I really needed to hear Pastor Aaron’s message this weekend.
Last night, in his second sermon in a series inspired by Craig Groeschel’s book, Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working, Aaron asked some pointed questions that spoke directly to my state of mind and spirit.
Yesterday morning, I had begged off a men’s meeting for reasons of busyness. I had too many responsibilities that all seemed to be coming to a head at the same time, and was feeling overwhelmed. I had just finished teaching a two-week intensive course which had put me behind schedule. I knew that the men’s meeting, including travel time, would take the entire morning, and four hours of extra work time seemed like just what the doctor ordered to help me feel a little more on top of things.
So here was my Saturday: the morning was spent preparing Sunday’s Bible study lesson, and in the afternoon, I buried myself in hours of statistical analysis for one of my student’s dissertation research. And while I was doing this, I was thinking about the draft of the report that had to be done by Monday, the other thesis projects I had to review and edit, the book I had agreed to review, the book I had agreed to write…
And Saturday evening, I went to church, to have Aaron ask, “How many of you this week, when someone asked how you were doing, said, ‘I’ve been really busy?'”
You have your own tale to tell, don’t you?
Aaron gave a lively retelling of the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was harried and hassled trying to be the consummate hostess while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. In exasperation, Martha blurted out to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).
I know that some dedicated church volunteers chafe whenever they hear this story. The thought is, “Yeah, but if it weren’t for the Marthas in this congregation, nothing would ever get done!” True that. And the unfortunate sociological fact is that the larger a congregation gets, the more people are tempted to look around and assume “Someone else will do it.”
But here’s the thing. If I imagine myself in Martha’s place, my plea to Jesus would translate this way: “Lord, why haven’t you noticed the work I’m doing? It’s all for you, you know. Don’t you think I’d like to be sitting around listening? But the canapes aren’t going to make themselves.”
Hmm: too busy working for Jesus to sit down and listen to him. And hoping that he would somehow pat me on the back for doing such a good job.
How am I doing? Yes, I’m busy. And yes, I’ve actually used the words, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to get done.” Somewhere, Henri Nouwen talks about how we wear our busyness proudly, as a symbol of our being Important People.
I’m actually getting better at saying no. But truth be told, I’m not sure the biggest problem is that I have too many things to do, per se. It’s more a matter of having too many things to be responsible for, so that they weigh on my mind.
That’s where I really need to learn rest.
Aaron asked us to meditate on these words of Jesus:
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. (Matt 11:28-30, NIV)
Sometimes, saying “no” is a way of lightening my own yoke. But it’s still my yoke, my responsibility, the burden I’ve shouldered for whatever mixed motivation. Jesus is asking me to take on his yoke: to be yoked together with him. It’s not rest from work, but rest in the midst of work.
That’s the part I struggle with the most. I know how to stop work on the Sabbath. But I’m learning what it means to be yoked together with Jesus.
In an earlier post on the Sabbath commandment, I cited what for me has been a game-changing insight from Eugene Peterson:
In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson reminds us that the Hebrew conception of day, grounded in the creation story, is that evening comes first, then morning. We’re used to thinking that the day begins when we get up and get cracking at our jobs. Not so; the day begins with God’s work, which was already in motion as we slept. We wake up to what he has already begun, and have the privilege of getting in on the act.
I don’t just need to reduce my work; I need to understand it as the privilege of participating in what God is already doing. I don’t just need more time; I need to remember that all time is God’s time, not determined by the clock or calendar or even my to-do list, but by his sovereign grace, the grace of God who offers true soul-rest.
Sounds weird. But I suppose it will only make sense to those who get the yoke.