Perceptions of the Kingdom: The easy yoke

Dallas Willard reminds us that Jesus tells us to take his yoke upon us, learn from him, and we will find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). This does not mean that if we just connect to God, He will do all the work for us, so we can find rest. Instead, the often overlooked phrase in this verse is that we are to learn from Jesus. By taking His yoke on, we are like the young ox that is yoked with an experienced ox in order to learn how to do the work in the right way. Jesus is telling us that if we’re tired and weary, we’re not doing life the right way. We are meant to live in the rest of Christ. Instead, we are not really even the young ox, but an ox who has developed bad habits and a wrong way of working and needs an experienced ox to work with to learn the right way to do it. If we walk with Jesus, learning the way that He lives, seeing the things He sees, valuing the things He values, we find that life can be lived in rest and peace. Jesus promises us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

One example of this is found in a recent book by John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. Once Willard was asked about what is the single biggest thing we can do to help us be more like Christ, and he responded that we need to ruthlessly work to eliminate hurry from our lives. Now if you’re like me, this seems completely counterintuitive, as there is never enough time in the day to get even most of the things done I think I need to do that day. However, Comer lays out (relying on Willard) how we’re missing the point of life and the way we were created if our lives are ones of constant hurry. While we are busy trying to keep everything going in our lives, we are focused on the wrong things. We need to refocus on the things that matter, the things that Jesus sees, the values Jesus shows us. Yes, dinner still needs to be made, the kids still have homework, laundry needs to be done, and everything else, but with a realignment of values, those things take their proper places in our lives. This doesn’t mean that our lives are free of all types of stress, but when we live our lives the way we’re meant to live them, we are like the tool that is used in the way it is intended rather than the power saw trying to be a screwdriver.

Part of why life is so hard is that we are trying to live out of ourselves, working to make the decision every day to do the things we need to do to be like Jesus. Drew Dyck’s Your Future Self Will Thank You engages some of the contemporary brain science related to Christian formation, especially with respect to will power. When we fail to integrate these practices into our lives, then every day we have to use our will power to do these practices. However, will power is a limited resource, and if we have to rely on that resource to fuel our spiritual growth, on the days when the demands of life require us to use our will power elsewhere, we find that we lack the resources to do the practices to be more like Jesus.

Part of the reason that we have to use our will power to do these things is because these practices are contrary to the things we actually value in our lives. I’m not saying that we don’t want to value these things, but that what we actually value in this present moment may not be perfectly aligned with the things we want to value or know we should value. The goal of using our will power should be that these things become ingrained within us so that we don’t have to use our will power.

I have had a bad tendency to try to do fix everything at once in my life. Spend some time with God, get the workout in, eat healthy, exhibit otherworldly patience with my children, and get plenty of sleep, on top of everything else going on. When none of things is my natural inclination, I’m using my will power at each turn to make those things happen, and on a good day, before the sun goes down (far too early, as I write this in the late fall), my will power is depleted, and it is incredibly difficult to do things that I know I should do. Instead we help ourselves when we do one or two things, and focus on those things, choosing to do them, but not just to do them to check them off the list, but to do them in a way with the goal of making them a part of our lives. Over time, we have to use less will power and it becomes a part of our normal lives, but it takes a constant and persistent choosing in the beginning. Once it is a normal part of our lives, we are using little of our will power to make it happen, and then have the will power resources to add another presently difficult thing to our lives.

As we start to realign our lives to be more like Christ, developing the mind of Christ through disciplines, some of the difficult things may become easier, even when we’re not focused on those things. When I started regularly working out, my body started to desire more water than I was drinking at the time, and so I started to drink more water, which is healthier than I had been. In time, I found that I was naturally grabbing water when I wanted something to drink.[1] Similarly, as we learn from Christ as we walk alongside Him, we will likely find that as we work to add a practice to or eliminate a practice from our lives, as we are able to be successful once, the next one may be easier to do, or we may even find ourselves doing that thing we  previously weren’t doing.

However, we have to start. We have to admit that we don’t know what we’re doing and that we need to learn. We have to attach ourselves to Christ, not expecting Him to do everything for us, but to learn how to live, including the spiritual disciplines, not as a matter of things to do, but of ways to live in the rest that we have been promised in Christ. Yet, we seem to be unable to accept this reality most of the time.

I often see this inability to accept reality in my children. They become convinced of doing things a certain way, although that way is incredibly inefficient or produces poor results. While they are able to get the job done, their methods result in a struggle that is ultimately unnecessary. However, the idea of doing something differently than they’ve known is not appealing and seems difficult, so they persist in their ways. As a parent, I try to show them a better way, but until they’re willing to try it for themselves, they remain convinced that the struggle is just part of doing those things. In the same way that parents long to show their children a better way, so does the Triune God long for us to embrace the way of living life by which we thrive. It often seems beyond our imagination to do so, yet it is the imagination that can play an essential role in this life coming about.

In the next post, I’ll consider the way that imagination can help us develop the mind of Christ.

[1] Of course, we then added another child to our family and the caffeine content of the beverage trumped everything else for the next twelve months.