I recently read a book by A.W. Tozer called The Pursuit Of God. Very few books have wrecked me so entirely as this one did. I highlighted the crap out of this book, and I read one particular chapter over six times just to let it sink in and begin changing me. I wish I could just cut and paste the whole chapter here for you to read, but I’m sure there are some sort of pesky copyright laws that would frown on me for doing that. Instead I will do my best to share his message with you in a condensed and clear way. I wish I could say I came up with this all by myself, but alas I’m just the feeble messenger… I’m only passing along to you what God has been teaching me…
A fairly accurate description of the human race would be to take a list of every virtue… every definition of what is pure and right and good… Flip that list wrong side out and say, “Here is your human race.” The exact opposite of virtuous qualities are the things that distinguish human life and conduct. In this world, we find nothing close to the virtues that Jesus described in His most famous sermon in the Bible (Matthew 5). Instead of humility, we all battle ugly pride. Instead of meekness, we are arrogant. Instead of relying on God, we chase after control and insist we are fine and doing a great job taking care of ourselves. Instead of mercy, we see cruelty everywhere. Instead of pure hearts, our thoughts and imaginations are black deep down in the hidden secret places of our hearts. Instead of peacemakers, we are quarrelsome and resentful. Instead of turning the other cheek and letting God be the judge, we fight back with every weapon at our command. This is our world… our culture… our society. As Tozer puts it, “The atmosphere is charged with it. We breathe it with every breath; we drink it with our mother’s milk. Culture and education refine these things slightly but leave them basically untouched. A whole world of literature has been created to justify this kind of life as the only normal one.”
The problem is that the majority of our heartaches, stress, and unhappiness come directly from this. Pride, arrogance, pretense, artificiality, resentfulness, greed, etc… These are the sources for more pain in our lives than any disease. The burden we carry as slaves to our own ugliness is a crushing thing. We carry it, stumble under the weight of it, and won’t let go of it to the point of complete exhaustion.
The burden of pride and self-love is heavy. As Tozer puts it, “Think for yourself whether much of your sorrow has not arisen from someone speaking slightingly of you. As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. How then can you hope to have inward peace? The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. Continue this fight through the years and the burden will become intolerable. Yet the sons of earth are carrying this burden continually, challenging every word spoken against them, cringing under every criticism, smarting under each fancied slight, tossing sleepless if another is preferred before them.”
Another burden is “pretense” and “artificiality.” We are always scrambling to appear as something we’re not (or a better than what we are). We can never relax and just be who we are, because the fear of being found out or “one-upped” gnaws at us. This is what drives all our actions, our whole society, and every bit of marketing. Books, clothes, cosmetics, electronics, real estate, etc… are sold by continually playing on our desires to keep up appearances and remain ahead of our peers. We are constantly on edge and fearful that someone will find out who we really are underneath the well-presented exterior. These burdens are real, and little by little they kill us in an unnatural way. We don’t even see it, because we’re so immersed in it and used to it that living without this burden seems like an unreal and unattainable dream. The world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense, and we find no release from it. It’s such a strong vice that if we push it down in one area, it pops up in another.
Jesus said a weird thing in His most famous sermon. He said “Come unto me all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you REST. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Because my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” And we all scratch our heads and give a collective, “Whaaaat the what…..??!” How can He put burden and yoke together in the same statement as light and rest?? This is where I get excited….
True rest is simply a release of the burden we’ve strapped ourselves to and instead hitching ourselves to a life that Jesus demonstrates for us… Meekness. Don’t confuse meekness with mousy doormat or pushover. They aren’t even close to the same thing. A meek person doesn’t care who is better than him/her, because they’ve already realized the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. Tozer says, “The meek man develops toward himself a kindly sense of humor and learns to say, ‘Oh, so you’ve been overlooked? They have placed someone else before you? They have whispered that you are pretty small stuff after all? And now you feel hurt because the world is saying about you the very things you have been saying about yourself? Only yesterday you were telling God that you were nothing, a mere worm of the dust. Where is your consistency? Come on, humble yourself and cease to care what men think.’ The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life.”
When we know and accept that we are both weak and helpless and yet also of great value and importance to God and able to do great things with His strength (what a great and mysterious paradox), then we can shake off a brutally heavy yoke that is driving us into the ground. We know the world will never see us as God sees us, but we have the freedom to stop caring and striving. We can finally find the thing we wish so badly for… REST. We can throw down that harness that has been killing us and step into the harness that Jesus has waiting for us. You might say, “I won’t be harnessed by anything! I am free to be my own man.” I’d say you are a slave to yourself, and if you are anything like me, your own self is a brutal task master who claws at your self esteem more viciously than anyone else. You will be a slave to someone. It’s a fact. You can be a slave to yourself, a slave to the world, or a slave to God. Jesus says his yoke is light. It provides true freedom, but it requires work. It is a hard fought battle to be free of these burdens. It takes effort. If it were simple, we’d all snap our fingers and do it. I’d venture to say we CAN’T do it in our own strength. I know people who profess to be free of all these burdens, but I witness enough of their words and actions to read between the lines and know that in the dark hours of the night, they know in their hearts they are crushed under the weight of it. They’ve just forgotten what real freedom feels like. Whose yoke do you choose? Freedom, rest, and simplicity… where you must submit to a God who is greater than you? Or striving under the weight of pride, arrogance, and pretense… in which you declare yourself the god of your life?
While you still breathe, it is NEVER to late to walk away from the task master who hurls insults, drags you down, and slowly kills you. It is NEVER too late to instead place yourself in the hands of a Master who speaks love and life and leads you to true rest. I have seen in my own life that this is what I need to do. It’s not an easy battle for me. I have to kill the little god I’ve set up in my own life, and she does not want to release her talons from my back. Maybe you are realizing the same thing. Maybe you and I both have some work to do in the hidden places of our hearts.