Finding Rest in Following Jesus

As we continue following Jesus, we learn that we can find rest in Him. Matthew 11:29-30 says, “Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (CSB) Even amid an unsettling time, such as enduring quarantine during a pandemic where people are so full of fear, we can find rest.

There is a variety of types of rest. There is physical rest, where we need our eight hours of sleep for our bodies to rejuvenate. There is Spiritual rest, where we take the time to get alone with God and be refreshed by Him. This can include daily Bible study and prayer time, attending church, and fellowshipping with other Believers. Then there is emotional rest. Sometimes, I think this is the hardest to achieve. There are so many who are so in turmoil emotionally, that rest is the farthest thing from them.

We are seeing this so evident right now with the pandemic. People are fearful of something they can’t even see. We can see it on their faces, their expressions are full of anxiety and fear because they are afraid of getting the Coronavirus and dying. Some are in full-blown depression, pandemic or not, they feel like they are in a deep pit and can’t find a way out. The world is a dark place for them, and they have no hope. They have no desire to even participate in this thing we call “life.” For some, it is more than they can do just to get out of bed.

Depression such as this is debilitating. I have a new friend who is battling depression. She’s a Believer, but depression has taken hold. The enemy of our souls uses something like depression to defeat God’s children. Sometimes, it is a Spiritual issue, sometimes it is a chemical imbalance, there are various reasons for depression. My friend wants to get out of this pit, but she feels like it’s almost more than she can bear to try. She knows that Jesus is her source of peace, she knows that He can help her by taking the burden she is carrying (depression) and giving her a light burden to carry. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I think she is dealing with physical imbalances, and her depression has nothing to do with her Spiritual life. She knows Jesus and loves Him with all her heart. As much as I want to do something to help her; all I can do is pray for her, and that, most times, is more than any of us can do for someone.

Jesus tells us that His yoke is easy. He doesn’t require anything of us that would load us down. He desires to give us peace and rest. I think of Psalm 23:1-2, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (KJV) These verses speak peace and rest to me.

One time when I was on vacation out west, my husband and I were in Wyoming camping on the side of a mountain. When we woke in the morning my husband said, “It sounds like a crowd of people talking.” We looked outside our camper and saw a shepherd with his sheep on the side of the mountain. We walked over and talked to him for a while. It was so calm and peaceful, the bleating of the sheep and the quiet mountainside except for the sheep quietly saying, “Baa”. That scene brought peace and rest to me. Jesus is our Shepherd, He will take any burden we carry be it fear, depression, anger, anxiety, guilt, you name it…He will take it. Then He gives us His yoke, a light yoke, one that is not hard for us to bear and walks with us, shouldering the mountain we were carrying, so that we can have rest.

Take His yoke upon you, you will find rest!

Be Like Jesus

In following Jesus, the Bible tells us in Jesus’ own words, that we are to be imitators of Him. Luke 6:40 says, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (NASB) This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and He is giving instructions to those who are listening. He gives what we know as The Beatitudes, or as one Sunday School teacher put it, “Bee- Attitudes”, where each little bee on the board was one of the beatitudes. This is how our actions and attitudes should be toward others.

In this setting, Jesus is the teacher. He is instructing them on how they should love one another, how they should not judge each other and treat others. In fact, he reprimands them for being judgmental in verses 41-42, reminding them not to be critical of some minor thing in someone else’s life, while all the while they have some big, glaring thing in their lives that they need to deal with. What Jesus is saying is that we are to imitate Him! Our actions and attitudes should be just like His. This is part of following Him.

Now, God knows that we are not perfect and that this is going to be a life-long process for us. In following Jesus, we must do the hard work of changing our attitudes so that we reflect the attitude of Christ. If we fail to have the attitude of Christ then we must remember to stomp down the fleshly nature and keep it under our feet, that way Christ can be elevated. That’s following Jesus where the rubber meets the road. It’s getting down to the nitty-gritty.

We are to be imitators of Christ. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians of this very fact. I Corinthians 11:1 says, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” (NASB) Paul’s life was such that he could honestly say that he was imitating Jesus and was confident enough to tell the Corinthians that they should follow his example. When we exhibit Jesus’ likeness, others see Him in us. When we allow Jesus to be on the throne of our hearts, He has full control over every area of our lives.

