Across the blogosphere, a number of Christian writers have seized upon an idea at the beginning of the New Year set forth several years ago by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen in their book, My One Word.
Mike and Rachel suggest an alternative to New Year’s resolutions…Choose just one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year.
I’ve been pondering the challenge for the better part of the last week. Admittedly, I’m pretty excited about some of the ministry adventures we have on tap for this upcoming year. I had wanted my one word to be “unleash“…but I continue to be drawn to a very different word…rest.
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.
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
I don’t think I chose my word as much as it was chosen for me. As Christians, we say that everything depends upon God, but yet we often live like everything depends on us. Jesus promises us rest when we trust and rely on Him. I need to take Him up on His promise this year.
Speaking from the perspective of a person who has been blessed with the gifts to become reasonably accomplished in my profession, I’ve found it very easy to slide into a mindset in which I find myself depending on my energy, my talents and my resources in the course of my day job and ministry adventures. I’m working much longer and harder…and reaching the end of my mental and emotional reserves with alarming regularity.
I can rationalize my behavior with the thought that my work is my worship and I’m simply pursuing my vocational and ministry callings with reckless abandon and there’s clearly some truth to that. But if I’m going to be totally honest with myself, I must admit that there’s an element of mistrust in God’s promises that fuels my propensity to push way too hard. Sabbath? For me? Are you kidding? That applies to other people.
Unhealthy spiritual pride is part of the mix. At a certain level, I’m probably trying to earn God’s favor…or reassure myself that I’m truly a follower of Christ and in His good graces. Not all that different from the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who continued to try to earn God’s favor through rigid adherence to an incredibly complex array of laws and religious practices while rejecting God’s grace, freely given.
In my work life, I’ve taken great pride in the knowledge that I’m among the very best at what I do. In the last year, I’ve had a much more difficult time maintaining the level of excellence I expect of myself, largely because of increases in the volume of daily communications I need to track and respond to and enormous changes in what we’re required to document in the course of patient visits so that we might recoup reimbursement for our families from their insurance companies without being accused of fraud. On too many nights, I’m coming home way too tired to think or talk. I worry about making mistakes. And none of the alternatives for fixing the problem seem acceptable.
Hu and I were meeting this past week with a wise and experienced leader in the Catholic community with more opportunity to do good than hours in the day. He explained that he made a conscious decision to work fifty hours a week and goes to bed totally at peace, knowing that some work would go unfinished. I was envious.
In ministry world, I’m looking at projects that should have been completed but haven’t been completed and wondering why. I’m reminded that we have several initiatives in the works that we won’t be able to execute without His active intervention. I suspect I need more frequent reminders than most from God that it’s His power (and not my ability, or the ability of my teammates) that fuels our efforts. I find myself thinking about so much stuff that I can’t shut my brain down to pray or meditate for fifteen minutes while the worship music is playing at church. At times, I have so many thoughts or ideas that it feels tortuous.
I need rest.
So, what’s involved in claiming the rest Jesus promises?
Trust…Believing that God is who He says He is, believing He’ll be faithful to His promises and believing that the good that I do is because of Him and not because of me. Believing I’m not irreplaceable anywhere outside my home…that He’ll find a way to advance Key Ministry if I write fewer blog posts or kick back on Sunday. That he’ll give me time to do my job if I’m not compulsively checking my e-mails early in the morning or late at night.
Submission…Letting go of the need to be in control ALL the time. Struggling with the daily need to recognize that I’m not the center of the universe.
This will be hard. It’s very easy to snatch the heavy burden beck from Jesus when pride takes over following a few days of belief. Old habits…and human nature die hard. It’s a struggle many contend with…a struggle described by the author of Hebrews…
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,
“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:1-11 (ESV)
What’s your “one word” for 2014?