Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Who's Calling?

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)

Our Journey Begins

Today is that Wednesday, when triumphant hosannas crumble into ashen humility and billions of Christians around the world set out on a virtual pilgrimage. We travel a route established nearly 20 centuries ago; by the Council of Nicea (325 AD), most Lenten customs we currently practice were in place. Church leaders combined emulating Jesus’s 40-day wilderness exile—the crucible of consecration He obediently entered to prepare for ministry—with a parallel path tracking His last weeks of human life.

Although the route remains unchanged, we pursue it knowing no two experiences are ever the same, because we are not the same. Following Christ is an adventure that changes us as we grow. Each year, we stand at the desert’s edge, surveying its terrain, with greater experience, higher awareness, and deeper longing to learn more about ourselves by discovering more about Christ. We prayerfully consider what to leave behind as well as what to carry on this Lenten odyssey that will open our eyes and hearts to the Savior's beckoning.

As always, Straight-Friendly will observe Lent with daily posts. Yet the uniqueness of this year’s experience will emerge (after much thought and prayer) by merging the paths of this, our online faith community, and my local one, which is using the 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a devotional and journaling guide drawn from the works of the renowned German theologian and anti-Nazi martyr—as its compass. I invite those of you seeking fresh perspectives on discipleship and obedience to come along. And, of course, one need not actively engage with the book’s daily readings to join discussions here; the book will focus our thoughts without dictating scope of each day’s reflections. (See the postscript for more information about the book.)


Before we take our first step, it’s good for us to orient our thoughts to Lent’s purpose by asking, “Who’s calling?” We aren’t simply practicing a religious tradition. We aren’t honoring Christian obligation. We don’t do this at the institutional church’s insistence. We follow Jesus through the desert, to Calvary and the Empty Tomb, in response to His invitation and promise: “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) We obediently subject ourselves to temptation and hardship in a sacred quest to find rest for our souls.

Everything about Lent—what we experience and discover along the way—is designed to submerge us in the counterintuitive, unnatural lifestyle common to all followers of Christ. We enter this wilderness weary from struggle and burdened with weaknesses. Daily encounters with temptation deplete our stamina all the more. Constant reminders of our lack of discipline and commitment further weaken us. Lent steadily drives to the place where, like Jesus in Gethsemane, we surrender our human desires and fears to God’s perfect will. Right now, we can’t see what that place is. Nor can we envision what will be required to break our pride and disobedience. All we know is if we sincerely, diligently stick to this path, we reach a point where we’re too tired and beleaguered to resist Christ’s call to authentic discipleship. Over time, we become increasingly cognizant of attitudes and behaviors we’ve yet to exchange for the mind and nature of Christ.

In theory, this should be an easy purchase from the start. But we’re stubbornly self-reliant, vain creatures. We’d rather wander aimlessly on our own, stumbling beneath our burdens, instead of humbling ourselves to accept Christ’s offer. As Lent’s journey wears on, we become intensely aware of needless weights we carry and the relentless drag they inflict on us. Only when we’re too weary to continue will we fully embrace Jesus’s invitation. Once our fatigue grows palpably real, we shed self-imposed resistance to His yoke’s gentle pressure and His humble heart’s lightness. Christ calls us into the desert to discover true reality is the polar opposite of reality fabricated by logical fears and doubts. He teaches us human reality is a fantasy. It makes no sense. It generates nothing but fatigue and frustration.

The Yoke of Discipleship

After our resistance to Christ’s call is disarmed, we discover another astounding truth: following Christ in obedience isn’t a burden. Nor is it a harness. Jesus invites us to wear His yoke. It weds us to Him, to walk alongside Him, and secures us to go where He leads. Our reasoning and intentions lose their importance. Being yoked to Christ removes our fears and cancels our doubts. The only way we can diverge from His path is by consciously removing His yoke. Thus, we walk into the desert of our own volition. But we exit it in total submission to Christ’s will and way. The rest we sought in taking on His yoke becomes our natural state. Thoughts and actions that exhausted us are things of the past—relics abandoned in the desert, never to be retrieved. This is precisely what Paul’s splendid description of discipleship emphasizes: “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!”

Lest we misperceive Jesus’s invitation as the spiritual equivalent of riding shotgun while He does the driving and work, we must be very frank about how readily and frequently we chafe at the yoke of discipleship. Complete surrender to Christ’s will inevitably provokes stubborn determination to follow our own path. When we sense Christ turning us away from burdensome people, situations, and mindsets we cling to, we balk. Newness makes us nervous. What’s the old adage? Better the devil you know than the one you don’t? But such thinking reverts to human logic, which we’ve learned is irreparably flawed and misleading. We approach Lent seeking a better way. The desert breaks down our resistance. We yield to Christ’s authority. Once we take on discipleship’s yoke, we redirect our stubborn determination from pursuing a life of fear and doubt to embracing one of courage and trust. Christ is gentle and humble of heart. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. His promise is true. We will find rest for our souls.

We enter Lent’s wilderness of our own volition, responding to Christ’s invitation. We exit it wearing the yoke of discipleship, which guides us away from burdens to find rest for our souls.

Postscript: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a Hymn

For those interested in tracking the daily reflections here with the 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you can get a closer look at the book and order it here. I can’t endorse it highly enough.

And finally, while working on today’s post (based on the book’s first entry), I kept hearing the old invitational hymn, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.” As you listen to Cynthia Clawson’s lovely rendition, hear Jesus calling us to renew and strengthen our discipleship—to exchange our burdens of willful pride and logic for His gentle yoke.


Sherry said...

My delight in Lent this year is so real. I realize that reading as many of my friends who blog about faith is one of my practices. I shall enjoy the journey with you Tim. A wonderful beginning in this post. I am so peaceful and so very happy this day. We begin again.

Tim said...

Sherry, how happy your enthusiasm makes me! Lent is far and away my favorite season--the joy found in its struggles, the music in its silence!

Yes, we begin again and will not be the same when we finish. I've not yet got around to read the other Ash Wednesday posts, but I'm itching to do so. I know there are treasures galore!

It's such a pleasure to walk the desert with you, dear friend. I look forward to many wonderful things.