His Yoke: personal reflections on Christian growth

“Come to Me, all those toiling and being 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” (Matthew 11:28-29, Berean Literal).

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Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Instead, we’re meant to live in the present—the moment in which Christ promises to meet us: This day. This very second.

In that moment, His yoke is easy and His burden light—but not if we reach forward into future concerns. He’s promised to help shoulder the load and only give us, in each moment, what we can handle with the aid of His yoke.

So we live each moment in relation to Him, connected to Him by His word—and by His yoke. We can’t walk with Him unless we keep in step with His yoke, with His work in our lives. Go too slow and our head and shoulders slip free. Too fast, and the full weight of the yoke is ours to bear alone.

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His burden is easy, building on the work He’s already done in our lives: If He hasn’t taught us to walk yet, He won’t ask us to run. Rather, He holds our hands as we totter along with faltering forward steps.

In this way, we also shouldn’t run ahead of the growth and work He’s ordained for each moment. To do so only leads to fleshly striving. Rather, when He speaks a rhema word, we listen—we obey. Along with that word comes the empowerment we need to stay the course; without that help, we fail.

Viewing Others in Light of Christ’s Yoke

Likewise, as we look at others—their progress or seeming lack thereof—it’s important to realize we’re all at different stages of development. In need of different lessons from the Spirit, some more basic than others. In our churches, we won’t (with our worldly eyes) see these adults as the babes and toddlers and teens they really are in spirit. So we need God’s wisdom in the kind of nourishment we provide them, whether meat or milk (1 Corinthians 3:2).

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We all want to see the various members of our Christian family grow and thrive. Sometimes this leads us to load them with exhortations and expectations Christ hasn’t yet asked them to shoulder. Sometimes we ask them to run before they’ve learned to crawl. Sometimes we ask them to give Christ’s love to others before they’ve fully received it for themselves.

For the mature in Christ, we know when to take a brother’s exhortation as our own and when to lay it aside. But for the young in Christ, the immature—the broken—they might try to make themselves holy, answer every call to serve, and instead end up trusting in works—or else weighted by condemnation, crushed beneath an ever-more-impossible load.

Just as there surely is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens,” there is also a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3). Only the perpetually discerning in Christ—if there is such a one—will always know the difference. I’m still learning it myself.

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Lessons from Writing

As a writer with a mind to encourage and edify—and at times, to correct and instruct—I need to discern when to hit “publish” and when to trash that drafted post. Usually, I can tell when I’ve run ahead of God’s will in the writing, when the yoke has slipped from Christ’s shoulders and come to rest entirely on mine.

When that happens, I hit a rut in the formulation, sense my wheels begin to spin—and my engine to grind. It’s clear to me then that God is either saying, “no” to sharing that post, or else “not yet.”

There’s one post in particular I’ve tried to write a thousand times, but always it refused to hold together. One topic would splinter into ten until I was no longer certain I understood what I’d wanted to say. What had seemed so clear and simple in my mind muddied more the longer I mired through the writing. That was a clue that my efforts were being driven by willful striving and not by Christ.

Here’s a truth we probably all can embrace (expressed in first person if you care to confess): The world doesn’t need any fraction of my opinions or feeble thoughts. It doesn’t need my theological assessment of the Word or my opinions on tradition and dogma. It doesn’t need my advice on living the Christian life. The world doesn’t need me at all—but only Christ in me.

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The Key to Effective Exhortation: Humility

Acknowledging this, we may remain humble enough that Christ can use us to speak truth. We’re not the force for change; we know only He can do it. So our focus must remain on Him and not on any weaknesses or lack of change in those around us. Otherwise, it’s easy to allow judgment to take root. To start thinking, “this mess I see isn’t the way it’s supposed to be,” and to set out to help the masses (or even the one) understand whatever change we think they need.

The more certain I sound in my own mind as I imagine instructing others, the more likely I’m wrong (1 Corinthians 8:2). (Pride blinds us.)

