There Is Rest

admin —  May 20, 2015 — Leave a comment

I’m becoming more pensive as I age. Part of that is probably my life-long spiritual gift of overthinking almost everything, but I believe another reality is also at play here. Life just naturally gets heavier as you get older.

Responsibilities increase.

The kids’ college tuition looms on the horizon.

Your body begins reminding you that you’re human.

Joys and regrets fill the suddenly half-written chapters of your life.

People are no longer enamored by your youthful passion, they expect things from you.

Have I saved enough?

Have I prayed enough?

Have I loved enough?

Am I wise enough?

Where do you find all this newly needed strength when life stops spotting your bench press?

Strangely enough, it seems to be in your weakness.

Where I end, God begins. The faster I run out of me, the sooner I get all of Him. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. And there is rest for my soul.

So if you catch me staring off into the distance, pensively pondering all the heavy realities of life with a furrowed brow, remind me of this would you? It’s not that life doesn’t get weighty at times, it’s just that we were never meant to drag it down the road alone. In fact, we can’t.

Rest is not the absence of heavy responsibility. In Christ, they can coexist.

Nothing solidifies your belief in prayer like being way over your head.

That’s where I’ve found myself the past few years. Way over my head. With my family. With my health. With my work. And so most mornings, it doesn’t take much prodding to get me pacing the floor in the basement of our office, turning my worries into prayers, my frustrations into petitions, and my anxiety into intercession.

One morning recently, I audibly heard myself ask God for an interesting assist. (This is just one reason I recommend finding a place you can pray out loud. When you can actually hear the longings of your heart verbalized, it gives them a whole new perspective).

“Lord, please help me get everyone aligned with what I’m seeing here.”

Pause.

Stop.

Whoa.

What did I just ask?

“No wait. Lord, please bring us all into alignment with what You’re seeing here.” 

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Prayer is this weird, cosmic, supernatural, transformative thing. We’re naturally inclined to think of prayer as more or less asking God for the things we want. We refer to them as prayer requests, after all. We’re told by the Apostle Paul to present our petitions to God (Phil. 4:6). This is good. This is right. But it’s not the complete story.

I firmly believe that prayer can change things, but I am 100% certain that prayer always changes me.

Prayer is powerful, not so much because it bends God’s will toward mine, but because it shapes my desires into His. It’s humility in action. The act itself is an admission that not only can I not get what I want without God’s help, but that I don’t even know what it is that I really want in the first place. At its core, prayer is treating God as God. It puts me in my place and God in His. Jesus at the center and me at the periphery.

And as this supernatural juxtaposition begins to take place, our prayers become answerable. As Tim Keller says so beautifully, “Prayer MAKES IT SAFE for God to give us the many gifts He has in store for us.”

Lord, make me a safe depository for your good gifts.

The more we pray, the more our desires are shaped by God’s Spirit. The more our desires are shaped by God’s Spirit, the more our requests align with His will. The more our requests align with His will, the more we will see God answer when we call.

I have zero home improvement skills (or home repair skills for that matter). So last month, when my wife asked me to install a new closet system in my oldest daughter’s bedroom, I balked. I was tired. I was grumpy. And when it comes to projects like this, I always seem to screw things up.

This effort did not disappoint.

After an hour of missing studs with the anchor screws and hanging half-cocked support beams, I threw my worthless drill on the floor, expressed my disdain for all power tools (and at that moment life itself), mumbled a few unmentionables under my breath, and went to bed. Once again, I’d screwed it up.

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I have a propensity for screwing up this Christianity thing, too. There are two (overly-simplified) ways I tend to do this, and they both start with how I view God’s character and nature. In my experience, when I make these common mistakes, I basically screw up everything else in my life, too.

Climbing Up To God

In this approach, I get ahold of God’s installation manual and think to myself, “heck yeah, I can do this.” Then I grab my amateur tool belt and have it. Sure, the shelves are a bit crooked and a few wrongly placed pilot holes have to be hidden back in the dark corner, but who will notice? And so I dumb down God’s standards into a pile of achievable goals and set out to (somewhat) fulfill them with my own manufactured morality.

The problem with moralism is that it doesn’t work. The actual standard is way too high (and God goes and starts hinting around that it’s not just what we do on the outside but why we do it on the inside that actually counts). So we either quietly acknowledge our failure and live beneath a constant weight of guilt and shame, or we arrogantly assume our efforts are at least “better than that guy’s” and settle into a smug (and detestable) air of self-righteousness.

Climbing up to God always screws up everything.

Reducing God To Me

To counterbalance this tendency, I instinctively flip the script. I’ve heard about this concept called grace. It sounds pretty awesome, especially since it means I can just throw away God’s instructions completely (right?). God is love, after all. And so I seek internal peace by flipping my pencil to the eraser side and eliminating the stress and pressure of God’s holiness altogether. Humanity has evolved. We understand things better now. Those self-righteous moralists have held us all hostage for far too long anyway.

The problem with enlightenment is that it doesn’t work. Grace isn’t about removing the standard. And yet we live in a false sense of self-made peace and arrogantly look down on anyone who might not tolerate our way of putting life together.

Reducing God to my level always screws up everything.

The Gospel Changes Everything

The only way to fix our swaying pendulum of screw ups is through the message of the Gospel. I like to summarize the Gospel this way:

The Law Crushes: The demands of a holy God are intended to destroy us. We can’t fulfill them on our own, and we can’t erase them if we try. Let it do its job.

