Saturday, January 17, 2009

Empty Jars

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.”

                        2 Kings 4.3 

A Little Oil

I’m personally fond of this story since, as a second-grader in Christian school, I got my first taste of stage acting in a short play based on it. (The experience didn’t harbinger stardom. Actually, it was pretty traumatic. Extreme nervousness led to a little “accident”—thankfully undetectable beneath my costume—that taught me then and there what “the show must go on” means.) I played one of two sons about to be sold into slavery when their mother can’t pay a debt left behind by her recently deceased husband, a prophet. She appeals to his colleague, Elisha, for help. He asks if she has anything to sell. “All I have is a little oil,” she answers. Elisha tells her to canvas the neighborhood, collect every empty jar she can find, go home, and shut the door so she and her sons can fill the jars with oil to sell. Now this raises a lot of questions, namely, “How will that work? There’s not enough oil to fill one jar, let alone dozens of them.” Fortunately, as a prophet’s widow, familiarity with prophets' ways encourages her to do as Elisha says. Empty jars keep coming and the oil keeps flowing. She’s able to discharge the debt in full, with extra money left over to support her and her sons.

More Than Enough

“Little is much when God is in it,” the great gospel hymn says. And like the widow, we may look at our slim resources and abilities as insufficient to meet the enormous challenges we face. Yet when God enters our situation and we obey His instructions, the little we have becomes more than enough. As humans, our mathematical capabilities are limited to simple addition and subtraction. We pick things up and put things down, running a tally as we go. In contrast, God is a multiplier; He works exponentially. In the parable of the sower (Mark 4.1-8), Jesus says when we seed God’s word in our hearts, it produces a crop “multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” A little oil, a single seed, a boy’s lunch—we see God’s power to multiply over and over and over. So why do we insist on focusing on what we don’t have instead of seeing what we’ve got is plenty for God to work with?

Wisdom from Widows

We often miss a crucial aspect in the widow’s story. Once she and her sons gathered every jar they could find, she poured all she had into the empty vessels. She didn’t reserve a few ounces for her needs and work with what she could spare. There were bigger issues at stake than baking bread and heating the house; saving a little—less than a little—oil meant nothing compared to losing her sons. In her wisdom, she realized giving everything was the key to keeping everything. And God rewarded her faith by leaving her with more than she had when she started.

Another wise widow surfaces in Luke 21. Jesus watches a line of rich people contributing to the temple treasury. The widow steps up and gives two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” The line of people who outrank us in knowledge, talent, power, wealth, and so on stretches past the horizon. How we compare to them doesn't matter, though. Wisdom from widows teaches us it’s not what we have but what we give.

The world runs rampant with empty jars—hollow lives once full of love and joy and peace, unfed stomachs and minds and spirits, discarded children and forgotten elders. We think we’ve barely enough love and energy for those nearest to us, when in fact there’s more than enough. Gather every empty jar you can find—more than a few—shut the door on doubt and criticism, and start pouring!

The world is full of empty jars. With God's help, the little we have is more than enough to fill them.

(Tomorrow: Overflow)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Other Sheep

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

                        John 10.16 


The instant Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.11 He launched Christianity’s lifelong romance with His metaphor. The Church idealized believers as sheep. Congregations became flocks. They called their leaders “pastors,” a synonym for “shepherds.” Prelates tightly gripped crosiers, ornate shepherd staffs symbolizing their pastoral office. To be sure, the metaphor is as powerful as it is lovely. It touches a primal nerve in us—a yearning for care and protection, a longing to belong.

It’s that last bit that gets a lot of us in trouble, though. Rather than trusting our Shepherd’s promise to accept us into His fold at face value, we insist on affirming we belong by asserting others don’t, can’t, and will never belong. But that’s a sheep’s mentality for you, as sheep don’t sit very high on the list of God’s more astute, perceptive creatures. Anyone who doesn’t look like them or bleat like them triggers panic in sheep. There are millions of Christians—entire denominations of them—who subscribe to similarly sheepish thinking. It’s us, just us; there’s just one fold and we’re in it. But if these precious lambs of God read a few verses beyond Christ’s “Good Shepherd” claim, they’d see there is not just one fold and they’re not the only sheep in His care. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also,” Jesus says. Uh-oh.