In the same way, the more demanding I get, the more pressure I begin to apply, the less likely my urges are driven by Christ, and by His love. (2 Corinthians 4:2) Though it’s not our job to convince or to bring conviction, we sometimes feel it is.

Lessons from Parenting

I recall moments of lecturing my daughter in hopes she would understand deep truths and reform her ways. (Ha! She’s four!) Other times I’ve succumbed to my impatience—when I tell my daughter to “just do” what I’m asking. And I tell her, and tell her, and tell her again—all in a short timespan.

But she’s just not “there” yet. Not ready.

And what she needs—instead of my lecturing and nagging—is an experience with unconditional love.

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I always repent for these bouts of selfish parenting, asking my daughter’s forgiveness—and God’s as well—for my unloving impatience. And with His help, I set forth to do better.

Attitude Matters

Frustrated. Impatient. Driven to produce change…

We can get that way, too, in the body of Christ. So eager for people to attain to full maturity—to move on to the greater works that we apply inadvertent pressure in place of love. Exhortation in place of true discipleship. If we hammer the same admonitions over and again, they quickly grow tired from overuse. But what is it that really inspires change in the hearts of men? Not a knowledge of their many shortcomings, but a life-changing knowledge of Him.

Matthew 28:18 (“…Therefore go and make disciples…”) is a popular verse I’ve heard used many times to hammer the need for more evangelism and personal witnessing. However, “witnessing” and “making disciples” are not synonymous. One amounts to speaking or proclaiming, while the other involves a coming alongside—as in two yoked.

Our personal witness is surely a part of what it means to be disciples of Christ, yet Jesus’s model for discipling others was never solely about simply telling them what to do. There was also a critical demonstrative component—of taking under the wing. Jesus walked alongside His chosen disciples, modeled the Christian life, and empowered them to walk it out.

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This is my aspiration for relating to my daughter. To speak truth without pressure when the time seems right. To demonstrate that same truth in the way we do life: together. To embody Christ’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance—without which no man or woman that ever lived could find the hope for walking in true righteousness.

I would suggest, if we find ourselves repeating the same truths to the same crowd without any fruit besides our own worsened mood, we may be pushing, not God’s will, but our own agendas. Or else we’re taking the wrong approach.

Just as I’ve done, from time to time, with my precious daughter.

The good news is, my daughter knows we’re both a work in progress. From my failures confessed, she knows I need Jesus just as much as any girl her age—we’re in this together!

That, too, is a lesson for how to speak the truth in love (from one sinner to another). If we presume to teach, we must remain humble. The child in Christ who’s being taught wants to know their earthly teachers have shared in the same struggles they now face. That they understand—and remember—what it’s like to wrestle with truth. Not only that, but everyone wants to be known as a unique individual—not just a roll of dough for an identical cookie-cutter fit or another pair of hands for the Christian work the church-at-large needs fulfilled.

We each are unique individuals. Consequently, there’s no one size fits all, whether in the path we each take, our best fit for effective discipleship, or the particular ways in which we serve.

Our words should be tailored to the uniqueness of each individual.

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Corrective Measures: Final Thoughts

Correction is a natural inclination for many. I’ve come to think, however, that if we’ve never struggled with a certain sin, we might not be the ones called to spotlight someone else’s personal failings. Reason being, if we’ve never struggled in that way, we might not be capable of speaking in love rather than judgment. However subtle and deeply buried any sense of superiority may be, it still filters through to those we think we’re helping. (Lord, have mercy!)

Instead, I believe it’s more typical that those whom God has delivered from specific sins, He sends to those still enslaved by them. And those whom God has brought through certain trials, He sends to comfort and encourage those still oppressed by similar trials. Those who have lived an experience know the struggles inherent in walking that path, which makes them more likely to speak in love and less likely to judge any lack of progress.

Job’s friends, for example, having never experienced the devastation and loss he’d just suffered, were ill equipped to aid their oppressed friend.

Instead of helping him, they judged him.

