My husband is a strong man. But, as our five children well know, he’s also a sentimental softie when we reach certain milestones. With each graduation, each moving out, and each wedding, there comes a moment when Jim will cry. Whether it be a speech or a toast or a quiet moment hugging goodbye, their big, strong father will break down in tears. This spring and summer, our youngest child graduated from college, will move to Austin to begin his new job, and marry his childhood sweetheart. It’s the Great Sentimental Milestone Trifecta. We’ll need tissues. Lots of them.
Jim’s tears spring from a deep well of love for our children. There are, however, tributaries of regret which flow through his heart. Opportunities missed, unfulfilled plans, whispers of inadequacy—did he do enough? Did he prepare them to go out and live in this world? Indeed, can any earthly father do enough?
Among the many word-pictures in scripture given to us to help us understand God, “Father” stands out. The first person of the Godhead isn’t only the Father to Christ, his eternal Son, but throughout scripture he calls himself Father to those he draws to himself, his adopted children. Through the prophet Hosea, God speaks these sweetly paternal words to Israel:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
. . . . it was I who taught Ephraim to walk;
I took them up by their arms,
. . . . I led them with cords of kindness,
with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:1, 3, 4)
A Father With No Regrets
Even though no earthly father can live up to the perfections of our heavenly Father, we still recognize in these tender passages the heart that beats in the chest of so many fathers we know and love. The imperfect love of our fathers points us to the perfect love of our heavenly Father, who will never weep for opportunities missed or hold regrets that he didn’t do enough for his beloved children…
“You sow, and you sow, and you sow, and much later you will reap.”
These words of life were spoken over me by an older friend of mine when I was a young mom to four children under five. The physical demands of rocking, holding, shushing, changing, and heavens to Betsy—the mealtime clean-up! There was never enough time to get all the spaghetti sauce off the baseboards nor pick every goldfish cracker up off of the floor.
My friend’s words stuck with me; during the exhausting days of new motherhood, the image of sowing seeds coupled with the hope of reaping filled me with joy while I served the Lord in my home. Her words gave me the big, long, biblical picture of discipleship.
God could use the seeds I was sowing with every wet wipe, every word of “Jesus Loves Me,” every ABC Bible Verse, and every sticky hand for His glory in the hearts of my children. I was sowing and making investments in the little disciples who filled up my lap.
As a pastor’s wife, I have been alongside many different people in ministry: Sunday School students, youth group students, young adults, and women of all ages and stages. Just as in parenting my own children, my tiny gospel investments have been human, exhausting, and imperfect—many times I have not gotten to see the end of the story—but thinking biblically about sowing and the One who does the reaping has given me the freedom to invest and rest as a kingdom laborer. God uses the tiny investments of ordinary laborers not because of who they are, but because He is the Lord of the harvest.
Discipleship is all about investing biblically and resting in the promises of a covenant-keeping God. He is faithful to His generational promise to redeem, deliver, and adopt the people He set apart before the fullness of time.
In discipleship, whether you are alongside your own children or involved in the life of another Christ-follower, the tiniest gospel investments are perfected in the big, long, biblical picture of God’s covenant promises to an imperfect people. God is the covenant-keeping God. He takes the tiniest, imperfect investments of covenant faithfulness and brings them to completion by His grace and mercy.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Resting in Covenant Promises
My sinful heart is prone to wander to unrest, which causes weariness in the sowing. In the flesh I want to fix things, hurry God’s plan with my human helping, complete a task on a discipleship-program-year timeline, and see the end of the story wrapped in a bow and with a cherry on top. Like Abram and Sarai, I want to nudge along the redemption process and give God a little bit of my own help.
Unrest is earthly behavior but developing a posture of rest is heavenly. Resting in God’s covenant promises is a spiritual discipline. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17).
In this life as a Christ-follower, you will sow, and you will sow, and you will sow, but much later you will reap. Much, much, later…
One of my favorite hobbies is hiking. The cool mountain air, the refreshing scent of pine, the sound of rushing water from a mountain stream, the exhilaration of reaching the summit—nothing is quite like it. This year, with so many activities shut down, our family even tried our hands (or feet) at winter hiking and found it to be a surprisingly peaceful way to experience God’s creation.
This spring, however, I was introduced to another new hiking experience. After a lifetime of hiking in the Rockies and Yellowstone, I had an opportunity to hike in a new environment, the desert. I’ll admit, I was somewhat biased. After all, while the mountains were equally as beautiful and rugged, they were speckled not with pine trees but tall shade-less cacti. Instead of scurrying squirrels, stealth geckos silently darted in and out from among the rocks, and the only water was the in the bottles we carried. It was in many ways a foreign experience, but my boys still climbed rocks, and the treeless landscape made the vast views spectacular. After a few different desert hikes, while a little sunburnt, I had a new appreciation for my favorite hobby in a new context.
