01 Learn From Jesus
Five months ago, in December 2006, many of us participated in a survey titled, “Family Needs Survey”. The purpose of the Family Needs Survey is to inform the church leadership of the most common needs felt by the church family. In January 2007, the Elders received the results of the survey and set aside a weekend to review and respond to the survey results. What we discovered and what you can see from your study notes is that as a church family, we feel that we need help with our spiritual growth more than anything else. The second highest need is closely related to the first and that is we feel like we need help establishing spiritual disciplines in our lives.
Isn’t it interesting that the third and fourth highest felt needs concerned the spiritual development of our children and how to parent our children? There is very definitely a link between our felt need for help in our spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines and our role in parenting and helping our children develop spiritually. We Elders discussed this link and Dr. J.P. Moreland articulates this link in his book, The Lost Virtue of Happiness:
WE HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO LIVE LIFE.
/I (J.P.) don’t mean that we’re not active, involved with friends, busy at work. I don’t mean that we’re not spending time with family, meeting with coworkers at Starbucks, aware of what’s new on television and in the theaters. We stay current with popular culture – the trendsetters, the movers and shakers, the media idols of our age.
But they are not teaching us how to live life. Not even close. Most of what takes up the airwaves is the absence of life – a constant reshuffling of relationships, a preoccupation with wiping out the opposition as violently as possible, the pursuit and spending of the almighty dollar in a system that Vaclav Havel calls “totalitarian consumerism.” We see example after example of empty, self-centered existence.
We also don’t know how to teach our kids about living life. We expect them to figure it out on their own, to sort of fall into it. We expect them to learn life from their peers. (J.P. Moreland, The Lost Virtue of Happiness, pg.13)
If we parents aren’t sure how to live the Christian life we have little to pass on to our children. We will be teaching them something, but will it be the Christ life or will it be life as it is lived by everyone around us?
We all need help to grow spiritually and to that end, the Elders have directed me to develop a sermon series on how to become disciples of Jesus; how to become authentic followers of Christ and in return help others become disciples of Jesus.
As we begin to consider how to follow Jesus, let’s first consider one of Jesus’ many invitations to follow Him…
The Invitation: Come and Learn from Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30 28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus was inviting the people around Him to come and learn from Him how to live life. He is inviting all of us to come and learn from Him how to live life. He compares the process to getting into a yoke; Jesus in one side of yoke and you and I in the other side of the yoke. Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Jesus is claiming that His burden, His way of living is lighter and easier than the way of life lived both those who are not in His yoke, who are not living His way of life. For those not living the Christ life, life is hard and full of disappointment and endless problems that are never resolved. Jesus invites us into His Way of Life that is easier and lighter than the way of the world.
The Easy Yoke?
Yet when we really begin to learn Jesus’ Way of Life, how many of us feel that its really an easier and lighter way to live? Think about Jesus’ teaching:
Matthew 5:11 11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Matthew 5:21-24 21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:27-28 27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:38-39 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:43-44 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
Matthew 6:19-21 19“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:25 25“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Matthew 7:1 1“Judge not, that you be not judged.
Matthew 7:12 12“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
Let’s be honest. We can’t live this way. And so we really see Jesus’ teachings as ideals of how things ought to be in a perfect world, but they really don’t apply to our street level daily existence.
We excuse ourselves by saying things like, “we’re only human”, “we all make mistakes”, “nobody’s perfect”. Jesus couldn’t possibly expect us to live up to these standards – they’re too hard. And besides, we’re saved by grace, not by anything we do – so obedience to Christ isn’t actually essential. But then we read Matthew 11:29-30 again and Jesus is saying this is the easier, lighter yoke than living in the way of the world.
Matthew 11:29-30 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing that life would be so much better if we followed Jesus’ teaching and we learned not to get angry with others, if we men were sexually pure in our thought lives and completely faithful to our wives. Who would disagree that our personal and social lives would be 100% better if we did not judge one another; weren’t stressed about our financial security; did to others what we want them to do to us; loved our enemies and turned the other cheek.
But so much of the time our knowledge of Jesus’ Way of Life does not penetrate our actual way of life. Why does Jesus’ way seem so hard and burdensome to us when He says it is the better way of life?
