“Your soul is like a stream of living water, which gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of your life. When that stream is as it should be, you are constantly refreshed and exuberant in all you do, because your soul itself is then rooted in the vastness of God and his kingdom, including nature; and all else within us is enlivened and directed by that stream. In that healthy place, you are in harmony with God, reality, and harmony with the rest of humanity and nature at large.” Dallas Willard.
“There is a big difference between being busy and being hurried. Busy in an outward condition, a condition of the body. It occurs when we have many things to do. Busyness is inevitable in our culture. There are limits to how much busyness we can tolerate so we are wise to find ways to slow down whenever we can.
Being hurried is an inner condition, a condition of the soul. It means to be so preoccupied with myself and my life that I am unable to be fully present with God, with myself and with other people. That I am unable to even occupy the present moment.
Have you ever felt that way? – that you are unable to even occupy the moment you’re in?
I cannot live in the Kingdom of God with a hurried soul. I cannot rest in God with a hurried soul. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried. I believe Jesus knew the power of a rested soul. He slowed His followers down so that their souls would not become fatigued. We seem to spend most of our time trying to draw crowds and please crowds; Jesus seemed to spend much of his time trying to get away from them.
A rested soul is the easy yoke.
Our souls exist to integrate our lives so that we can live in harmony with God and the world. They become sick when we are divided and conflicted. I should be content with my job, but I become jealous of someone in the next cubicle because he got the assignment I wanted. I obsess about making more money but to convince myself I’m not a greedy person, I tell myself that I am really just trying to provide more security for my family. I become so wrapped up in myself that my choices and values and desires and beliefs are at odds with each other. They are also at odds with other people and with God.
Then I go into nature. I stand on a beach before the ocean. My mind is filled with admiration for the sights and sounds of the waves. Other distracting thoughts melt away. By slowing down and observing the beauty of my surroundings, I tend not to worry about tomorrow or regret yesterday. I am less enslaved by other people’s opinions of me. My soul gets healed.
Of course, my soul was not made to stand in front of the ocean forever. But I can bring some of that wholeness with me into my divided world. The psalmist says our job is not to heal our souls but to make space for them so the healing can come. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.”
Where are your green pastures? What are your still waters? I am not an expert on sheep, but I have a friend who raises them.
Sheep basically do nothing. They eat…they lie down…they sleep. They are totally dependent on their shepherd. They do not plan their next meal. They do not make a list of what they have to do tomorrow. Eat. Lie down. Sleep.
Of course, none of us can actually spend all our lives doing nothing. But I think the psalmist uses the metaphor of sheep to make a point. How good are you at doing nothing? How long can you sit in a chair in your backyard doing nothing? Not watering the lawn. Not mentally planning the next day. Not worrying about your taxes. Just sitting and doing nothing. The picture of a lamb enjoying whatever his master puts in front of him shows us what we need to “refresh our souls”.
Ortberg ends with this – “Whether an entire day, or periods of time set aside every day, your soul needs rest. Not a change of scenery or a spiritual retreat – those are fine and may contribute to rest. But to remain healthy, our souls need solitude with no agenda, no distractions, no noise. If someone asks you what you did in your “time apart”, the correct response should be “nothing”. Doing nothing works wonders for the soul.”
So let’s talk about Jesus’ offer in Matthew 11 – some of this is a repeat from a few weeks ago but stay with me.
Jesus said – “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28
And from the Message paraphrase…
“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.”
A yoke. Is this this thing you connect to oxen, mules or horses to plow fields or pull a heavy load. But it also something else. Jesus was referred to as Rabbi 60 times in the four Gospels. Rabbi = teacher. Like all rabbi’s in those days, Jesus had a “yoke” which was a rabbi’s way of reading the Torah as well as a set of teachings on how to be human or his “way of life”.
What Jesus is offering in this beautiful message is His way of life. That if you are tired and worn out and burned out on religion, come and adopt His way of living. That’s His yoke.
Like with animals – a yoke is a way to shoulder a load – to shoulder the load of navigating the complexities of life. All rabbis had a yoke. Jesus’ yoke was easy. His offer was merciful – essentially what He was saying was, “what I’m offering you is beautiful and peaceful and transformative and restorative and kind and loving and if you adopt it, you will live freely and lightly.”
Dallas Willard – “In this truth lies the secret of the easy yoke; the secret involves living as Jesus lived in the entirety of his life – adopting His overall lifestyle. Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the second mile, turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully all the while living the rest of our lives just as everyone else around us does is a strategy bound to fail.”
In other words –
If I want to experience the life of Jesus, I must adopt the lifestyle of Jesus.
John Mark Comer said, “It’s not that we have anything against God, depth and spirit, we would like these. It is just that we are habitually too preoccupied to have any of these show up on our radar. We are more busy than we are bad. We are more distracted than we are non-spiritual. We’re more interested in the movie theatre, the sports stadium and the shopping mall and the fantasy life they produce in us than we are in church. Pathological busyness, distraction and restlessness are major blocks today within our spiritual lives.”
He continues – “There was a time when life was much, much slower. There were no cars to drive, planes to catch, all-night study marathons to caffeinate our way through, no constant streams of alerts on our phones, no bottomless holes of entertainment options in our queues. It is easy to just assume this pace of life we live in 2020 is normal. It is not.”