The Lord who is my shepherd knows my path. When I was lost in darkness, he was there With purposes of love and not of wrath, Compassionate and kind and full of care. He knew how long the wandering would last And all that would be lost along the way. He sets all seasons—future, present, past— Sustaining through the night, bringing the day. Our Lord is always working, always good, Always aware of us, our faults, our haste. Before him, we are always understood, And with him, there is never any waste. We make our messes. He is not surprised. His purposes will still be realized.
When you grow anxious at the sense of haste Accomp’nying the work that you must do And worry all your work will be a waste, You overlook some truths that still hold true. Your urgent need in urgency is peace Found not in ragged running but in rest. Responsibility includes release Of self and circumstances. God knows best. And so you must walk slowly, taking time As if it is a gift and not a curse, And find your joy within the steady climb, Steadfast should things grow better or grow worse. The times you feel most restless, then be still, Held by the God who rests and his good will.
Life has been busy for some time. That’s nothing new. Between school, jobs, and ministry, my weeks stay pretty full. I enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. I know the busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve noticed myself feeling worn lately, looking for a break but not finding one.
But it’s not just busyness that’s been weighing on me. There’s a heaviness to life these days that I can’t quite escape. People I love are walking through great difficulties, times of fierce testing, and prolonged seasons of waiting. Weariness and discouragement affect many of us. We’re working to bear each other’s burdens, but we’re feeling pressed.
And personally, I’ve also been wrestling with more confusion and fear lately than I’m used to. As I’ve tried to discern the Lord’s leading and sought to obey him, I’ve found myself often faltering, often straying, and often feeling more out of step than surefooted. I want to be faithful, but I feel more faithless. I want to be strong, but I feel weak.
What do you do in such times? How do you respond when life seems heavier than normal?
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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.”
A few observations from this passage bring some comfort in this season.
First, rest is found in Jesus. I’m tempted to look to other sources for relief: to entertainment or to escape or to some new experience. But rest isn’t really found anywhere else but in Jesus, in knowing him and joining him in his work.
Second, we’re invited into rest. In spite of our sin, in spite of our doubt, and in spite of our weakness, Jesus loves us and offers us rest. He knows our state, knows our need, and brings relief.
Third, the road does not end here. There is a way forward, a way of good work and learning from the Lord himself. Thus, rest does not necessarily mean we cease to be active, but rather that we learn to follow the lead of the good shepherd (John 10:11). When I’m tempted to believe I’m stuck, that I don’t have anywhere to go, Jesus’s words remind me the path continues on with him.
Though I’m not good at it, I’m trying to learn to rest in Jesus. He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. So we can trust him in our weariness and find rest that satisfies our souls like nothing else.
Outside, the winter’s chill. Inside, the warm light’s glow. The atmosphere is still As Christmas carols ring, O’erpow’ring all ill will That often dwells below And changing hearts until We all begin to sing.
I’m not sure God means for us to take advantage of every opportunity presented to us. True, he gives us good gifts and leads us in restful places. I don’t believe he enjoys seeing us suffer. But we know from Scripture that following Jesus means denying ourselves and embracing a more difficult road than we might otherwise walk. Self-denial will require us to say “no” to some things. So how do we know when to say “no”?
In part, discernment is a process of surrender and submission to the Lord. As we present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, we choose “not [to] be conformed to this world” but choose instead to “be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind” (Romans 12:1-2). We discern through testing, evaluating our options in light of our renewed understanding. And this process is ongoing. We deny ourselves daily, submit to the Lord daily, seek to be renewed daily, and discern the will of God daily.
I’m no expert in this process. I’m still learning, still practicing, still failing often. But along the way, I’m learning some signs that help me determine when I need to say “no” to something. Below are two that I’ve noticed in my own journey recently.
First, I’ve noticed that when I’m wrestling internally with a decision or am trying to rationalize a decision, I probably need to say “no” to whatever I’m considering. I draw this in part from Romans 14:23: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” If I have doubts about something, I need to be very cautious about pressing forward. In some cases, I need to spend some more time praying and discerning before making the decision. Often, though, I already know I need to say “no,” but I recognize that doing so is a denial of self I don’t want to make. When I’m wrestling with uneasiness about something I want to do, or when I try to justify why the choice isn’t a bad choice to make, I probably need to say “no” and surrender my desires to the Lord.
