Since the new year, my life has been going at a break neck pace. There’s been the work of being a pastor, spending time with my family, kids involved in sports and music, a house renovation, and most recently a busy workshop/training schedule. Now, I know. Some of you are going to come straight to me after service and express your concern, tell me I need to slow down, stop helping so many people, stop doing extra things, focus on what is most important, and so on.
Well, the truth is that some of the break neck pace has been energizing, both mentally and spiritually. So, before you tell me to slow down, please know that I do take time off.
This weekend, I spent time with ministers and chaplains from Cabarrus County teaching them how to be more race-conscious in their pastoral care. It was an amazing time and by the end our training team received a standing ovation affirming the value and importance of our work! Yes, it was a lot of work, but the work is a part of who I am. It’s my passion. It’s not just something I do. It is who I am.
The next two days were spent with 22 young people teaching them about the history and legacy of race in our country and empowering them with tools to change the world. And they were soaking it up! And when after two days you see young people ready to go out and grab the world by its horns and change it for the better, well, you just get fired up!
So, I am tired from this fast paced busy weekend. But I am energized and inspired and full of hope! And on top of that, I plan to take tomorrow off!
Now sometimes I am busy and miserable and just need a break. (The last few weeks of my house renovation were like that!) But the flip side is that sometimes I can have a lot of idle time on my hands….and be just as miserable! In fact, sometimes when I have little to do and can just sit back and relax, I end up with a headache and feel terrible. It’s like my body is punishing me for resting.
I say, “Hey body, we’ve been way too busy lately. We need a break. You need a break.” And my body says, “No get up and do something with yourself. We’ll rest when we’re dead!” And I say back, “Yeah I’m not so good with that plan.” But body says, “Look, you don’t have to run a marathon. Just do something simple and small that you’ve been putting off. Straighten your office. Rake the leaves. Change a light bulb.” But I’m stubborn: “No, everyone keeps telling me to rest. So, that is what I am doing.” So body says, “Ok, I hate to do this to you…but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And if this is the only way to teach you, then so be it.” And BAM! I’ve got a massive headache. Like one of those headaches you get from sitting around too much, from watching too much TV, or just being too lethargic. The kind of headache that goes away with a good 20 minute run or walk around the block.
I know. It doesn’t make sense, but it happens! And here is why I think it happens. You see, it’s not just busy-ness that is bad. Being too busy can certainly be unhealthy. But so can idleness. What is it that proverbs says:
Lazinesss brings on deep sleep; an idle person will suffer hunger. (Proverbs 19:15)
Being idle for too long certainly does bring about some suffering and hunger. For me, it’s a suffering headache and hunger to get up and do something productive!
So, I think there is some balance. And so today I want to talk a bit about our life’s tempo. Tempo is about rhythm, pace, and speed of activity. Tempo reminds us of music. In music, tempo is critical to everything.
A song just isn’t the same if it is played too fast or too slow. Think about being at a deniers or service of remembrance and singing “It is Well” really, really fast. It just doesn’t work! Or how about Happy Birthday too slow? That just doesn’t send a celebratory message does it?! It is kind of depressing to hear folks sing that to you on your birthday.
So tempo reminds us that there is a pace that works well for every season, for every day or week perhaps. Sometimes life requires a fast tempo to really fill you up. And sometimes you need the rest and refreshment of a slower tempo. And if your tempo is too fast when you need slow or too slow when you need fast…well, it just kills those moments when we need to celebrate or remember.
So the pace of life at any given time matters much more than whether or not you appear to be busy to yourself or others. And I think Jesus knew this. Listen to what he says in Matthew 11:28…
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.”
If you are weary, burdened, come and I will give you rest. Well, it’s more than rest. The Greek word is ἀναπαύω (anapauo). It’s about refreshment, renewal, relief, and comfort. If you are weighed down by something – whether too fast a tempo or too slow a tempo – Jesus says he will give you relief from the weight. He will refresh your tempo.
How do I know this is not just about resting from too fast a tempo? Well listen to what Jesus says next”:
“Take my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle…my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Ok, so what is Jesus’ yoke? Well, let’s recall what Jesus called people to just a chapter earlier (Matthew 10):
- Go, proclaim the good news.
- Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
- And by the way, do it for nothing: You received without payment; give without payment.
- I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves
- You will be hated by all because of my name. But just endure it.
- When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next
Easy!? Gentle?! Sounds pretty heavy and burdensome and busy to me! And that’s not even one whole chapter! Are you kidding Jesus?!
- Sell everything, take up your cross and follow me. (Mark. 10:21)
- Blessed are the hungry, meek, poor, and persecuted. (Matt. 5:3-11)
- Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44)
What’s easy about any of these teachings?!?
Ok, so here’s the thing. The translation “easy” is really bad. It’s not that Jesus yoke is “easy.” A better translation would be “good” or “fitting”. That is, “My yoke is good for you. My yoke fits you just right.”
It’s not about ease so much as it is about tempo. Jesus’ yoke will get you in the right tempo of life. The tempo will fit you and will be good for you. And yes, it is more than tempo because it is also about the kind of work….its not just work-work or busy-work. It’s the God kind of work, Spirit-filled work, the make-the-world-better kind of work.
Nowhere in scripture does God or Jesus promise us an easy life. Instead, Jesus says if we come to him (think: follow his way, his teaching), then the yoke of following him will fit us just right. Not too fast. Not too slow. Just right. And it will change pace when needed because Jesus will be directing us just as a conductor slows the baton to tell the orchestra to reduce the tempo. Jesus watches us paying attention to the music of our life. And he knows just when to slow us down or speed us up.
All you and I have to do is what every good conductor tell his or her choir to do: WATCH! Watch Jesus. Follow his lead. Pray. Listen. Notice what the music of your life sounds like. There may be a slow song of remembrance playing, but you are going to fast. Or you may be ready to celebrate, but your tempo is not very celebratory.
Listen to your life. Follow Jesus. And together Jesus will yoke you into just the right tempo at just the right time.