Just like doing an activity in a new environment, confronting the issue of diversity in the body of Christ can be an uncomfortable activity. Different buildings (or none at all), music, worship styles, prayers, congregants, school choices, and political leanings are just a few of the challenges that can make us feel uneasy. While diversity is a “hot button” issue in secular society, it is not one we, as believers are at liberty to ignore. Consider the following:
Heaven will be filled with different music, languages, customs, etc. The book of Revelation mentions “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…” (7:9) as a result of the command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19).
Heaven will house people with whom we’ve disagreed on secondary matters. In Romans 14, Paul addressed such disagreements: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables…” (14:2). He emphasized the importance of their unity and appealed to their common faith in the Lord, … “we belong to the Lord” (v.8).
Heaven will host many ability levels and talents. As 1 Corinthians 12 relates, “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty. . . .God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:20-25)…
About seven years ago, I cleaned out my parent’s house, my childhood home. It took about a month to declutter, box up various belongings, and then fix, paint, and re-carpet the house to sell. Through the years, I’d heard folks talk about similar circumstances and the stress that accompanies this stage in life, and while I felt sympathy, I felt little empathy. Their exhausted faces connected only as a distant reality.
But then at age 35, with three young kids in tow, it was no longer a future prospect. My father passed away, and my mother was incapacitated and needed a better environment for around the clock care.
I don’t remember a more vexing time than this. On day one of cleaning out, I was savoring every fork and every dish towel. I wanted to find a home for everything. By day fourteen, I hated all the forks. I cried over letters I found from my father, poured over old pictures of less weighty days, and debated what items were valuable. Eventually, I threw away all the forks.
When the “sold” sign was displayed in the front lawn and the last box taken to Goodwill, a friend called and said, “You need a vacation.”
I was tired, yes, and a trip out of town seemed appropriate. But the kind of rest that accompanies a vacation wasn’t ultimately the kind of rest I needed. My soul longed for deep, spiritual rest. I spent months questioning the Lord’s plan, neglecting time in His Word, and suppressing frustration toward my simultaneous responsibilities as a daughter and a young mother. In short, I was spiritually weary.
Reasons We Become Spiritually Weary
Life’s burdens can be overwhelming, but they don’t automatically lead to spiritual weariness. Because of this, it’s important to acknowledge some of the reasons we get to this point.
Neglect of Physical Rest – Jesus Himself physically rested on several occasions. He is fully God and fully man, yet without sin. So, when he fell asleep in a boat (Luke 8), and when He left the crowds to be alone to talk with His Father (Luke 5:16), Jesus was not doing anything wrong nor was He displaying weakness. The Creator did what was good and right to do.
Neglecting physical rest can too easily lead to spiritual weariness. We become so work obsessed that our computers stay open until late hours, and the hamster wheel becomes so routine, we begin to idolize our busyness. Physical rest is never a waste of time and neglecting it can leave us feeling spiritually dry…
As a science major, I spent my fair share of time in chemistry classes during college. I wish I could say that I draw heavily from my hours of past study in my present life in ministry and motherhood; however, outside of recognizing organic chemistry nomenclature in cleaning ingredient lists, that degree is gathering dust. The one lasting impression left on my life from years of chemistry is a deep desire for life to balance like an equation.
As strange as it sounds, I loved stoichiometry. If you stared long enough and thought hard enough, you could find out exactly where everything belonged. It might have taken some trial and error, but chemical equations could be perfectly balanced.
Unbeknownst to me, I have carried such a chemical approach into calendaring and life. I keep thinking that if I could simply buy the right calendar or rearrange the pieces of my life enough, I would find the balance our culture touts and trains us to find. Perhaps you are like me. Perhaps you are drawn to cute calendars and colored pens because you desperately want to achieve the perfect balance of work and rest.
Unfortunately, life is not stoichiometry. Souls and sentient life are so much harder to pin down and arrange.
When Balance Betrays Us
Balance and efficiency, in and of themselves, are not wrong. In fact, we desire them because God ordered the world that we might have them. In fact, in the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, we see a beautiful balance of work and rest. God gloriously created the earth and all it boasts. Then he stopped and savored the fullness of the fruits of his labor. Adam and Eve were invited into such a rhythm of careful, yet carefree work and rest. Just as God had balanced the earth on its axis, humanity experienced a God-enabled, God-created balance.
When we betrayed our Creator, our balance betrayed us. Labor became laborious. Work became wearying (Genesis 3). Separated from our Master and our metronome, human hearts went haywire, as did the human approach to work and rest. Ever since then, we have sought to return to the life we left on our own strength and by our own devices…