The Gospel Resurrects: God sent His son to live the life we couldn’t live, and die the death we should’ve died. His perfection is given to us by proxy. Our rescue comes from the work of another. This is grace.

The Spirit Empowers: Our ongoing and humble trust in the finished work of Christ comes with the promise of His Spirit. This gift is what changes us and gives us the power to live lives that are pleasing to God. Not our efforts for Him, but His work in us.

Moralism screws up everything. Enlightenment screws up everything. The Gospel changes everything.

If you’re looking for true peace, maybe it’s time to put down your tool belt and surrender to something with the power to actually deliver on its promise.

If I asked you to join me for lunch with a successful Chinese businessman…

  • A major chicken producer, including all the KFC’s in northern China.
  • An exporter of medical gloves, shipping over 7 billion units his last year in the business.
  • A man who oversaw nearly 10,000 employees and multiple factories and production facilities in his 20 years of leadership.

…what kind of man would you expect to meet?

Probably not the child-like guy listening intently as my 9 year old son taught him to hit a baseball in the empty lot across from our suburban Indiana home. Not the guy high-fiving and chest bumping the neighborhood kids as he pounded his first “home run” into the outfield shrubs. Not the guy laughing uncontrollably at his first exposure to America’s Funniest Home Videos (our family’s Sunday night ritual) before retiring to sleep on an Kohl’s clearance futon in my basement.

But Joseph is different. After tasting almost all the success the extremely focused and highly competitive Chinese culture has to offer, he sold it all and walked away at age 42. “The first half of my life was focused on my business,” he told me. “Now God gets the second half to help reach the children and youth of China.

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Get Joseph talking about Chinese teenagers and he’ll likely start crying. The demands of the Eastern culture swallow so many of them. They go to school 6 days a week. Then after a normal day of classes, almost all of them head straight to tutoring (school after school), and some even attend additional study sessions after tutoring that last late into the evening (school after school after school). All this learning drives toward one cumulative exam that effectively decides their entire future.

Depression is high, suicide is rampant, and church is an afterthought (even in christian families). Education is god.

“We’re losing the next generation,” he says with great urgency. “I want to do something about that.”

So he’s seeking to cast vision, unite churches, create programs, and even build youth camps, leveraging the very same skills that helped him develop two massively successful businesses for a whole new cause: the children and youth of China.

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Joseph inspires me. Not because of his innate business sense, his big vision, or his willingness to sacrifice. Sure, those are all impressive. But the thing that inspires me most about Joseph is that somehow, amidst all the self-confidence that is born from great success, and all the admiration and privilege that come from fulfilling such highly-valued cultural expectations…

Joseph never lost his identity.

We see how identity is swallowed by our failures and personal struggles. Bankruptcy. Rebellious kids. Job termination. Weight problems. Career stagnation. Divorce. Life’s difficulties, social hierarchies, and the ongoing commentary of a hypercritical culture (as well as those relentless voices in our heads) chip away at our identity with unending persistence. We begin to see ourselves as less than who we really are, God’s beautiful creation made in His image. The ball rolls easily downhill.

But identity isn’t just lost in our shortcomings. In fact, it may be even easier to misplace amongst our successes.

When you find your groove and begin to make your way in the world, a healthy dose of self-confidence can quickly turn into a false foundation of self-reliance. We clothe ourselves in the accolades of others, and “successful” is who we become. The same voices that condemn us when we fall transform into a choir of passionate worshippers ushering us into the throne room of our accomplishments.

Success can steal our identity, too.

But not for Joseph.

How can a man who had it all walk away from it all? What he does was never who he was. His identity is in Jesus.

We are all looking for ourselves somewhere – work, pleasure, family, success, wealth, appearances, religious piousness or secular enlightenment. And the truth is, most of us are exhausted. You see, Jesus didn’t just come to teach us morality, He came to solve our identity crisis. His finished work – in history – replaces all the things we do and all the places we go to “find ourselves.” It is finished. There are no failures to earn our way out of, and no successes that can keep up our image. Exhale. In Christ, our identity is secured.

Joseph knows who he is, whether he is commanding 10,000 employees or sleeping on a fold-out mattress in his American friend’s basement. And because of that, I believe that countless Chinese youth are going to find the same freedom, too.

So can you.

There are two tensions, two stressors at work in my life at any given time. One is driven by authentic things, good things:

The pressure to hit a deadline at work.

The pressure to save money for retirement.

The pressure to spend quality time with my son.

The pressure to pay my bills by the due date.

The pressure to be at a meeting before the designated start time.

The pressure to remember my wife’s birthday.

This type of tension can be a good thing – an inner drive that makes me a responsible and healthy human being, that helps me meet the needs of my family and others who place their trust in me. I need this kind of tension.

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And then there’s the tension created by my idolatries.

The pressure to attain power and influence.

The pressure to be known as a perfect father.

The pressure to look like I always have my stuff together.

The pressure to gain accolades and praise from those around me.

The pressure to satisfy that insatiable need for wealth and accomplishment.

The pressure of earning God’s blessing and approval.

This type of tension is dangerous – an inner drive to find my own identity, to fulfill my own destiny, and to become my own savior. I need to repent of this kind of tension. 

Which tension is driving you today? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the difference, to discern between the two. One is healthy, the other is hindering. One is suitable, the other is sinful.

Which tension tale are you telling?