“So You Know…”

In true sheep style, a lot of believers tend to graze over this statement. Others attempt digesting it, but the most anyone can get is conjecture. Some interpret it as a “Universalist” doctrine—Christ proclaiming Himself the Shepherd of all faiths. Some see it as prophecy: Jesus is saying that His mercy will ultimately extend to people “outside the fold.” Some take it as Christ’s way of including Gentiles and Jews as equal inheritors of His grace.

Trying to pinpoint these other sheep, though, ignores the nature of the comment. Jesus is purposefully vague about the details in order to steer us to a broader, more essential truth. By not explicitly identifying His other sheep, Jesus gently tells us to mind our own business and leave the acceptance process to Him. How wise He is, and how well He understands us! Suppose He did say, “I’ve got Jewish and Gentile sheep, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim sheep, and sheep of every race, gender, and sexual orientation.” We’d take even His broadest definition of “sheep” as exclusionary criteria to keep others out of the fold. Basically, Jesus says, “I tell you about these other sheep without identifying them so you know there’s a lot you don’t know.”

Be a Sheep

The only information He divulges about these “other sheep” is: “They too will listen to my voice.” That’s what’s important to Him. That’s all it takes to be a sheep. When we’re clear about that, following Jesus becomes so much simpler, because it’s not about the other sheep. It’s only about the Shepherd. We tune out the bleating herd and listen solely to Christ. What does He tell us to do? Where does He call us to be? He cares for us and protects us. We belong to Him, not one another. He chose us and He alone leads us. Right now, He keeps us in separate pens, no doubt to prevent confusion and fear that would result if He combined so many different varieties of sheep together. But He promises, “There will be one flock and one shepherd.” When that moment comes, it’s safe to imagine there’ll be a lot of surprises and possibly a few disappointments. Until then, be a sheep. Just don’t be sheepish about it.

"There shall be one flock and one shepherd."

(Tomorrow: Empty Jars)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Through the Roof

Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.

                        Mark 2.4

Standing Room Only

Attracting multitudes has never been a problem for Jesus. From the earliest days of His ministry until now, His presence invariably has drawn standing-room-only crowds. If He’s there—or even rumored to be there—every imaginable type of person is bound to clamor after Him. It’s far from facetious to suggest there are as many reasons for this as there are people pushing and shoving to get close to Jesus. Some come sincerely. They earnestly seek His love, His healing, His wisdom, and His guidance. Some come curiously, wondering what compels others to be near Him. Selfish vanity brings some. They’re more interested in being identified with His crowd than identifying with His cause. And scorn for Christ urges some to show up. They’re there to dispute His every word and mock anyone who believes Him.

The validity of these and dozens of other reasons why Jesus is constantly surrounded are inconsequential. Being there is the thing, and when people land the closest possible spot to Him, there’s no moving them. This presents serious challenges for those who desperately need to reach Him. Inability to budge the genuine seekers, looky-loos, hangers-on, and nay-sayers—not to mention incapability to assess anyone’s real motives in the first place—often demands creative, unorthodox approaches to get to Christ. No better example of this exists than Mark 2’s account of a few men who refused to be marginalized by the crowd.

The Mother of Invention

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Plato wrote nearly 400 years before this incident. Yet what’s most moving here is the men’s inventiveness was born of another’s need. For all we know, they were able-bodied and might have squeezed into the crowd packed so tightly around Jesus, even though Mark insists, “There was no room left, not even outside the door.” These men, however, accompanied their friend, a paralytic whom four of them carried on a mat. Their urgent desire to take him to Jesus overpowered any logical concession that his condition made it impossible to navigate the crowd. It unleashed their courage to view the situation creatively. They climbed on top of the house, dug a hole directly above Jesus, and lowered their friend through the roof. According to Mark 2.5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

Faith for Others

Because of their faith Jesus healed their paralyzed friend. All of us have paralyzed friends and loved ones—people we deeply care for who lack the will, strength, and confidence to get to Christ on their own. We know people hobbled by poverty, prejudice, and destructive addictions. We know individuals in the GLBT community who are crippled by shame, insecurity, and religious hatred. We know Christians immobilized by legalism, guilt, and fear of punishment. It’s our responsibility to help them reach Jesus by any means necessary.

