Thursday, April 4, 2013

Resting Easy

By Kristen Leigh Evensen
This post is for all the worry-warts out there.
It is for every woman carrying a burden. Dealing with anxious thoughts. Finding it difficult to sleep well at night.

At least that was my qualm.

About a month ago, I was engaged in an email exchange with a dear sister, relaying to her my recent trouble of getting to sleep at night. I shared with her that I needed prayer because the "sleep drought" was lasting longer than my physical body could sustain. I found myself practically pining for a nap during the daytime, following a night of disturbed sleep. And I had no idea why this pattern of laying awake at all-hours was happening.

All I knew is that I needed prayer. Because I desperately needed sleep.

My wise friend responded with a very thought-provoking challenge. She proposed, "If you're not sure what the underlying issue is, I would recommend re-tracing your "thought steps" and asking Him to point out what has taken root that really should not be there." Immediately, it occurred to me that I had been thinking. A lot. And when I say "a lot", I mean a lot. I allowed myself to be frequently burdened by worries and anxious cares, mulling them over and over again in my mind. What I did not know was that they had taken root deeply enough to affect my sleep.

What about you? Have you ever felt so burdened or worried that your sleep was affected? Or your physical health? Or your thought-life? Or your relationships? Or your walk with Jesus?

For some reason, despite our new identity in Christ, it is easy to remain clinging tightly to burdens and worries, as if they are stubborn and resistant of our new nature. But we know this is not true! We know that, in Christ, we have victory over every earthly burden and sinful tendency. 

So, what do we do about this? What does Scripture tell us? 

Let's look at Matthew 11:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I have frequently heard verses 28-30 taught as a stand-alone passage about how our burdens can be lifted by Jesus. While this is true--Jesus does want to lift our burdens (He went to the cross for our very sins)--I believe there is more going on in this passage. I think God has more to say about finding our rest in Christ...beginning with the state of our hearts.

Finding our rest in Christ begins with: 

a willingness to humble ourselves in repentance,
to trust Jesus as the only way to the Father, and then 
to become like Him in character.

In order to gain the full scope of this amazing claim by Jesus Christ, read the beginning of Matthew 11. In summary, Jesus begins "to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (v.20). We see a clear division between the Law and fulfillment of the Law in Christ, whose law is love: "the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (v.5-6).

Upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ comes a deeper, more eternal purpose than obeying mandates and upholding tradition. With Christ comes a total transformation of the heart, with all its motives exposed before Jesus, and a deep, cutting recognition that we simply cannot be righteous enough on our own. 

The realization that true righteousness cannot be achieved by works or law begins the journey to finding rest in Jesus. Those who are open to Him and not offended by Him can find true rest. Those who recognize their deep, eternal heart-cry for His sufficiency alone can find true rest. Those who are like little children can find true rest. You can find true rest.

Secondly, trusting that Christ is the way to the Father allows us to find rest in Him. Without trusting who Jesus is, how can we confidently approach Him with our burdens and cares? Only a recognition of His character and sole sovereignty will allow us the freedom to expose ourselves--good and bad--because we know He will not reject us.

And finally, taking Jesus' yoke upon ourselves means more than just piling our burdens upon Him. A yoke is a wooden beam that enables a pair of animals to work together. When we take His yoke, we are humbling ourselves to His very nature, imitating His character. This means more than a one-time transaction; this means a renewed mind, a heart change, and a transformation of the will into that of Christ. Like Jesus who knew His Father, we know who we are and whose we are. We become like Him when we take His yoke upon us!

Here are three applications, as we ask Jesus to make us like Himself and lift our burdens:

ONE: Make a list of all the things worrying you. Next to each worry, recall Scripture and write it down. Every time you are tempted to worry about one of those things, go back to your list and remember that Jesus has already taken them to the cross. They have no hold over you. You can trust Jesus and humbly submit to His desire to transform your heart into one of dependence and assurance.

TWO: Read Scripture in the morning and before bed. Surrounding ourselves with the Word fends off sinful tendencies because the power of truth is greater than that of the world. Psalm 63 says:
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

THREE: Ask God to show you your heart. "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts" (Psalm 139:23). Sometimes, we do not even realize that we are holding onto burdens and making idols of them. We can boldly approach Him with all our fears and sinful tendencies. A repentant spirit is necessary in order to learn rest from Christ.

Our rest begins with the state of our hearts and finds its completion in Jesus. All because He willingly went to the cross for our sins and experienced incomparable suffering, we are free to find everything we need in Him, including rest for our souls.

So let's rest easy tonight!

Lord Jesus, We want to be like You in every way. Humble us, transform us and make us like You. May we be still by Your peace, as you give us rest for our souls.

Amen.

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