Likewise, I’ve heard some say the people of God should never be depressed—that this emotion has no place in God’s family. I wonder, though, how Jesus felt in that garden as He sweated drops of blood. How He felt on the cross as He cried out, “My God”—and not My Father—in that moment of experiencing His utter abandonment.

Jesus experienced all this so He could understand the full spectrum of humanity’s plight and emotions. These challenging events expanded His ability to empathize and understand. This, then, is the way God equips us to help others. Not in our own strength, but in the strength He provides as we overcome life’s troubling curveballs. Strengthened in our trials in order to strengthen others in theirs.

We are comforted to be a comfort. Loved to show love. Whatever we have received we give freely. But we can never give what we haven’t received—and thus don’t have.

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And that brings us full circle.

Jesus is the only one equipped to determine the exact specifications of our particular yoke. The only one who sees our heart, understands where we’ve been, and where we’re going. He’s the only one who knows the right words for each moment—the only one whose words are always accompanied, not by condemnation, but by Holy Spirit conviction and the power to change.

So, let us follow His lead in helping others just as we follow His lead when He helps us. Let us be discerning in our correction of others, so we really are speaking truth in love. Sometimes encouragement is more appropriate than correction or exhortation. Sometimes silent empathy and listening ears—especially listening to understand, perhaps even to change our own perceptions—greater than speech. Let us be wise in our correction of others to ensure we aren’t requiring them to give more in any moment than what Jesus has seen fit. Let us keep in step with our humble Lord, shouldering whatever yoke He gives for Today and not tomorrow—and quickly heed whatever rhema words He’s provided as our daily bread.

I certainly don’t have all the answers—not everything in my thoughts here may stand the test of time. But I hope this post will serve as food for thought both for those struggling in the Christian life and those inclined to instruct others.

Contraindicated Exhortations?

Exhortations can be problematic, but they aren’t always contraindicated. Indeed, they permeate the Bible—and we dare not ignore the Word of God! But Jesus never meant for us to overcome every obstacle all at once. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have told His disciples—and I believe us—“I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear” (John 16:12). That’s why He gave us His Spirit, ready and wiling to guide us, step by step. Not on our timescale—or our brothers’ or sisters’, or our pastor’s or parents’—but on His.

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All these biblical exhortations might be summed up in the following command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What a tall command!

I know from experience—it’s easy to read all those exhortations and either judge others or ourselves. As a former self-condemnation addict, I’ve been encouraged, however, to learn a little more about Hebrew thought and the clues it provides about how we might view these imperatives in light of our ongoing struggles.

According to Torah Life Ministry, “Hebrew [thinking] sees a thing not just as it appears in the moment…, but from its tiniest seed form all the way through to when it reaches full maturity. This is a critical distinction… seeing things from God’s eternal… vs. man’s temporal perspective.”

Imagine that. God looks at us and sees His finished work. Before the seed in our hearts has even split, He sees the bloom, the fruit. But it’s more than that.

All those exhortations that seem to demand instant change—they’re all a part of our lifelong process of sanctification, maturing in Christ.

And that passage that sums them up? What does it mean to be perfect anyway?

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The word translated as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is teleios, defined in Strong’s Concordance as “having reached its end, i.e. complete, by extension perfect.” HELPS Word Studies explains it as “mature…from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal, [that is] by fulfilling the necessary process (spiritual journey).”

It goes on to say, “This root (tel-) means “reaching the end (aim).” It is well-illustrated with the old pirate’s telescope, unfolding (extending out) one stage at a time to function at full-strength (capacity effectiveness).”

So, teleios, like a telescopic view into the future, highlights the ultimate goal we’re moving toward—not our current reality. It emphasizes, not in-the-moment perfection, but the need for steady growth under the guidance of His yoke.

Not the growth we or others decide—not with blooms in the winter, but in the perfect timing of a God-ordained spring.

