. I am volunteering at my work place, Our Daily Bread Ministries which Michigan has allowed to remain open as an essential service. Most are staying at home, many being able to work from home. My work is factory, so we either work there, or not at all. The ministry is generously paying those who are staying home. Considering family, friends, and society at large and around the world, it is a sobering time indeed.

Strangely enough yesterday, after getting home from work, occasion took me behind the garage where I saw a new tree growing in our neighbor’s yard near the fence, between our two garages. I probably was seeing it for the first time, and it looks like a fast grower, already too big for comfort, its branches heading for our garage. And I felt gripped in fear. In the past we had to have a big tree cut down behind our garage, which if I would have taken care of when we first moved there, would have cost nothing. And so my relative peace and calm in spite of the trying circumstances of our time was replaced with an ongoing, gripping fear.

We read in the passage in Proverbs quoted above that we’re not to be fearful of sudden disaster. That seems like a mighty tall order, given all that can happen and sometimes does in this life. And I really don’t appreciate the disruption of the relative peace I had in the midst of the storm raging around us. I must admit that for me owning a home often seems much more like a home owning me, no doubt.

But we have to keep coming back to God’s word, to prayer, and simply waiting on God in his grace to answer us. God is for us as seen in the sending of his Son (Romans 8:31-32). I think it is important to see the immediate context of this passage:

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.

Proverbs 3:21-26

We can’t just pull a “precious promise” out of the air, or a hat, or even the Bible which is the point here, and expect God to answer. We must consider the context of the whole, really the entire Bible, but first of all the immediate context of Scripture.

All of that said, I personally am tired of falling into the gripping fear which all too often has characterized my life over the years, although it is less than it once was. If I’m not experiencing that, it’s almost like I’m trying to fend it off. Worry has all too often hounded me. It’s almost as if I’m worried about becoming worried, anxious about being overcome and stricken with anxiety. And now it has overtaken me again.

I love how the passage quoted just above prioritizes wisdom. That seems to be the key to avoiding undue stress, the stress that should not be added on to the normal stress of life. Of course like most everything else, that’s easier said then done.

The promise spelled out is encouraging in both the tranquility God can give, as well as God helping us avoid what is not helpful, and often only exacerbates the problem, or at least causes us to dig ourselves into a deeper hole of fear. Taking matters into our own hands is not the answer. And just as I’ve been told in the past, we shouldn’t act on our fears. That is at least too close to panic, which is never good.

Of course I do want to act responsibly and do what can be done. With the neighbor’s permission, I could cut down the relatively young tree just on the other side of their fence. But if I can’t get the answer I want, then I have to leave it in God’s hands. And try to be entrusting that to God right along, by faith. Which leads me to share one more part of the general context, which has spoken significantly to me in recent years:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

May God help me and all of us to learn more and more to rest in him, and his promises to us. In and through Jesus.