Many people think the secret to good leadership is in controlling interruptions and staying focused. They believe it’s prioritizing the important from the urgent and so on. When I look at Jesus I am not convinced that the standard lines we hear regarding leadership are really hitting the mark. Jesus it seems, did not really worry about those things very much. He came to serve people. He prayed and let God determine the schedule and the priority. It was people and God’s will that drove his daily schedule and priorities. It was taking care of himself that always seemed to be on the back burner. It was time alone that he had to fight for. If it is even proper to use a term like “fight for” in the context of Jesus’ schedule.
He had submitted his life, and therefore his schedule to God from the beginning. Our trouble is that we still like to think that we are the ones in charge of our life. We think it is up to us to figure it all out, that it is up to us to control our schedule. I don’t think either of those things are real. They are delusions of the modern world.
God knows what we need. We need to trust that he will give us the rest we need, and he will – as we do his will.
Here is the rub though, are we doing God’s will in our pursuits? Or are we driven by ambition (or the lack thereof), the need for control, or even fear instead? Our fallen nature will often go to extremes to maintain some sort of control. Our old nature does not seem to care if it has to resort to religious efforts or secular pursuits as long as it can stay in control. The feeling of control makes us feel safe and powerful, but it is a deep and primal lie. God is God and we are not. The desire for control is a delusion that keeps us from being all that we were created to be. And trying to be what we are not is exhausting in the long run.
Step One- Let go of the need to be in control.
Step Two- Let God control our agenda.
- His agenda will revolve around serving (loving) people.
- His agenda will be kingdom centered.
Much of my exhaustion comes from fighting things that God may in fact be bringing into my life. Particularly if what he is bringing into my life are people.
There is such a thing as a time to walk away from people. We see Jesus do this often. So when do we walk? In my experience God will help us with this. The people we need to walk from, are those that are actually keeping us from the kingdom work. Jesus told the truth and all those that followed the truth followed him and he gave them more time. The people that would not listen to the truth, but rather wanted Jesus’ attention for other reasons, got nothing from Him. Sometimes this is hard for us, especially if we know the people really well, or if we are related to them. People that do not accept the truth can not be helped – no matter how much we would want to. When we come to an impasse with someone, where the conversation or the actions seem to be going nowhere because of unbelief it is time to move on. No amount of human energy or ingenuity can convert the unbelief of others into faith.
What about rest?
We need rest. I think this fear of complete exhaustion is one of the main reasons we miss so many blessings and opportunities in the kingdom. Logically, it does not make sense that God would want to completely exhaust us with the opportunities he gives us. Unfortunately, we often act as if this is true and these silly fears cause us to say no to God. Sometimes we just need to say good-bye or good-night so that we can get some rest and be available and useful to others whom God may bring into our path.
Does God really intend to work us all to death if only we would listen to Him? Isn’t God the one who not only created the Sabbath, but also the one who took the first Sabbath and then later commanded us to follow His example? Our exhaustion does not come from God, it comes from our own desires which are constantly at war within ourselves and with God. If we love people and obey God, God will give us rest. Think of Psalm 23:2 “He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul”
There is a work that brings true rest, as Jesus said: 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. (Matt 11:28)
A yoke is a device that harnesses an ox to a plow or other implement. Jesus is not setting us free from work but giving us a new job, a job that brings true rest. What is that new job? To answer this I want to use an unusual passage, it is Isaiah 28:12 and it is part of a longer rebuke of the leaders of God’s people. Here is the the cry of God’s heart as He is desperately trying to correct His people: “This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear. Their rest was supposed to be found in giving rest to the weary. But they would not hear it.
When Jesus says take my yoke upon you, he was saying “make my work yours”. And what is the work of Jesus? Salvation, healing, restoration – the work of Jesus is giving rest to those who need it. We will find rest as we help others find it.
This is beautifully consistent with the whole theme of Christianity. We are in Christ. Therefore, we are doing what he did and what he is still doing through us. We are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are the physical manifestation of Christ on the earth. We are the Jesus they can physically touch and physically see in the here and now.
We are told in John 7:38 that those who believe will have “rivers of living water” flowing out of their hearts and we are told that these out-flowing rivers are the Spirit of God. This is part of the ongoing paradox of the Christian life. We receive the Spirit of God, but that Spirit is a river that is just passing through us on it’s way to healing others.
We are healed as we heal others. Just as our rest is found in giving others rest. That same river heals all, as long as we allow it to flow out of us as God intended.
Our fallen nature often gets us thinking only of our need, but the Spirit was not given just to heal us individually it was given to heal all those that believe through Christ in us. To do this we need to let that river flow out of us, we must allow it to flow through us to others. We need to become true partners in the ministry of Christ in order to find the rest and healing that Jesus promises.
How do we apply this?
There are obviously many ways to apply this, so my first answer is to pray and ask God how you should respond to the people he brings into your life every day. However, I do have a couple practical suggestions as well.
Let God interrupt your schedule
Don’t fight against the people that God brings into your life. Read the New Testament again and see that most of the great stories of Jesus healing and teaching actually happened while Jesus was on his way to somewhere else. Jesus never said, well I would like to help but I am on my way to Jerusalem, I think I have an opening sometime next week, try me then.
Ask one more question
Many of us have a standard greeting in the the U.S. “How are you” the standard answer is of course “fine”. This may be polite but it is also quite empty. Ask one more question. I was afraid to do this for so long because I was convinced if I asked another question I would be there all day listening to some chronic victims long sad story. The truth however is actually quite different. The vast majority of my exchanges do not last more than a minute or two more, but they are transformed from a meaningless exchange to a meaningful conversation, even if it is short. A minute or two is a small price to pay to give Jesus a chance to work in someone’s life. It is a small price to pay for the chance to let the inexhaustible river of the Spirit flow through us to another person for whom Jesus died. Once in awhile it does take more than a minute or two, but these tend to be the best experiences not the worst ones as long as I remember the next point.
Make sure that you are asking for their benefit and not yours
This is the real secret in transforming these exchanges from a waste of time on the sidewalk to an actual encounter with Jesus through the overflowing of the Spirit of God.
Love is benefiting others at my expense. When you ask one more question make sure you have the other person’s benefit in mind. Maybe they are on their way to something important and have no time to talk to you, if you are thinking of their benefit you will let them go. The fact that you stopped and took time for them will not go unnoticed.
Making their benefit the motivation of your questions will also protect you from the trap of gossip. If we are truly looking to their benefit, we will not pry for information to satisfy our own curiosity nor will we try to take the Spirit’s role in their life though our self centered and self serving desires for control and significance.
Taking on the yoke of Jesus is to go where he says and do what he does. It is his yoke and not our yoke of ambition, and fear. We are not in this yoke alone, it is his yoke. We are in him and let’s be honest he is the one that is actually doing all the real work.
Let God lead you even in the interruptions and you will find rest just as Jesus promises. May it never be said of us.
“This is rest; give rest to the weary; and this is repose”; yet they would not hear.