Resisting the Worn-out and Weary Religious Life

Last year I had a bit of a shocking and eye-opening experience. At the end of our summer training, we shut down the office so that our staff team could get some much-needed rest, to recover and regroup after several weeks of pouring out all of our mental, emotional, and physical energy. It was a good and right plan, a step toward living in a more healthy way. And, when I returned to work after that break, I felt steadier, more at peace, well-rested and… a little guilty.


I was surprised and uncomfortable to notice that particular feeling of guilt that was lurking somewhere in the background of my heart and mind. Where was that coming from? Why would I feel anything but thrilled that I was feeling more whole and healthy after an extended break from work?


That experience drove home for me a dangerous and disturbing mindset that I have witnessed in our North American Christian culture. Somewhere along the way, we traded in the promise of a light burden and easy yoke (Matthew 11:30) and abundant life (John 10:10) for the lie that the more tired, beat-up and burnt-out we are, the more holy we must be.  Somewhere along the way, we adopted the belief that if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t working hard enough.


And I am not buying it anymore.


The life that Jesus modeled for us was one of peace and grace, doing only what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19).  He did not sweat and strive and seek to earn the Father’s pleasure or approval. He was not in a hurry, He was not nervous, He was not trying to prove anything. He was not burnt-out and doing the work of the ministry out of a sense of obligation or duty. Instead, Jesus loved people and listened to people and spent time with people—and then unapologetically slipped away to be alone with the Father. Jesus walked away from some people, did not respond or act according to other people’s timelines, and lived with a constant awareness of the work the Father gave Him to do. He would not settle for doing less, and He did not push to do more.


What would happen if we as believers followed the model Jesus gave us? What would happen if we were dedicated to ridding ourselves of the words “busy,” “tired,” or “stressed” from our default descriptions of our lives? What kind of revolution could take place if, instead, followers of Christ actually came to Jesus and allowed Him to give us His promised rest (Matthew 11:28)?


In order to do so, we may need to let go of our pre-conceived notions of what it means to live a life that pleases God. We may need to let go of some of our cultural habits that do not serve us well, the ones that cause us to feel guilty when we take time to rest. We may need to rebuke the lies that lead us to wear our exhaustion like a badge of honor, and instead to humbly receive the truth that God loves us just as we are—without us doing a single thing to earn or deserve it.


I read once that, scientifically, our minds immediately latch on to anything negative that happens to us in our lives, but that positive experiences can float right on past us—sometimes without us even noticing, unless we pause and intentionally hold on to those moments.  In our walks with the Lord, how many blessings and sweet encounters with our God do we miss simply because we’re not paying enough attention while we frantically (and counterproductively) scurry from one ministry event or church service or work commitment or discipleship meeting or Bible study to the next?


Today, consider pausing to savor the goodness of the God who is present with you right here, right now.


Recognize and receive His love for you, offered freely without you doing a thing.  Begin to practice the counter-cultural discipline of moving slowly, resting intentionally, and enjoying God. Allow Jesus’ yoke to unburden you from heaped-on religious activity He never intended as you walk with Him instead of performing for Him. Finally, resist the temptation to manufacture some change in your heart and mind that comes from your own effort as you allow the peace and presence of God to be your source for true transformation.


Hear Jesus’ words to you today:


“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

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