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So you see, “Be perfect” really means He’s going to make us perfect. It doesn’t mean we listen to the Word and do nothing. But we also know we can’t do everything. Rather, we keep our eyes open for the seeds He’s planting in our hearts, and we do our part, accepting those truths, lessons, or trials by faith (James 1:21). Then little by little—sometimes so imperceptibly that our natural minds can’t measure any progress—new seeds are planted and others grow.

In the body of Christ, by words spoken with discerning love, one person plants and another waters. But we know God alone can bring the growth. So let us commit ourselves to remain connected to Him, submitting to His yoke—His rhema commands—rather than attempting to achieve all teleios-perfection all at once. If we do this, continually asking for his help, we’ll find Him faithful to finish the good work He’s begun (Philippians 1:6).

Let’s Pray!

Lord Jesus, help each one of us to keep in step with You, neither falling behind—when You give us a “now” word to obey—nor straining ahead to achieve on our own what only You can work in and through us. Help us to abide, to remain connected to the Vine. To receive the daily bread—that is, Your rhema words for each one of us as unique individuals—to give us strength and wisdom for each day. Continue to guide and grow us by Your good Spirit until we all attain to maturity in You. And show us how we might edify others in Your wisdom and strength and not our own. In Your name we pray. Amen.

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Additional Reading:

>>> More about yokes

>>> More about rhema

>>> My post on trials as seeds

On what it means to really listen:

Articles I hope to read & contemplate in more depth:

Seeds in the Waiting

Friends, God has me in a season of waiting, of going underground. And you know what that means? Seeds. Roots. Trust in the darkness. Sprouts that lead to shoots, to blooms. Something new is coming. And not something I’m working in myself—as if such a thing could be good—but something God is working in me.

I once told a friend that a bud is like a promise that won’t be denied. But before the bud, comes the seed. Such as: A seed of desire—so long as it’s born of and submitted to God. The seed of suffering—which tests our faith and brings forth perseverance, character, and hope. A seed of encouragement from a friend—which very well may represent a timely word from God. A circumstantial change. A scripture that jumps off the page. A prayer inspired by God that He’s just begging to answer.

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In this moment, certain promises are waiting in seed form in my life. How about you? What seeds is God working in you? Do they bring you excitement, joy—expectation? Or have you discounted the day of small beginnings—the mustard seed of faith? Are you stuck in the darkness of a tomb or an ark, unable to see beyond the endless floodwaters or the musty grave?

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Where God allows “death,” I believe He means to bring life, presuming we cooperate—submit. If we trust and abide in Him, whatever “death” He brings will always lead to something better. And even when we don’t fall in line, He can change our hearts and minds—and renovate our perspectives—just as He did with the prodigal son.

Friends, is there something God is asking you to set aside? Has a door of seeming opportunity been closed against your will? When God hems you in, it’s meant to bring about fresh growth—new life. No one ever said it was pleasant navigating the birth canal. Not pleasant, but necessary for new life.

Over the past year and half, God has shattered my idols in order to bring emotional healing and unprecedented freedom. He’s inspired me to trust, to believe in prayer like never before. He gave me a story to write—then bled the inspiration necessary to carry it through to the end. But even in this I glorify God. For where, once, I would’ve despaired at the sacrifice of my idol, my stories, I now glory in the freedom to trust God’s perfect plan for each day.

He took my writing away at a time I was growing busy in other ways. And in the loss, taught me lessons more valuable than any published novel in the world. Because I’m growing in Him. Seeing evidence of His work in my life—and O how faithful He’s been!

He took the writing, before giving me another task I hadn’t expected—nor had I known how much it would bless me. He took the class I was facilitating at church before I knew I would need the reprieve. And then He allowed a strange Christmas Eve day gift in the form of an ER visit far from home, but not far from family.

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In the waiting room, intense pain guided the essence of my pitiful prayers—“Let it be soon, Lord Jesus. Give me a room.” Yet there was no room. Ironic. Not enough rooms in the ER. And my acute dilemma, while incredibly painful (and easily fixable—at least temporarily, or so I soon learned), wasn’t immediately life threatening; I didn’t merit urgent care. I was forced to wait.

