What Does It Look Like to Rest in God?: insights about the easy yoke from Dallas Willard

Renovation of the HeartOne of the most striking aspects of the writing and teaching of Dallas Willard is his ability to open up with fresh perspective what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. One of Willard’s most powerful contributions to disciple is found in his explanation of Jesus’ well-known invitation:

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)

Willard refers to our discipleship response to this invitation as living in “the secret of the easy yoke” in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. As I am currently re-reading Renovation of the Heart, I came across this basic description of what Willard sees as the essence of discipleship in the easy yoke of Jesus. I hope it speaks to you as much as it did to me.

Jesus heard the soul’s cries from the wearied humanity he saw around him. He saw the soul’s desperate need in those who struggled with the overwhelming tasks of their life. Such weariness and endless labor was, to him, a sure sign of a sou not properly rooted in God—a soul, in effect, on its own. He saw the multitudes around him, and it tore his heart, for they were ‘distressed and downcast’ like ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). And he invited such people to come and become his students (‘learn of me’) by yoking themselves to him—that is, letting him show them how he would pull their load. He is not ‘above’ this, as earthly ‘great ones’ are, for he is meek and lowly of heart (Matthew 11:28-30).

His own greatness of soul made meekness and lowliness the natural way for him to be (Philippians 2:3-11). Being in his yoke is not a matter of taking on additional labor to crush us all the more, but a matter of learning how to use his strength and ours together to bear our load  and his. We will find his yoke an easy one and his burden a light one because, in learning from him, we have found rest to our soul. What we have learned is, primarily, to rest our soul in God. Rest to our soul is rest in God. My soul is at peace only when it is with God, as a child with its mother.

What we most learn in his yoke, beyond acting with him, is to abandon outcomes to God, accepting that we do not have in ourselves—in our own ‘heart, soul, mind, and strength’—the wherewithal to make this come out right, whatever ‘this’ is. Even if we ‘suffer according to the will of God,’ we simple ‘entrust our souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right’ (1 Peter 4:19). Now, this is a major part of that meekness and lowliness of heart that we also learn in his yoke. And what rest comes with it!

[From Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 209.]

Sabbath: recovering identity through God’s rhythm for life

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When I used to hear the word Sabbath, I thought of something legalistic and rigid or just plain out of touch with my life. I would picture flowing robes and beards of Old Testament characters exhorting people to rigidly ‘keep the Sabbath day.’

But the more that I have thought about Sabbath, the more I have come to see it as perhaps one of the most important and most ignored aspects of our lives. Sabbath literally means to cease or stop. God ordained the Sabbath as a way for human beings to recover their identity by entering into God’s own rhythm for life: six days on and one day off. God Himself rested after the powerful work of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). God has given us this rhythm of life so that we might recover our identity in Him, reflect His ways, and also be refreshed in life.

Sabbath as a day is often incredibly difficult for us. I struggle to absolutely be still or to set aside a day in which I will not check email or scan through the internet. But Sabbath is an all-important chance to both adore God and be refreshed. We neglect at our own peril. As Eugene Peterson says, it’s about praying and playing. We gather with brothers and sisters in Christ to worship in the morning and then we are renewed through playful enjoyment of life given by God throughout the day. Even though setting a day aside for a Sabbath is difficult, it is something that we both need for our own benefit and for our connection with God.

But Sabbath is more than a day. It is an attitude. We are no longer bound by legalistic obedience to God’s law, but we are set free by Christ – through His fulfillment of the law – to enjoy a life of Sabbath rest. The peace in life and trusting relationship with God that flows from the Sabbath day should rightly impact all of our minutes, hours, and days. We are set free to be at peace because of Christ. We can trust that God cares for us each moment. Our lives are different.

So, Sabbath is something very old, but so very important for our lives today. I hope we might all recover Sabbath, even in the midst of the chaos of the world, so that we regularly recover who we are in God.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (April 29, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

 

In this video update I reference Psalm 131, which I am including below in its entirety. You can also read a reflection I wrote about the psalm yesterday, “Finding Peace with God: Praying Psalm 131.”

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

Finding Peace with God: praying Psalm 131

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My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
(Psalm 131)

One of the shortest psalms in the Bible is also one of the most profound in its picture of prayer. The first verse of the psalm is a declaration of release from things which usually grip our lives. First, the psalmist guides us into a release from pride and haughtiness. I know we all hate to admit it, but there are places of great pride in our lives. We become self-centered either by lifting ourselves up over others or by thinking so lowly of ourselves in false humility, a sort of wicked reversal of pride. As you read Psalm 131, what a gift it is to let go of all the ways we hold ourselves over others, whether specific people who come to our minds or entire categories of humanity.

Next the psalmist chooses to let go of “great matters” that are “too wonderful for me.” It is not wrong to think great thoughts or pursue great things. It is helpful to have a vision for our lives and aim for something. But there is also a time to release them. The psalmist reminds us that when we enter into the presence of God through prayer, we let go of exalted thoughts about ourselves or other things, and we turn our thoughts to our great God.

Yet here is one more interesting thing that Psalm 131 leads us into. So many encounters with God throughout Scripture reflect a reverent awe that verges on fear. But while this psalm leads us to the presence of our exalted God, we find God to be One whose presence brings us to utter stillness and peace as we tenderly yield to Him. The image of a weaned child with its mother in verse two is one of absolute care, total dependence, and satisfied peace. Unlike the soul raging with discontent and pride, the soul humbly at prayer with God comes to a pace of shalom in God. As the psalmist leads us into prayer, as we release great thoughts about ourselves and other things, as we turn our minds to God, now we enter a place of rest with God. First, we let things go and now we grab ahold of God. We hold on and are held. We can relax our striving as we “be still and know” He is God. even now as you read this, let me encourage you to reread the first two verses of the psalm and pray your way into contented rest in God.

The final verse reminds us this is not a personal journey alone but a community journey. Psalm 131 is part of that marvelous collection known as the Psalms of Ascent. These psalms were  used as a prayer journey that mirrored the geographical journey of the Hebrew people from their homes to the Jerusalem Temple for great festivals. They crossed great territory and sometimes rough terrain to come together and worship before God. These psalms helped them also go on a spiritual journey of soul preparation not in isolation but in community. In long journeys over rough terrain it is important that we are not alone. We need one another.

Here in Psalm 131 the preparation of the soul becomes a journey of release from pride, a journey of attaching to God, and a community journey of hope that becomes vital to the earthly pilgrimage of God’s people. There are so many “hopes” we might have in life, but the psalm leads us through them into the active hope in God that pervades all of our days. What are your hopes today? What are your fears? How might you lay them down at the feet of God, even as we find hope in Him by resting in Him now and forever. Consider reading the psalm one more time and then take some time in stillness and prayer before our great and tenderly loving God.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Peace” [Poetry for Lent]

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Every Thursday during Lent, I am posting a poem I have found meaningful for entering into Jesus’ journey to the Cross. Here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Peace.” Gerard Manley Hopkins was a twentieth century British poet and Jesuit priest, whose work became widely known after his death.

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.