I am thoroughly enjoying reading the classic, The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to get around to this book, but I am glad for whatever spurred me on to read it now.
As someone who often speaks about rest and simplifying (my ministry tagline itself is "Learning to Live Freely and Lightly") I had never made the connection between Jesus' call to meekness and rest. Tozer does a fabulous job connecting the two.
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. Matthew 11:28-30
Tozer highlights that there are two things contrasting each other in the verse in Matthew 11--a burden and a rest. He says, "The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and a crushing thing. The word Jesus used means a load carried or toil borne to the point of exhaustion. Rest is simply the release from that burden. It is not something we do; it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest."
He goes on to explain that the burden is an interior one, attacking the heart and mind and reaching the body from within. What does this burden entail?
First, there is the burden of pride, which is a very heavy burden. Because our need for approval and honor and esteem borders on idolatry, we can spend an enormous amount of energy protecting our image and experience immense sorrow and pain when we are slighted, criticized, or not approved. Tozer writes, "The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort." Oh, I can see the freedom that would come with such a lack of care for the world's esteem. He continues, explaining that the meek man (or woman) "has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, of more importance than angels."
How many times have I "declared" myself before the Lord to be nothing, a needy beggar, only to rise up with fierce anger when I am questioned or criticized. How I long for the "soul rest" that Tozer speaks of when he says, "As he walks on in meekness, he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over."
My life gets complicated and exhausting when I have to constantly be alert to defend myself and my reputation. How refreshing it would be to rest knowing that God can and will defend me.
Second, is the burden of pretense and artificiality. Tozer describes pretense as the common human desire to put the best foot forward and hide from the world our real inward poverty. "There is hardly a man or woman who dares to be just what he or she is without doctoring up the impression."
In our era of Facebook and other social media, this is truer than ever. If you are like me, you are putting forth the best presentation of yourself, your marriage, your children, your lifestyle, etc. Everything is doctored up, the inward poverty is hidden.
Regarding artificiality, Tozer writes, "most people live in secret fear that someday they will be careless, and by chance, an enemy or friend will be allowed to peep into their poor, empty souls." So they are never relaxed. We all desire to shine. (And as parents we want our children to shine.) It's not enough to be who we are with all of our weakness and brokenness and neediness.
I get excited thinking about the truth that "Artificiality is one curse that will drop away the moment we kneel at Jesus' feet and surrender ourselves to His meekness. Then we will not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased. Then what we are will be everything; what we appear will take its place far down the scale of interest for us."
Tozer goes on to say that the heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense and there is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ.
Jesus invites us to come and to receive his rest. To lay down our burdens--burdens of pride and pretense. To "forget" ourselves so that we might live for Christ. To consider all that might be in our favor as rubbish compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8) To remember that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us, and the life we live in the body we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. (Galatians 2:20)
To lay down the burdens of pride and pretense would greatly simplify our lives, for so much of our toil and striving are done in an effort to preserve these two. To let go and receive Christ's meekness would mean laying down our heavy burden and taking on his easy yoke.
Not only would this be a great relief to ourselves, but it would open the doors for the lost and lonely, poor and needy, hungry and thirsty, to come close enough to us to see Christ and His all-sufficiency, His complete provision, and His glorious victory in the midst of our insufficiency, our lack and our failures.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27