Now I can’t stop thinking about the symbolism of waiting in the “waiting room” during a season of waiting. Amidst that lingering pain, I considered fellow Christians in nations hostile to Christ, suffering—tortured. “How can they stand it?” Because I wasn’t standing my own pain very well; I could think of little else. Little else but to pray and hope that the next name called would be mine. I was “helpless,” you see—but not without Help.

The Bible says we’re blessed when we’re persecuted. But does that mean the vast majority of Christians in the US aren’t blessed in this way? This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Because ultimately, all persecution comes from the same source: our adversary, the father of lies, demon Lucifer himself.

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Just because we aren’t persecuted by men doesn’t mean we don’t suffer for Christ. When we pray in the quiet of our home, does Satan not see our faith—our devotion—and scream bloody revenge? I think of Job, who didn’t suffer what we would consider traditional persecution—and yet he was blessed in the end. And not just in worldly terms: the restored fortunes and more, the flourishing family. No. The greatest blessing he received was a greater revelation of the Great I Am.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The word for “trials” here can mean a temptation or a test and includes disaster and affliction. With Job as our model, a trial could be physical violence by men (e.g., persecution), natural disaster, or sickness and disease. And these are the things we’re to count as pure joy? Yes.

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It’s not the good times that force us to rely on God, but the times of difficulty and distress. Such trials test our faith—pose the unstated question: What do you REALLY believe? Do we really believe God is good? Do we really believe He has our best interests at heart? Do we really trust Him to work on our behalf? Even, perhaps, if our own sins have contributed to our lack of success?

Perhaps the answer to those questions for you turns out to be “no,” you don’t believe. If so, don’t despair. Looking back on my own journey, I recall many times of uncertainty, of questioning and doubt. The truth is, the success of man’s journey has never depended “on human desire or effort, but [rather] on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16).

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Do you understand that the very faith God tests amidst these trials is a gift straight from heaven? Our goal has never been to become self-made individuals, but to let the Potter have His way—to be His handiwork. If the seed of faith God granted wasn’t enough to sustain our wayward hearts through the last trial, that doesn’t mean God failed. Only He knows what seeds of truth each trial implanted in our hearts—gifts to be unpackaged when the time is right.

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Take a look again at the words of James 1:3-4, this time in the Berean Literal Translation: “knowing that testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The word for PRODUCES means “to work out” (a la Philippians 2:12, see below) and seems to indicate an ongoing process of refinement. HELPS Word Studies says, “2716 katergázomai (from 2596 /katá, “down, exactly according to,” intensifying 2038/ergázomai, “work, accomplish”) – literally, “work down to the end-point,” i.e. to an exact, definite conclusion (note the prefix, 2596 /katá); bring to decisive finality (end-conclusion).”

Just because we haven’t reached that definite end-point yet doesn’t mean we won’t.

Too often we may look at either ourselves or others and judge them for where they are along the journey. Perhaps that judgment itself is an indication of where we or they are, since I’ve glimpsed what it is to move past such mindsets. The point is, none of us has arrived at that perfect decisive end—yet. Rather, in Philippians 2:12, we’re told to katergazesthe—to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. But do we really work our own salvation to a definite end? Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who energōn—who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”

And “energéō (from 1722 /en, “engaged in,” which intensifies 2041 /érgon, “work”)” means—according to HELPS Word Studies—“properly, energize, working in a situation which brings it from one stage (point) to the next, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.”

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If the analogy provokes thoughts of the Vine and the Branches—“without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)—that’s good. Because God not only plants every seed—or grafts every wilted shoot. He also provides the energizing force behind each growth spurt. If our trust is misplaced (take Philippians 2:12 without the next verse), no amount of our own work will bring us to that next advanced stage.

So… If you’ve observed a seed of God’s work in your life, put your trust in Him, ask for His help, and then—and only then, looking to Him, leaning on Him—work out your own salvation. To be sure, those who seek God—who submit and persist—can be confident of this: “that He who began a good work in [them]”—that good work being a seed, rich with a promise—“will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

That, my friends, is the power of a seed.