We shouldn’t expect the masses gathered around Him to step aside for our disabled friends. Social taboos—like those that stigmatized the lame, the blind, lepers, and other victims of disease in Christ’s day—will encourage many to dismiss our friends as unfit and undesirable. Indeed, our friends may even believe such things about themselves. Blocked entrances, turned backs, and stubborn intransigence should inspire more inventive solutions. We may have to rise above the crowd, break through barriers, and go through the roof. But once we succeed, Jesus honors our faith for others and makes them whole.

It's our responsibility to do whatever it takes to help friends who can't reach Jesus on their own.

(Tomorrow: Other Sheep)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Encourage Yourself

But David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.

                        1 Samuel 30.6 (KJV)

In the Face of Disaster

Ancient Israel’s history is strung with uneasy alliances. Its foreign policy, so to speak, is governed by expediency. So it is here. Israel finds itself in the uncomfortable position of aligning with its longtime foes, the Philistines, to end a rampage by the mutually despised Amalekites. David and his men have joined ranks with the Philistines, but their service has been rejected. The Philistines, having never forgot David’s triumphant defeat of Goliath, don’t trust him. They tell Israel’s commander to send him back to his post, the city of Ziklag.

David and his troops arrive three days later to find the Amalekites have routed Ziklag in their absence. The city is burned to ashes and its people taken captive. 1 Samuel 30.4 tells us when David and his men see their homes destroyed and their wives and children are missing they weep until they have “no strength left to weep.” His men hold him accountable for the tragedy, as he led them to join the Philistines and leave their families unprotected. Talk of stoning David begins to surface. Staring in the face of disaster, mourning his personal losses and fearing his own death, David has no rational solution to his crisis. No doubt his first impulse is to give up and let the chips fall where they may. “But,” verse six says, “David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.”

The Only Thing to Do

When we meet situations where nothing can be done, the only thing to do is encourage ourselves in the Lord. Problems too great or grave for us to understand and handle are perfectly sized for His management. Clearly, the Ziklag disaster was David’s fault. He’d not thoroughly considered all the possible consequences of his decision to join the Philistines. In truth, he may have been driven out of vanity—a self-serving impulse to build his reputation as a warrior, perhaps. But we should draw wisdom from his response. Guilt and self-blame offer no beneficial options in circumstances like these. If anything, they steal focus and energy from the only One Who can turn things around on our behalf.

We encourage ourselves in the Lord. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3.20 that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Encouragement comes when we’re reminded of this. His power is at work within us. Our situations may be so overwhelming—they may look so unalterable—that we may not have the slightest idea what to ask God for or how to imagine they can be fixed. But His ability to go beyond our limited understanding and imagination is what we depend on. We encourage ourselves in Him.

Courage to Act

When we encourage ourselves in the Lord, He provides us with courage to act. Self-pity, condemnation, regret, and other negative responses to problems are paralyzing influences. They mislead us to accept our condition, cripple ourselves with guilt, and admit defeat. They change nothing. Had David yielded to his grief and shame, he and his men would have never reclaimed what their enemies stole. Instead, David’s decision to focus his attention on God restored his confidence. What looked illogical and impossible at first sight now seemed viable and possible. “Shall I go after these raiders?” David asked, an audacious idea if ever there was one. “Do it,” God answers. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (v8)

The Amalekites hadn’t gone far, it turned out. They stopped to throw a victory party. When David and his men found them, they were drunk, disorganized, and unprepared for battle. Although outnumbered, David’s troops recovered everything they’d lost. Nothing was missing. Quite often, that’s the case when we face disasters of our own doing. Once we regain the courage to pursue what we’ve lost, recovery is fairly straightforward. Yes, we may have to fight for it, but we can win. It’s learning to encourage ourselves in the Lord that’s hard.

When we encourage ourselves in the Lord, we find the courage to act.

(Tomorrow: Through the Roof)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shall We Dance

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

                        Psalm 149.3-4

Delighting God

Too often we succumb to the notion that our relationship with our Maker is a contractual arrangement. We do certain things for Him, and He repays our efforts by doing things we can’t do for ourselves. That’s part of it, but far from all of it. A relationship with God is an all-inclusive thing. It’s intended to serve Him and us in the best and worst of times. So it’s essential we include Him in all phases of our lives—not merely our times of duress and need, but also in moments when everything goes our way.