Second, I’ve noticed that when I’m avoiding accountability or running from the Lord, I probably need to say “no” to whatever I’m chasing. I draw this in part from James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The restlessness that makes me want to run is a sign I’m not doing something the Lord wants me to do. I’m failing to rest in the Lord, failing to trust the Lord, failing to obey the Lord. The lack of peace I feel in such times is a red flag. Peace with God is a big deal for me. If I feel like I’m off, even in the slightest, I’ve learned to be extremely cautious about moving forward with a decision and to evaluate my heart before the Father.
I’m not always good at discerning the way forward. I second-guess myself often, doubt my decisions, question possibilities. Lately, I’ve felt more distress than peace, and I’m still trying to figure out why that is. But I’m learning to walk, step by step, in greater faith and obedience. I want to be faithful, even when faithfulness means saying “no” to my desires. And to that end, I’m trying to be more sensitive to the Spirit and more attentive to these signs, all for his glory and my good.
Granted, there’s a lot to be troubled by today. This year continues to provide us with a multitude of reasons for anxiety. Disquiet and division abound as the world around us changes.
In many cases, the issues that arise raise good questions and can become opportunities for healthy conversations and needed changes. Such issues can also foster bitter disagreements and vitriolic statements. And this is to be expected. Whether the topic is racism or Covid-19, the subjects we discuss and the outworking of those subjects affect all of us in some way, and our emotions can quickly get involved in such cases.
Regularly, however, I see some individuals taking a surprising position on social media as they state their positions. Though the exact verbiage may vary, the posts often boil down to something like the following statements. “If you affirm ____,” they write, “please unfollow me.” “If you care more about ____ than ____, then consider our friendship over.” The sentiment seems to be an ultimatum: either agree with me or unfriend me.
I’m troubled by this trend for a few reasons. First, the statement seems impractical. If a person believes he or she holds truth that others fail to see, then division seems to lessen the probability of the one in error to learn or grow. Maybe the individual believes the shock value of the statement will awaken the wayward soul from intellectual slumber, but such a result seems unlikely. Second, the statement seems unloving. Such posts appear to make friendship contingent on agreement, for disagreement on a particular issue becomes grounds for division. Again, however, how does such division help those presumably in error? Does it not simply leave them in their ignorance? Third, the statement seems to promote echo chambers. By seeking separation from contradictory voices, individuals lose a valuable part of any discussion: the other position. One’s own views are safer when kept from challenges, but are they healthier?
I understand that such divisions do not occur over small matters. I doubt anyone is asking for separation over ice cream preferences or movie choices. Rather, the posts I’ve seen often pertain to matters of significant weight in culture. But is division justified on such matters? I’m not so sure.
Division isn’t foreign to the church. Paul gives instructions for dealing with divisive people in Titus 3:10-11, and Jesus gives instructions for dealing with the unrepentant within the walls of the church in Matthew 18:15-17. In both cases, however, the change in relationship occurs after multiple warnings to turn from sinful behavior, not on the basis of disagreement alone. Further, the goal appears to be restoration, not ultimate division, as Paul seems to demonstrate in his discussion of the man caught in adultery in 1 and 2 Corinthians. True, Proverbs seems to urge us to choose our friends wisely, but even then the deciding factors pertain to unrighteousness in the community and to its effects on oneself, not on contrasting perspectives on cultural movements.
I admit I may be missing something. There may exist good, biblical reasons for breaking fellowship in the minds of those who make the posts I’ve seen, and, if there are, I welcome correction of my misunderstanding. But I don’t currently see it. Instead, I see a trend that I fear may simply further division and cripple communication rather than helpfully contributing to the important conversations of our day. We face a number of complex issues worthy of critical thought and robust conversations. Perhaps asking for division over disagreements here is unwise.
The topics of peace and division have been on my mind lately. In part, this is due to some of my research along those lines this semester (see last week’s post for more on that). But the themes are present outside of the classroom as well. Online interactions show us that division is prevalent in our world, and the bitterness with which people divide makes peace seen almost a myth. And sadly, the church isn’t immune from such struggles to live in unity.
This year seems to pose more challenges than any year in recent memory. Sure, every year carries tragedies, horrors, and unwelcome interruptions to the status quo, but 2020 seems to have hit the bad news quota for the year by April. And it’s still going strong.