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I’d love to hear in the comments whatever seeds God is working or already worked in your life. Let’s encourage one another with testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the waiting.

An Abiding Peace (of mind)

On a recent trip to Florida, while staying at a hotel the night before my flight home, I found myself in a hot tub alone. There, the thrumming jets transformed the clear green water into a foaming white froth. I had been seeking God’s will for my life—in particular, hoping to learn to hear His voice better: Devouring every resource I could find. Striving to discern that little voice in my mind (or through my reading) that may or may not be God. Constantly questioning if I was doing all I could to hear—and hearing right.

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Amidst the solitude, warmth, and the bubbling hum of churning water commanding my full attention, a clear thought crystallized: “This is your mind.” Immersed in the boiling jets with turbulent currents buffeting my skin, the meaning was clear.

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Tarássō / Troubled

My mind. Always in motion. Rarely settled.

Always studying, questioning, striving, reaching. Ever searching for another glimpse of God’s work in my life—or a hint of His direction for future action. Always striving to be proactive. Even when my goal has been to abide in Him.

My mental norm, in a word: Restless. The Greek root tarássō (from John 14:27, to be discussed below) adequately conveys this state of mind, which according to HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) can mean the following:

“properly, put in motion (to agitate back-and-forth, shake to-and-fro); (figuratively) to set in motion what needs to remain still (at ease); to “trouble” (“agitate”), causing inner perplexity (emotional agitation) from getting too stirred up inside (“upset”).”

Though I crave pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), it seems I often churn it into butter! I turn God’s Word (and my walk with Him) into a sticky, viscous mess that’s hard to navigate. In lieu of the simplicity of trusting in Him, I revert to complex rules and regulations that stretch my intellect to the max. While my flesh tries to divine the exact ways to act and the exact prayers to pray under a diverse multitude of circumstances, God gives me this simple equation: “You + Me = Success.” 

Eirḗnē / Peace & Wholeness

Clearly this hot tub analogy bears a negative connotation. Surely it’s not the state of mind God intended for His children. After all, what did Jesus say in His parting speech to His disciples just prior to His arrest?

PEACE [Eirēnēn] I leave with you; My peace [eirēnēn] I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be TROUBLED [tarassesthō], nor let it be fearful [deiliatō].” John 14:27

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Rather than allowing our minds to be stirred up in agitation, Jesus calls us to manifest the same inner peace He Himself displayed (Mark 4:35-41). The Greek word translated as peace in this verse (eirēnēn) can mean “one, peace, quietness, rest.” HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) says it like this:

“eirḗnē (from eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole”) – properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace (God’s gift of wholeness).”

Wholeness? I don’t know about you, but that’s not the definition I expected. Nevertheless, even the well-known Hebrew word shalom connotes “completeness” along with soundness, welfare, and peace. 

Furthermore, if peace is wholeness, then surely it has no place apart from Him since, from the very beginning, man was made to live in communion with God. Jesus says in His pre-arrest speech, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But when we’re joined/married with Him (Ephesians 5:31-32)? Then we merge our meager resources with His. Our blindness with His sight. Our weakness with His strength. When our very being—like a branch to a vine—is linked to Him, we’ll find we have all we need.

But what’s the caveat? Remember my thoughts from above? Gods-math

That simple equation (“You + Me = Success”) paints a picture of wholeness, BUT… it requires humility and trust. The humility to recognize our deficiency as compared with His power. The honesty to recognize our inadequacy apart from Him.

The Path of Understanding?

It seems human nature to equate uncertainty with stress. An uncertain future. Our plans up in the air. Confusion over the path ahead. Or maybe we’re stuck in circumstantial discomfort. This manner of logic presupposes UNDERSTANDING to be the ultimate pathway for finding peace. Isn’t this the way our human brains think? 