Nothing happens by accident when He’s involved. Quite often, goodness comes to us by virtue of His spontaneous kindness and love. Without asking Him for it, or even expecting it might happen, He pours out blessings. Making us happy makes Him happy. The same holds true on our side. Although there are always more than enough reasons to shower Him with praise, we also have the ability to praise Him for no reason at all. Praising God with no intention other than expressing our joy in Him is the best way we have of delighting God.

Impromptu Praise

Psalm 149 offers up a number of suggestions for impromptu praise. “Sing to the LORD a new song,” it says in the first verse. Verse two says we should rejoice in our Maker and be glad in our King. The next verse tells us to dance and make music. Verse six says, “May the praise of God be in their mouths.” These praises aren’t summoned in response to anything in particular. They’re always there, at the ready for moments when our emotions surge and we’re compelled to tell God how wonderful He is to us. Because it comes on its own, impromptu praise is the highest, purest adoration we can offer. Praise of this kind is never inappropriate and needs no specific occasion or setting to be expressed. It’s undiluted, unbridled joy. When we stifle it because we think praise demands a certain time and place, we lose precious opportunities to delight God simply out of the fullness of our beings. When words, songs, and demonstrations of praise overtake us, the place and time to offer it is here and now.

It’s an Honor

“Let the saints rejoice in this honor,” Psalm 149.5 urges us. Indeed, random praise is an honor. It’s a privilege to express love and gratitude that involve no one but Him and us. We needn’t make a production of it, no more than we do with those we love in life. But neither should we dampen our praise out of concern with what others might think if, by chance, they catch us “in the act.” Worrying about what they think shows we think more of them than we should. We don’t call on them when we’re in trouble. We don’t appeal to them for forgiveness. We don’t invest faith in them to do the impossible. Why, then, are their opinions suddenly so important? Praising God to His delight is never crazy. Worrying what someone else will think is.

“Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength,” Nehemiah 8.10 stresses. Expressing joy increases our strength. It shakes off worry, doubt, and pessimism that bog us down. The last thing we need is acquiescing to our pride’s insistence we suppress the joy of our salvation. There's no reason worth entertaining not to delight God. Shall we sing? Shall we dance? Shall we praise? Yes, every chance we get, every time the mood strikes, and every moment joy arises, we shall.

Impromptu expressions of joy in our relationship with God delights Him.

(Tomorrow: Encourage Yourself)

Monday, January 12, 2009


So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

                        Genesis 32.24

The End of the Road

Perhaps other than David’s, no life in Scripture is more troubled than Jacob’s. He’s the younger of Isaac’s twin sons. His brother, Esau, stands to inherit the bulk of their father’s wealth, which gives Jacob little to look forward to in life. He’s a wily kid with a mean streak and a mama’s boy; Rebekah dotes on him, maybe to compensate for his reduced status. Twice—once with mama’s help--he bamboozles Esau out of his birthright and after the deal is sealed, he heads off to look for a wife among his Uncle Laban’s daughters. It seems Jacob takes after his mother’s family. Laban is every bit as deceitful as his sister and nephew.

Laban has two daughters. Leah’s no prize, while Rachel is all a man could wish for. Jacob tumbles hard for Rachel and contracts to work for Laban seven years in exchange for her hand. He’s so smitten the time flies. But on the wedding day, Laban swindles Jacob into marrying Leah. A new seven-year deal is struck and he marries Rachel also. Before moving on, he cons Laban with a magnanimous offer. He’ll take the blemished livestock and leave Laban the healthy ones. He’s long gone when Laban learns Jacob crossbred the flocks so the spotted ones were stronger. He comes after Jacob and no sooner do they work things out than there’s news that Esau’s coming with 400 men to settle his score. Jacob moves his family and herds out of danger and stays to face Esau one-on-one. He’s at the end of the road. After decades of lying and scheming, Jacob decides to own up.

Left Alone

“So Jacob was left alone,” the Bible says without underscoring his solitude was elective. While his flawed ethics, greed, and immaturity show us what to avoid, Jacob teaches a flawless lesson about coming to grips with our mistakes. The past cannot be corrected. Troubles we carelessly set in motion long ago will come looking for us. Elusive strategies and clever ploys only work so long before we have to face any harm we’ve caused. Jacob does something truly outstanding here: he protects his loved ones and servants from risk of injury. He could have asked them—ordered them, actually—to stand with him in a show of strength against Esau and his men. But he chose to save them by standing on his own.

