I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tensions that exist as we follow Jesus in this life. On the one hand Jesus says to ‘take up our cross and follow him’, and on the other he says, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.’ Jesus is referring to a tension that I see being played out in our churches at the moment; that is between self-sacrifice and self-care.
One of the problems is that too many people have been burnt out by religious activity. We know this is true for pastors but it’s also true for volunteers who put endless hours into youth groups, ladies mornings, music, men’s ministry, outreach activities and so on. What begins out of spiritual abundance and vitality ends with spiritual deficit and drought. And so people often become reluctant to serve in church activities, especially ones that demand a lot of time. Another problem is that we live in an age of time-deficit. Nearly everyone I know feels busy and pressured to some degree. People are working hard in this time of economic fragility. They want to do the right things as parents so they run around from activity to activity. The people I know want to honour their parents, their families, their church, their workplaces and their God. And they’re tired. Eventually, most people find that something has to give. Voluntary activities are the first to go. Often, everything gives, leaving people with feelings of guilt, anxiety and, at times, depression. What do we do?
We need to take Jesus seriously first of all. Taking up our cross and following Jesus doesn’t mean we don’t also rest in him and have life in him. The hardest and best thing we do in our Christian life is to give our lives over to Jesus and ask him to be our king, our friend and our guide. 1 Corinthians 1:9 (The Message) says this: “God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.” The choice is not between sacrifice and rest; burnout or relief. It is between the life of Jesus in us – the life that is truly life (Dallas Willard) – or a life run on our own agenda.
We can have good intentions to do things for Jesus but he also wants us to do things with him, and allow him to do things for us. John Eldredge writes in his book, Beautiful Outlaw, “Jesus has no intention of letting you become whole apart from his moment-to-moment presence and life within you.” He adds this quote from Oswald Chambers: “Our only task is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, seeing that nothing interferes with it.” Or as Jesus put it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matt. 11:28-30).”
We must walk with Jesus, seek Jesus, lay our lives before Jesus, open our hearts to Jesus, love Jesus, befriend Jesus, hang out with Jesus and worship Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. He shares his life with us so we can live our lives as he would live them if he were us (from Dallas Willard). He is our strength and our song; our life and our hope. So we surrender our lives to him; our heart, our mind, our agenda, our strengths and weaknesses and especially, our time. Then we walk in faith and trust with him knowing that he will care for us. There is more to say but for now we can simply invite Christ to be our life. Amen.