In ignorance (or arrogance), we believe we can orchestrate our own lives, but Proverbs 20:24 says, A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, we often think we need to scrutinize our choices before we take that first step, but Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

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In my early graduate school days, newly acquainted with the idea that believers can actually hear from God, I struggled and strived to make His voice a reality in my life. Most of those efforts ended in frustration. In the book I’m reading now about hearing God’s voice, the author expresses his belief that God is always speaking but we don’t often recognize Him as the source.

This reminds me of a time a few months back when I was praying on the way to church one Sunday, interceding for the service and asking God to prepare our hearts for Him—to shake off what could be shaken so we would see Him more clearly (paraphrase). For some reason (in part because He’d unexpectedly prompted me to prophecy in church on a previous Sunday—something I never would’ve imagined myself doing in the past), I asked Him to give me a clear sign if He wanted me to share that prayer with the church. To my surprise, one of the church leaders began the service by announcing we would have an open mic up front for people to share anything God might’ve laid on their heart!

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Knowing I would go up, I worshipped for a time in preparation. As sometimes happens, I felt His Spirit with me—a confirmation like a tightening in the gut and a shaking beneath His power, though I wasn’t shaking in fear. For me, He often brings His words in a flurry of fresh writing, but not this time. This time, the writing was a flurry of recollection, remembering the prayer I had prayed in the car. That written message is what I shared. After the service, a number of people told me they believed what I spoke was a genuine word from God.

What amazes me about that experience is that I had no idea those words I was praying were from God. Somehow, I’d been so in touch with His heart that He spoke His words through me without me knowing it. Later, in the midst of my more recent struggles to hear His voice, I wrote this in my journal: I’ve been so concerned about hearing from God, but hasn’t He shown me that He can so insert Himself into my thoughts that I pray His heart without knowing it? Am I so powerful I can keep God from getting through to me when He knows I WANT to know and do His will?

Trusting Our Thoughts or Trusting His?

The point in this story (tying it back to Proverbs 3:5-6) is that God didn’t need my intellect and understanding to be engaged at all in order for Him to steer me. Indeed, a reflection on my past proves that God was guiding me all along.

Is it wrong, then, to try and understand our own path?

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In general, I would say no—except when our search for understanding leads us to stray from His peace. After all, there will be times in our lives when He hasn’t given us to understand the reasons behind our day-to-day struggles. In those times—even in the fog and seemingly senseless trials; even in those seasons when we’re not confident we’re hearing His voice at all—He wants us to trust in Him because of who He is: All-powerful. Faithful. Merciful. Kind. Always working for our good. (More on His attributes here.)

The real question is this: Do we spend as much time pondering who God is (e.g.worthy of awe) as we do trying to discern our purpose and our future? Do we meditate on our own thoughts and logic more than we meditate on His (John 15:7)? Are we focused more on pointing our compass toward success than aligning our life with His person—His character (Psalm 103:7)?

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Interestingly, the word translated as acknowledge” [yada] in Proverbs 3:5-6 means “to know (by experience); to perceive, see, find out, and discern; to recognize, admit, acknowledge, and confess.” John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

When we know God, truly know Him as He is, we’ll have no difficulty entrusting our lives to Him. Even in periods of silence, though we desperately long for a word from Him, we’ll be able to let go and rest in the knowledge that He is bigger than our concerns—that His presence far surpasses our need for answers. In the silence, as we read His word, obeying Him to the best of our understanding, His peace overcomes our restless thoughts in the knowledge that we’re not alone as orphans. Rather, we have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father in Jesus’s name to teach us all things and to remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14:26).

In short, peace of mind doesn’t come from reasoning out the logic of our life circumstances while determining the safest pathway ahead; it is born in a relationship of simple trust summed up in this equation: God + Me = Success. 

Success-relationship

How about you? What topics tend to trip you up? What situations send your thoughts spiraling into a turbulent tailspin? Share in the comments or contact me here for prayer.

If you’re currently stuck in a bubbling-hot-tub mentality, consider making this your prayer:

Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. Interlude

Rest-in-Him

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