Although he tells everyone, “Leave me alone,” Jacob isn’t alone. A stranger appears and, somehow, a wrestling match ensues. Something’s very different about this man, but Jacob can’t put his finger on it. They struggle all night and Jacob refuses to be defeated. As dawn filters into the sky, the wrestler ends the contest by pulling Jacob’s hip out of joint. Still, despite his exhaustion and pain, Jacob hangs on. “Let me go!” the man says, to which Jacob answers, “I won’t unless you bless me.”

On God’s Turf

Wrestling in the dark with a mysterious figure seems very odd until we look at this chapter’s opening: “Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is the camp of God!’” When you’re on God’s turf, nothing is unusual; everything is extraordinary. We have to wonder how knowing where he stands influences Jacob to face Esau alone. One would think it’s the decisive factor. While Genesis reports he rushes his household to safety “in great fear and distress,” one imagines the reality of God’s presence eases Jacob’s anxiety and steels his confidence. Remember his roots are grounded in the faith of Abraham, his grandfather, and his father, Isaac. Faith is Jacob’s true inheritance. Faith assures him he can meet Esau without fear. Faith encourages him to wrestle with a stranger. Faith strengthens his tenacity to overcome their struggle. Faith compels him to insist on a blessing. The episode ends by revealing the wrestler is no stranger; He’s the living God. And He rewards Jacob’s persistence with a new name—“Israel,” which means, “He struggles with God.”

When trouble boomerangs out of the past, whether 10 years or 10 seconds ago, we can face it directly because God’s presence is with us and in us. Wrestling with Him—with what He asks of us—may persist from dusk to dawn, but we don’t let go without His blessing. Struggles will appear at the worst times, siphoning off energy and alertness we need for anticipated confrontations and crises. Still, faith reminds us we’re on God’s turf. When He enters our story, the situation and solution take unexpected, unpredictable turns. Jacob’s wrestling ends with a new walk and a new name. When Esau approaches, he goes to him, bowing seven times in humility. He’s so profoundly changed, “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33.4) We can’t change the past, but overcoming its present implications can change us. Wrestling with God changes how we perceive ourselves thereafter—and how we walk into the future He’s planned for us.

We may wrestle with God all night long, but we can't let go until we're assured of His blessing.

(Tomorrow: Shall We Dance)

Personal Postscript: Friends

Proverbs 27.17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” In the relatively short time—six months—since launching “Straight-Friendly,” God has lavished me with an extraordinary cadre of new friends. The love, wisdom, and support you’ve sent my way defy measure or explanation. But Solomon captures a good part of it. You have sharpened me—made me stronger, more keenly attuned to matters of heart, mind, and soul, and shaved away shadows of sorrow, doubt, and despair. You bring hope and light to each new day.

The ever-wonderful Missy—among the earliest new friends here—recently blessed me with a very special honor: The Friends Award. The Friends Award has nothing to do with a blogger’s skill, popularity, or audience size. It’s just a gentle nod of appreciation to eight regular readers who’ve shown exemplary kindness, generosity, and support as friends.


I must thank Missy, first for the award, but also for creating an opportunity for me acknowledge several of Straight-Friendly’s true friends. As usual, passing on blog awards begins with quoting their original intentions and criteria:

These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

I’m bending these rules a little, however, to include several friends who don’t blog. Excluding them on a technicality would be inexcusable and criminally negligent on my part. And while I’m staying within the eight-only boundary, my list includes everyone in spirit. Finally, I’ve given first priority to those I’ve not mentioned for previous awards or haven’t mentioned for quite a while.

Alphabetically, I’m delighted to pass on The Friends Award to:

Annette—who’s actually an old friend I’ve cherished for years, and who unknowingly yet lovingly helped nourish the seed from which Straight-Friendly has grown.

Border Explorer—who beyond offering her friendship here, has indelibly inspired me to befriend the homeless, the rejected, and the forgotten by her example. Anyone unsure of what Christianity “looks like” can see it in action and principle with one click over to BE’s blog.

Cuboid Master—who opened her heart, first via email and then as a regular commenter, and by so freely sharing her support and concerns helped solidify my confidence and understanding of Straight-Friendly’s purpose.

Edrick—who welcomed me to contribute to his marvelous online GLBT Christian magazine, The Epistle, and regularly brightens my days with encouraging email.