The Problem of Game Day Living
First, it is a way of life that is beyond our ability to live with only our resources. We need a resource outside of ourselves to enable us to learn and live out the Christ life. Thankfully, as we have studied in recent, God gives us that resource in the person of the Holy Spirit Who comes to indwell our lives when we become a follower of Jesus.
The second reason Jesus’ yoke seems so hard and impossible is related to the way in which we approach the Christ life. Let me explain this by using an illustration developed by Dallas Willard:
Think of certain young people who idolize an outstanding baseball player. They want nothing so much as to pitch or run or hit as well as their idol. So what do they do? When they are playing in a baseball game, they all try to behave exactly as their favorite baseball star does. The star is well known for sliding head first into bases, so the teenagers do too. He holds his bat above his head, so the teenagers do too. These young people try anything and everything their idol does, hoping to be like him - they buy the type shoes the star wears, the same glove he uses, the same bat.
Will they succeed in performing like the star, though? We all know the answer quite well. We know that they won’t succeed if all they do is try to be like him in the game - no matter how gifted they may be in their own way. And we all understand why. The star performer himself didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation, to provide a foundation in the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game.
Those exquisite responses we see, the amazing timing and strength such an athlete displays, aren’t produced and maintained by the short hours of the game itself. They are available to the athlete for those short and all-important hours because of a daily regimen no one sees. For example, the proper diet and rest and the exercises for specific muscles are not a part of the game itself, but without them the athlete certainly would not perform outstandingly. Some of these daily habits may even seem silly to us, but the successful athlete knows that his disciplines must be undertaken, and undertaken rightly, or all his natural talents and best efforts will go down in defeat to others who have disciplined themselves in preparation for game time.
What we find here is true of any human endeavor capable of giving significance to our lives. We are touching upon a general principle of human life. It’s true for the public speaker or the musician, the teacher or the surgeon. A successful performance at the moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being - mind and body.
Here is the mistake in our thinking: we think that the Way of Life is turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, serving others, being anxious for nothing etc., when in fact these are the results of learning from Jesus and taking His yoke. To live the Christ life is to live the way Jesus did in all of His life. It is to follow His training program for life.
The Secret of the Easy Yoke
What does this mean? We need to realize that though Jesus was the Son of God, that did not relieve Him of the necessity of a life of spiritual discipline. For instance, after Jesus began His public ministry He actually spent much time alone. Often Jesus would spend the nights in solitude and prayer to God the Father. Out of this discipline He was able to minister to people’s needs in both teaching and healing. Out of this discipline He was able to train His disciples for the work of the ministry.
The key to experiencing the easy yoke of Jesus and joining Him in the Way of Life is not trying to behave as He did in the heat of the moment; the key is to adopt Jesus’ overall life-style.
You see, those who believe that we really cannot follow Christ are correct in a sense. We cannot behave “on the spot” like Jesus did if in the rest of our time we live like everybody else lives. In the heat of the moment we cannot redirect our deeply ingrained, self-centered tendencies to be like Christ at that instant. Our efforts to take control in the heat of the moment fail so consistently that we conclude that the Christian life is impractical, unlivable.
Dallas Willard writes:
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 - while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does. This is like the aspiring young baseball players mentioned earlier. It’s a strategy bound to fail and to make the way of Christ "difficult and left untried." In truth it is not the way of Christ anymore than striving to act in a certain manner in the heat of a game is the way of the champion athlete.
The secret of the easy yoke, the Christ life, is the intentional, thoughtful resolve to live as Jesus lived in all aspects of His life, not just in the moment of crisis. It is following Him in the spiritual disciplines He practiced that enabled His life of service. It is putting ourselves in position to listen and learn from Jesus the Way of Life.
That is why in the next several weeks we are going to explore our need to emulate Jesus in such spiritual disciplines as solitude and quietness, prayer, meditation, simplicity and others.
Perhaps I’ve raised more questions than given answers in this study; the answers will come in due time. But I hope you will humbly and thoughtfully join me in thinking about what it really means to follow Jesus and be His disciple. Most importantly, I hope you will be willing to do the hard work of establishing new habits that will put you into position to learn from Jesus the Way of Life. I pray that in a fresh way each one of us will accept Jesus’ invitation…
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
~ Jesus ~
Paul Nelson, Illustrations of Paul Nelson (2007).
Paul Nelson, Illustrations of Paul Nelson (2007).