G.K. Chesterton wrote this very insightful thought:
“Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Why do you think he was moved to make this very serious statement about Christianity?
It seems that there is almost a universal belief that it is almost impossible to be a Christian, a real follower of Christ. Many think that the cost of discipleship is too high when they are told to count the cost (Luke 14:25-35).
We constantly hear the grim, high cost of being a disciple and of discipleship and many fear it or are not willing to pay the cost. Many feel that what they have to give up is too high a price to pay to be a disciple.
But what we have to realize is this: the higher cost is the cost non-discipleship (not following Christ).
Dallas Willard once said:
“To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never resolved. Here is the source of that unending soap opera, that sometimes horror show known as normal human life. The ’cost of discipleship,’ though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be apart of his company in The Way of life” (pg. 2 The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives)
How is the cost of discipleship (following Christ) actually small?
We find the answer in Matthew 11:28-30 which says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Unfortunately, many Christians find Jesus’ statement here to be more of a “hope” or even a mere “wish” than a statement about the essence of their lives. To many, Jesus’ words are perplexing.
We hear them often quoted, because the idea they express is obviously one that attracts and delights, but there seems to be something about the way we approach them, something about what we think it means to walk with Christ and obey Him that prevents most of us from entering into the reality which they express.
Many of us rarely enjoy the ease and lightness and the power of these words in our every day lives.
Because we have ignored the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, we do not have the strength that we should have.
What then is the secret of the “easy yoke”?
There is a simple answer to this all important question. It is one that can be introduced and even made completely clear by comparing some facts with which we are all familiar.
Imagine for a moment a kid who idolizes Roberto Luongo. They desperately want to be like him.
So what do they do?
When they are playing in a hockey game, they try to behave exactly like Roberto Luongo.
Roberto Luongo is a butterfly style goalie, so the kid takes on the butterfly style. Luongo likes to stay deep in his crease, so the kid does this too. Luongo likes to hit each post before he starts the game, so the kid does this too.
The kid tries anything that Luongo does hoping to be like him – they even buy the same types of skates and goalie pads.
The question we need to ask though is this: Will this kid succeed in performing like Roberto Luongo?
I think we all know the answer to that quite well.
We know that they won’t succeed if all they do is try to be like him in the game – no matter how gifted they are in their own way.
And we all understand why.
Luongo didn’t achieve his excellence by trying to behave in a certain way only during the game. Instead, he chose an overall life of preparation of mind and body, pouring all his energies into that total preparation, to provide in the body’s automatic responses and strength for his conscious efforts during the game.
Luongo’s superb responses, his amazing timing and the flexibility we see aren’t produced and maintained by the short hours of the game itself. They are available to Luongo because of a daily regimen no one sees.
For example, the proper diet and rest and the exercises for specific muscles are not a part of the game itself, but without them Luongo certainly would not perform as his does.
Some of these daily habits may even seem silly to us but the successful athlete knows that all his disciplines must be undertaken and undertaken rightly, or all his natural talents and best efforts will do down in defeat to others who have disciplined themselves in preparation for game time.
The philosopher Plato said long ago:
“There is an art of living and the living is excellent only when the self is prepared in all the depths and dimensions of its being.”
This is not a truth to be set aside when we come to our relationship with God.
Yes, we are saved by grace and by grace alone and not because we deserve it. That is the basis of God’s acceptance of us. But grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically “infused” into our being in the moment of need.
Abundant evidence for this claim is available precisely in the experience of any Christian. We only have to look at the facts.
A hockey player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living.
Jesus understood this well and lived accordingly.
We forget that being the unique Son of God clearly did not relieve Jesus of the necessity of a life of preparation that was mainly spent out of the public eye. And it was out of such preparation that Jesus was able to lead a public life of service through teaching and healing.
And it is in this truth lies the secret of the easy yoke: the secret involves living as Jesus lived in the entirety of His life – adopting His overall lifestyle.
Following in Jesus’ steps cannot just be equated with behaving as He did when He was “on the spot.”
To live as Christ lived is to live as He did ALL His life.
Our mistake is to think that following Jesus consists in loving our enemies, going the “second mile”, turning the other cheek, suffering patiently and hopefully – while living the rest of our lives just as everyone around us does.
This is like the young hockey player who wants to be like Roberto Luongo. It’s a strategy bound to fail and it will make the way of Christ, “difficult and untried”.
In truth, it is not the way of Christ anymore than striving to act in a certain manner in the heat of a game is the way of the champion athlete.
Whatever may have guided us into this false approach, it is simply a mistake. And it will certainly cause us to find Jesus’ commands about our actions during specific situations impossibly burdensome.
Instead of an easy yoke, all we’ll experience is frustration.
This false approach to following Christ also has counterparts throughout human life. We see it all around us.
Our world seems to have this misguided belief in the power of effort-at-the-moment-of-action alone to accomplish what we want while completely ignoring the need for character change in our lives as a whole.
The general human failing is to want what is right and important but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy.
This is the feature of the human character that explains why the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
We intend what is right but we avoid the life that would make it reality.
For example, some people would genuinely like to pay their bills and be financially responsible but they are unwilling to lead the total life that would make that possible.
Others would like to get in shape and be healthier but they are unwilling to stop eating the chips and the cookies and get out and walk.
So, ironically, in our efforts to avoid the necessary pains of discipline we miss the easy yoke and light burden. We miss the blessings of the life we want!
We then fall into the frustration of trying to do and be the Christian we know we ought to be without the necessary insight and strength that only discipline can provide.
We become unbalanced and are unable to handle our lives.
So, those who say we cannot truly follow Christ turn out to be correct in a sense. We cannot behave “on the spot” as Jesus did and taught if in the rest of our time we live as everybody else does.
The “on the spot” episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but ingrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christ-likeness. Our efforts to take control at the moment will fail. We’ve all seen this happen.
So, we should be perfectly clear about one thing: Jesus never expected us to simply turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us and so forth.
These Christ-like responses were set forth by Him as illustrative of we might expect of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live with the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God Himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays.
Instead Jesus did invite people to follow Him into a life from which behaviour – such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do.
For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, or to curse the curser, just as it was for Christ.
True Christ likeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard NOT to respond as He would.
Oswald Chambers once said:
“The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Jesus Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting His way with us.”
In other words, no one ever says, “If you want to be a great athlete go run the mile under four minutes,” or “If you want to be a great musician, play the Beethoven violin concerto.”
Instead we advise the young artist or athlete to enter a certain kind of overall life, one involving deep associations with qualified people as well as rigorously scheduled time, diet and activity for the mind and body.
So, if we wish to follow Christ – and walk in the easy yoke with Him – we have to accept His overall way of life as our way of life totally. Then, and only then, we may reasonably expect to know by experience how easy is the yoke and how light is the burden.
When we respond to the crisis’ of life that response will come from deep within us and it will be natural because it is who we are!
Do you see following Jesus as being easy or hard? Why?
***** This is a synopsis of a sermon that I preached at Port Hardy Baptist Church. It is part 1 of 8 in a series called “Sacred Ryhtyms.”
***** This sermon was highly influenced by Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives)