‘The teaching that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light…’ Matthew 11:30 NCV
Jesus said, ‘[The Pharisees] tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders.’ (Matthew 23:4 NIV) They imposed rules that people couldn’t keep, and on the rare occasion when they could keep them it brought them no joy.
Stephen Mosley writes: ‘Our morality calls out rather feebly. It whines from the corner of a sanctuary; it awkwardly interrupts pleasures; it mumbles excuses at parties; it shuffles along out of step and slightly behind the times… It’s often regarded by our secular contemporaries as a narrow, even trivial, pursuit… Tragically, conventional religious goodness manages to be both intimidating and unchallenging at the same time. Intimidating—because it may involve 101 different rules about so-called spirituality. Unchallenging—because we may exhaust ourselves trying to keep all these rules, yet never experience the true joy Jesus offers. That’s why people inside the church so often get weary. Conforming to such a religion is simply not a rewarding enough experience to fill the void in our hearts.’
Have you grown weary of pursuing spiritual growth? Could it be you’ve been pursuing the wrong thing, or going at it the wrong way? If so, consider these words of Jesus: ‘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 NIV)
‘I have come that they may have life… abundantly.’ John 10:10 NKJV
Here are some questions you should ask yourself regularly:
(1) Am I approachable? Speaking of the Pharisees, Jesus said, ‘They love the place of honor… and to be called “Rabbi”.’ (Matthew 23:6–7 NIV) In Jesus’ day some rabbis had the idea that true spirituality required you to distance yourself from people. Ironically, the only Rabbi the outcasts could touch turned out to be God Himself. Jesus was the most approachable person they’d ever met.
(2) Am I gracious? John Ortberg writes: ‘As soon as we start to pursue virtue, we begin to wonder why others aren’t as virtuous as we are. It reminds us of the reply Homer Simpson’s neighbors gave when Homer asked them where they’d been: “We went to a Christian camp; we were learning how to be more judgmental.” Have you been to that camp? Does a little voice inside you categorize people: “This one’s needy and dependent—stay away. That one’s bright and has much to offer—try to connect.” Why do we constantly find ourselves rating people, as though we were in some kind of contest?’
(3) Am I real? A little boy in Sunday school knew the kind of answer he was supposed to give, so when the teacher asked, ‘What’s brown, furry, has a bushy tail and stores up nuts?’ He muttered, ‘I guess the right answer is Jesus—but it sounds like a squirrel to me!’ Often we try to say spiritual-sounding things to impress people, when they haven’t a clue what we are talking about. So let’s be real with ourselves—and others!
‘They… recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.’ Acts 4:13 NLT
The Pharisees were self-appointed experts in matters of dietary laws, dress codes, etc. These practices allowed them to decide who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’. And what’s worse, the insiders became judgmental towards the outsiders.
Dallas Willard writes, ‘How many people are… repelled… by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere.’ The truth is, when our lives aren’t marked by genuine joy and devotion to Christ we start looking for superficial ways to distinguish ourselves from the people we classify as ‘worldly’. Jesus didn’t do that! When He was asked to identify what the law was all about, He simply replied, ‘Love God and love people’ (see Mark 12:29–31). Paul writes, ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.’ (1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)
It’s possible to think you’re becoming more spiritual, when in fact you’re becoming what Mark Twain termed ‘a good man, in the worst sense of the word.’ Winston Churchill had a political opponent called Cripps, an arrogant man who was widely disliked for his smug self-righteousness. The story goes that one day Churchill saw Cripps passing by and remarked, ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes God.’
One of the greatest compliments ever paid to the apostles is that they were ‘recognised…as men who had been with Jesus.’ The strongest argument for Christianity—is Christians drawing life from Christ. The strongest argument against Christianity—is Christians who are smug, judgmental, and complacent. So, what kind of Christian are you?
‘They gave themselves first to the Lord… then to us.’ 2 Corinthians 8:5 NIV
What do people usually value more than your money? You! Think about it. What takes greater effort—writing a cheque or giving of your time and energy? Which shows a greater level of commitment?
Take a moment and recall the people who’ve had the greatest impact on you: a teacher who helped you realise you could think, learn and achieve; a parent who loved you, sacrificed for you and gave you the gift of self-worth; a mentor who painted a picture of your future then equipped and challenged you to reach for it. Next to your salvation, what could be greater?
Ponder these words: ‘When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you brought to other people’s lives than from the times you outdid and defeated them.’ Too many of us see giving as more than just an act of love—we see it as a transaction—we only give to get!
Missionary to Labrador and Newfoundland, Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell, said, ‘It is obvious that man is himself a traveler; that his purpose in this world is not “to have and to hold,” but “to give and to serve”. There can be no other meaning.’ It’s so easy to live only for yourself. In fact, it’s one of our most basic instincts—one we have to overcome each day. But we can take another path—to be generous with our love and our time. When you give those gifts, you’re being as generous as you can be!
‘I was afraid, and… hid your talent.’ Matthew 25:25 NKJV
The master of an estate gave each of his servants a sum of money to invest for him. One man got five talents, the second two talents, and the third man one talent. The servants with two and five talents turned a respectable profit, while the man with one talent told his master, ‘I was afraid, and… hid your talent in the ground.’
What’s the lesson here? Simply this: fear makes you unproductive!
A seasoned pastor writes: ‘Fear will stop you from singing in the choir… witnessing… giving cheerfully… and walking in love with your spouse… The underlying issue is fear that God won’t do what He says. But as believers we should be so full of the Word that fear can’t get a foothold… Jesus said, “Take no thought for your life. ” (Matthew 6:25 KJV) Paraphrased: Why would you even think fearful thoughts when I’ve told you I’ll never leave you… I’ll protect you… and give you everything you need to do the job?
Bottom line: God is with you even when you can’t feel or see Him, and when others imply He’s abandoned you.’ Fear disguises itself behind many different faces. We want to do things our way, or we say we’re not interested, or it’s not the right time. What we’re coming up against isn’t a closed door—it’s repressed fear. If you’re wondering why you’re not progressing in certain areas, see if hidden fear is holding you back. And if it is, ask God to help you release your fears and start trusting what He says.
‘Whom shall I fear?’ Psalm 27:1 NAS
Life’s filled with fear-inducing situations: fear of sickness, unemployment, rejection, other people’s opinions. Left unchecked, fear will steal your inner peace. But as Chuck Swindoll reminds us: ‘David met fear head-on at his front door with two questions. “Whom shall I dread? Whom shall I fear? ” And he slammed the door in fear’s face by declaring, “My heart will not fear… I shall be confident” (Psalm 27:3). Then he walked back into his house, reminding himself how to counteract fear’s attacks.
Prayer: “I have asked from the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).
Vision: “I behold the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4).
God’s Word: “I meditate in His temple” (Psalm 27:4).
God’s protection: “In the day of trouble He will conceal me” (Psalm 27:5).
Worship: “I will sing” (Psalm 27:6).
Rest: “Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13–14).
Determination: “Let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14)
Courage isn’t limited to the battlefield… Its real tests are broader… deeper… like remaining faithful when nobody’s looking… enduring pain when the room is empty… standing alone when you’re misunderstood… It can be as simple as saying “No”, as uneventful as facing a mountain of laundry… God’s medal-of-honour winners are made in secret… away from public acclaim.’ When fear nips at your heels, God says, ‘Be strong and courageous!’ (Joshua 1:9 NAS)
Dick Mills writes: ‘Every commandment…comes with the assurance that we can perform it. God doesn’t issue orders we’re not capable of fulfilling… It’s incongruous to say, “I’ve lots of courage but no strength,” or, “I’m a powerhouse of energy but I’m afraid.” Courage and strength were given to you by God. Courage motivates our will, and strength accompanies our effort.’
‘Each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.’ Ephesians 5:33 NLT
The Bible says, ‘Male and female He created them.’ (Genesis 1:27 NIV) God created women to be more than a slightly altered version of men. Adam was all male; Eve was all female—as different from each other as day is from night. They thought, felt, talked, and acted differently. Their priorities differed. They needed different things from each other. And just as getting along under the same roof was essential for them then—it is for us now. And it calls for things like understanding, patience, unselfishness, mutual effort, and showing grace.
Following Paul’s philosophy is fundamental to a happy marriage—the husband must understand that his wife needs his love, and the wife must understand that her husband needs her respect. Dr Emerson Eggerichs reminds us that men and women speak different relationship languages, based on their differing needs. Yes, both need love and respect, but husbands feel loved when they’re given their wife’s unconditional respect, and wives feel respected when they’re given their husband’s unconditional love.
Notice that Paul’s words are not simply wise words of counsel, but divine orders to be observed and obeyed. The husband ‘must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband’. God doesn’t require him to earn her respect, or her to deserve his love.
Jesus, our role model, respected and loved us unconditionally at the cost of His life. And He calls us to do the same for each other. As the author of marriage, God knows what really works; so follow His guidance at home.
‘She…has given everything she had.’ Mark 12:44 NLT
God doesn’t want your generosity to be restricted by fear. Either you’ll trust Him financially and experience the joy of participating in His purposes on earth, or trust your own earning ability and live with anxiety.
The danger of not moving to a higher level of giving is that you can miss out on something great that God wants to do for you—and through you. Count on it; at some point He’ll challenge you to give more than you’ve ever given before. And at that moment your faith will cause you to say yes, or your fear will cause you to dismiss it as impractical. That’s a pivotal point in your life, because your response to God’s challenge will determine your future.
Some levels of giving are effortless, while others make us uneasy. Sooner or later we all hit a wall called fear, and unless you recognize it you’ll never be able to break through it. As a result you’ll live with less than God intends you to enjoy.
What’s the solution? Change your concept of ownership!
Adolphe Monod said, ‘There’s no portion of money that is our money and the rest God’s… It’s all His; He made it all, gives it all, and has entrusted it to us for His service.’ If you believe that, there’s no reason not to give. However, getting God involved in your finances means surrendering control of your money to Him. And that can be scary. Jesus’ model for generosity was a widow who gave her last cent, without having anything to fall back on except God’s promise to meet her needs. When you reach that point, you’re on the threshold of the miraculous.
‘In Your presence is fullness of joy.’ Psalm 16:11 NAS
The word happiness comes from the old English word happ, which means ‘chance’. It corresponds to the Latin word fortuna, which means ‘luck’. Both words suggest that when things happen the way we want them to we’re happy, and when they don’t we’re unhappy.
But such happiness is temporary and fickle; true joy is permanent and settled. Some Christians are so serious and solemn they’d lead you to believe God cringes at laughter and hates anything that smacks of joy and delight. The psalmist wrote, ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy.’
CS Lewis observed, ‘Joy is the serious business of heaven.’ The truth is, the Bible is one of the most joy-filled books ever written. The words joy and joyful are found there over 200 times. The word rejoice shows up around 150 times, and we’re instructed to be joyful and rejoice nearly 400 times! That means joy isn’t an emotion, it’s an attitude. An emotion can’t be commanded; no one can tell you to feel happy if you’re not. But you can choose to be joyful regardless of your circumstances. And neither is joy a commodity that can be bought. Many people find out too late that money can’t buy happiness, much less joy.
It’s been said that the poor are better off than the rich because, while the poor keep thinking money will buy happiness, the rich know better. Trying to find happiness and joy in materialism is like drinking salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you get. The secret to lasting joy is in realizing that you’re unconditionally loved, valued, and accepted by God.
‘A merry heart does good, like medicine.’ Proverbs 17:22 NKJV
The Bible says, ‘A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.’ Do you know that laughter is such good medicine that it can help to relieve stress, cure headaches, fight infections and alleviate hypertension? Some doctors tell us laughing produces physical benefits similar to the benefits we get from vigorous physical exercise. When you throw your head back and laugh out loud, the muscles in the abdomen, chest, shoulders, and elsewhere in your body contract, while your heart rate and blood pressure increase. Just one burst of laughter can cause your pulse rate to double from 60 to 120, while your systolic blood pressure can shoot from a normal 120 to 200. Then once you stop laughing your heartbeat and blood pressure dip below normal—signalling reduced stress.
God created laughter because He knows it’s good for your health. Don’t, however, confuse happiness with merriment. Merriment comes from joy, not happiness, and understanding this is crucial to your emotional well-being.
There are times when we can’t and shouldn’t be happy—when people are hurting, going through tragedy, or losing jobs and loved ones. In the face of injustice, happiness is inappropriate, if not impossible.
Yet the joy that comes from knowing that you are unconditionally loved and accepted by God enables you to remain joyful. That’s because: (1) Happiness is external; joy is internal. (2) Happiness depends on outward circumstances; joy depends on inward character. (3) Happiness depends on what happens to us; joy depends on who lives within us. (4) Happiness is based on chance; joy is based on choice. So today—choose joy!