It’s Not Really Up To Me

A well-meaning advisor at my high school gifted me a coffee cup depicting one colorful woman amidst a jumbled crowd of outline people. She is holding up a sign that proclaims, “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!”  This message resonated with me. I was proud that my advisor had noticed my dedication to picking up the slack and worked even harder to prove my new life motto true.

In college and early adulthood I enjoyed the doors that opened because I was a dedicated, hard-working perfectionist. But as my life responsibilities increased I didn’t always have enough time and energy to pick up all the slack. The burden I carried started to feel heavy.  But I was afraid to find out what would happen if I failed to do it all. (I was once asked in a job interview which was more important: turning in perfect work or meeting a deadline. I was shocked at having to choose. To this day I have no idea if I answered correctly, even though I got the job!) My passion started to wane as my stress climbed, but I kept pressing on. After all, it was up to me to make things happen.

One day a friend directed me to Jesus’ offer of far more life:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT)

I was familiar with this passage. It’s likening our life with Jesus to a pair of oxen, joined by a wooden yoke that keeps them close together and working as a single unit.

My friend asked me to describe the yoke I thought God was asking me to wear.  I pictured a bulky device that was heavy and uncomfortable. She said she used to think of her yoke like that, too. But now she imagines it being as light as a silk scarf.  Those ideas were so far apart that one of us had to be very wrong!

It turns out there are different styles of yokes used for different tasks. But a proper fit is critical; a yoke should never cause discomfort or be too heavy. It should help equally-matched oxen work at full potential without causing any harm. Some yokes allow more freedom of movement; others require the oxen to go exactly where the farmer commands.

God was not asking me to take on a yoke that would add to my load, rather He was offering to ease my load. He was offering far more life. As I wrestled with this new idea, it became clear that “If it’s gonna be it’s up to me!” was an ill-fitting yoke that was adding to my burden. Perhaps it was robbing me of far more life that Jesus offered. Was it really up to me?

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

I had always felt responsibility pile up when I read this verse. I had to finish the jobs on God’s to do list; I was under a deadline and had a lot of work to do. But what if that wasn’t God’s meaning? What if, while there are definitely things that I need to do, ultimately if it’s gonna be it’s up to God? What if I have a role to play in the projects He orchestrates, but HE’S going to make sure it gets done? And what if He knows my limits and ensures that my assigned tasks are not too much? That they strengthen me rather than break me? This new interpretation meant that God had custom-fitted yokes ready for me. He knew exactly what was needed and wanted to equip me to work at my full potential with Him.  He was offering me far more life!

I have since realized that when I am stressed, irritable, or apathetic — or if I feel a certain heaviness in my chest — I am struggling under that old yoke again. At those times I need to follow the instructions in Matthew and go to Him, rest in Him. I need to ask, “What am I taking on that is not my burden to carry?” and then analyze my life to figure out which commitments or responsibilities (or even mental pressures) are weighing me down. When I release those and join God in the yoke He custom-designed for me, the work becomes rewarding again. I feel my passion return. And I experience far more life!

Sisters,
I promised that on this journey to far more life you would lose some baggage.
Have you, too, fallen for the lie “if it’s gonna be it’s up to me”?
Are you carrying too much?
Is your passion drowning under the weight of your yoke?
If so, go to God.
Rest in Him.
Lay down your ill-fitted yoke and join Him in the one He custom-fit to you.
Take a step away from a burdened life.
And a step toward far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso
Note: I gave away my mug a few years ago. I found this photo at an on-line auction site.

What is Far More Life?

One of my favorite Bible verses is John 10:10 where Jesus says, “I came to bring them life, and far more life than before” (Phillips). Did you catch that: Jesus brought us FAR MORE LIFE! But “far more” in what sense? There are some parts of life where far more is appealing. And other parts where far more would be overwhelming. Maybe your life is good. Or at least good enough. But what if it could be better? 

First Jesus offers life, not the physical life we are already experiencing, rather spiritual life. We have some good experiences in life, but in our hearts we know something is missing or dead. A meaning, a purpose, a connection. The Apostle Paul explained, “We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you” (Ephesians 2:4-5 CEV). It’s God, our Creator, that is missing! Sin separates from God even though a part of us longs to connect with Him. In His wonderful kindness, God made a way for us to reconnect through Jesus. Jesus took the punishment for our sin, saving us from what we deserved. He then overcame death and earned the right to offer us a restored relationship with God. This restored relationship is spiritual life. And it lasts forever. Spiritual life is the best gift we could ever hope to receive. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to offer us far more life.

Before Jesus walked this earth, people who wanted to please God had to follow a lot of rules — over 600 of them — governing all aspects of life from the food they ate to who they touched and from personal grooming to when they could work. People followed this set of rules, referred to as “the Law” in the Scriptures, in an effort to lead a good life and make God happy. But it was impossible to keep all the rules, and it took a lot of energy to even try. Even then, James 2:10 tells us God’s perspective: “Remember that a man who keeps the whole Law but for a single exception is none the less a law-breaker” (Phillips). What a difficult situation! When Jesus said “far more life,” His audience may have heard “far fewer rules” and had hope that they could finally please God.

When Jesus was asked which of the 600+ rules were most important, He didn’t give a top 10 list. He summarized them ALL in just TWO commands: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and “Love others as much as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40 CEV). That’s it! To experience far more life: love God and love people. So simple to understand. Yet so hard to live.

Love the Lord. With all your heart, soul, and mind. This is an all-in love that directs each thought, feeling, word, and action. It is the outgrowth of a restored relationship with God; the life inside prompts us to be like Him, the perfect depiction of love. When we let this love direct us, we find a satisfaction and richness that was missing before. We experience far more life than before.

But there’s more! As we grow to understand God’s love our view of people — including ourselves — changes. We can examine both faults and strengths, seeing people as neither better nor worse than they truly are. We can celebrate strengths and help each other use them to live out our love for God. And we can work together to overcome faults so that they no longer control us. We can experience far more life through a healthy love for ourselves and others than we ever thought was possible. This doesn’t happen overnight. And the process can be painful.

You see, while having the power to transform every aspect of our life, far more life does not make us exempt from trouble. Instead it offers a different perspective on our problems. Jesus said, “While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33 CEV). Far more life lets us focus on the future, on our eternal relationship with God, and live out each challenge with peace, hope, and joy in our hearts.  We understand the temporary nature of this world and anticipate the perfection — far more life than we can imagine — that awaits us.

Sisters,
Do you want to start experiencing far more life now?
Will you risk letting go of what is good to pursue something better?
I can’t promise the road will be easy, but I guarantee the destination is worth the effort.
You will lose some baggage along the way, and you may find your passion.

Join me on the journey to discover and embrace far more life with Jesus.
-Shari

Copyright 2019, Shari Damaso