Harvey Carr—who, as the dynamic, openly gay pastor of a growing, well-balanced congregation that welcomes and ministers to everyone, exemplifies the values and objectives that Straight-Friendly is founded upon.

John Shuck—who was Straight-Friendly’s very first true friend and whose great enthusiasm shattered all doubt that straight, mainstream pastors wouldn’t offer their support. John rallied and it’s because of him that many other new friends came into my life.

Tammy Pinkston—who bolstered my courage and commitment with her immediate trust. Her brave obedience when God called her away from legalistic traditions to embrace her local gay Christian community as an “openly straight” believer and minister thrills me to the core.

Vikki—whose candor and compassion always fill me with joy and trigger a smile. Beneath her gentle, often self-deprecating sense of humor lay a ferocity of spirit, a fiery concern for others I admire greatly and draw much-needed inspiration from. On it’s coldest day, Anchorage is a warmer place because Vikki’s there.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

                        Matthew 11.28 

Nothing but Fumes

Mild nostalgia for the souped-up preachers I loved as kid occasionally prompts me to watch televangelists. Some are very good; others aren’t. The common appeal these days seems to be pep. (Power was big when I was young.) It’s sometimes hard to locate scriptural nuggets buried in the motivational malarkey. According to a lot of these ministers, living by faith is a joyride. Grab the wheel, kick into high gear, and drive like the dickens. Don’t let anything or anyone slow you down—not doubt, not doubters, not temptation, and most certainly not the Tempter. Should any of these speed bumps arise, TV preachers recommend a lot of talking. “Tell yourself this,” or “Tell the Devil that.” Apparently, these bromides are all you need to leave the conflict behind in a cloud of dust.

They get me tired, these coaches for Christ—principally because they skim over a very real aspect of following Jesus. We get tired. Life naturally piles up demands on our time, energy, and attention. Couple that with the believer’s unnatural, faith-driven approach to life’s stresses and moving forward at all is miraculous. Thankfully, we’re not stuck for life with all of the strains and burdens taxing us. Bumpy patches and steep inclines give way to stretches of smoother road where we gain momentum. But let’s be truthful. When everything comes at us at once and all kinds of problems block our way, we’ve got nothing but fumes to keep us going. We’re weary and carrying added weight. Thinking we can talk ourselves back up to speed is foolish. We need rest.

Tough Going

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In our case, though, when the going gets tough, we go to Jesus, per His instructions. We know we’re running low on confidence and commitment. Barreling ahead on our own strength isn’t an advisable risk since He’s already promised to restore us. So how do we do that? What does resting in Christ involve?

First, we pull aside for time alone with Him. This requires shuffling priorities, especially if we’re already pressed for time. So often prayer, meditation, and Scripture are the first things we drop when problems and responsibilities overcrowd our days. They should be the last. Lacking time to spend in Christ’s presence indicates we need more time than usual with Him. We let something else wait; it’s not as urgent as finding rest. Whispering prayers while we run errands or meditating on the Word as we wait to see the doctor are terrific ways to redeem lost time. But we’re not resting. It’s vital we reach Christ at a time and place conducive to listening and learning. They’re the keys to rest.

No Problems Allowed

Second, before entering our rest period, we observe the “No Problems Allowed” sign on the door. Burdens and worries depleted us to begin with. Going over them when should be resting defeats the purpose. Since Jesus knows and understands our struggles, there’s nothing to tell. Yes, He’s concerned about our situation. 1 Peter 5.7 encourages us to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Rest begins with release—turning our troubles over to Christ—yet we take care of that prior to seeking rest. Notice Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is about us, not the issues confronting us. He goes on to say when we come to Him for rest, He replaces our burdens with a lighter load. “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.” (Matthew 11.29)

“Be still, and know that I am God,” Psalm 46.10 says. “Learn from Me,” Jesus says. Rest won’t come by ruminating over our worries. Rest is a listening proposition. Christ does the talking. We become still and as He speaks, we know we’re hearing God’s voice. The gentleness of His words and the simplicity of His counsel revive our spirits and renew our resolve. “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart,” David writes in Psalm 27.14. Waiting is resting. Courage is confidence. Strength will come. It takes time, and the time it takes is the time we make.

Rest comes by taking time to listen.

(Tomorrow: Wrestling)