Are we always successful in exhibiting Christlikeness? No! That’s why this is an ongoing struggle for each of us. Situations come up where the old man wants to stick up his ugly head and take control. That my friends can be a fight! Why? Because our enemy, Satan, doesn’t want us to be like Jesus because when we are showing Jesus’ love and attitudes to the world around us, His presence is inviting to others, and unbelievers will begin to desire what we have… a life controlled by Jesus.

We are to be that light and salt to the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) Showing Jesus to the world is done in how we follow Him daily in our walk with Him. It comes through in our thoughts, our speech, in our works, in our attitudes, and in every area of our lives. Following Jesus is hard sometimes, but when we surrender ourselves to His authority, we find that we are living lives of Spiritual peace, contentment, and joy. That’s what others are looking for, and they will want what we have.

Following Jesus Even When it’s Hard

Sometimes, following Jesus isn’t the easiest thing to do. Life seems to get in the way, plans that we’ve worked so hard to bring to fruition change, sometimes, it seems we’re slogging through knee-deep mud, and life just isn’t fun anymore.

Some of Jesus’ disciples found this out. They had seen Jesus feed 5,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, and they’d seen Him walk on water! They must have thought that life was going to be cushy walking with Jesus. They were more concerned with what He could give them.

Then He began to tell them that walking with Him wasn’t always going to be easy. He tells them that instead of being concerned about their physical food, they should be more concerned with their Spiritual food. He begins talking about how He is the bread of life and that no one can come to God, the Father, except through Him. They’re still thinking of the food they got when He fed the 5,000, and they ask for a sign. They want Him to do something for them and then they would believe in Him. Then Jesus begins to tell them about how He must become our sacrifice with His death on the Cross and they must partake in His suffering. Then in John 6:66, the Bible says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” When things got hard, they walked away.

Back when I was a teenager, there was a popular song playing on the radio, “Rose Garden” by Lynn Anderson. The song isn’t a Christian song, but one phrase in that song has stuck with me when I think of what God has promised when we walk with Him. The phrase says, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.” God never said that walking with Him would always bring us sunshine, roses, and no problems. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we have planned, or situations hit us so hard that we lose our balance and get knocked off our feet.

It is during those times when our commitment to Jesus really shows up. What do we do when all we’ve worked so hard for falls completely apart? What about when we’ve asked God for something and prayed so hard for and He says “no”? What about when we’ve been persecuted by unbelievers? How do we react? Following Jesus means staying with Him even in the hard times. It means sticking to our commitment to follow Him.

It is during those times that we need to hold on to His hand all the tighter. It is then that we need to draw closer to Him. God promises that when plans change or life gets hard, He will be with us. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10 NIV) Don’t get disillusioned or be so easy to give up.

Ok, so things aren’t going the way we want, are we going to just throw our hands up and say, “Forget it!”? The hard times not only help us in that they strengthen our faith, but they also build our character and teach us to rely on God.

There have been times in my life when I have wanted to just chuck it all and say, “Forget it!”, but when I really thought about it, there was nowhere else to go. My only hope in those difficult days was at Jesus’ side. When I look back at those days, I see how walking with Him has made me stronger in my faith, and when the next difficulty came along, I was better able to withstand that trial than the struggle before. It is when we are in the valley that we grow, not on the mountain top. It is also then that we learn how faithful He is, and we learn how much He loves us.

Follow Me – Deny Self – Take Up Your Cross

Today we’re looking at Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (NLT) Following Jesus requires some sacrifice on our part. Once we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, He asks something that, for us as humans, is hard. We are to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.

When we became Believers, we turned from sin and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness and sacrifice on the Cross as payment for the death penalty that hung over our heads for our sin. At that point, we were initially sanctified because of the blood of Jesus. However, sanctification is also a daily process. Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, in other words, deny our fleshly desires and turn toward righteousness. J. Vernon McGee explains it this way in his commentary on Matthew, “Many people interpret this verse, ‘Let him deny himself ice cream’ or ‘Let him deny himself some luxury down here.’ What this verse says is ‘Let him deny himself!’ You already know that the hardest person in the world to deny is yourself. To deny myself dessert is hard enough, but to deny myself is difficult indeed. To deny myself is to put self out of the picture and to put Christ in the place of self.”

Does that mean that in denying ourselves we are to not treat ourselves with respect or have anything good? Of course not! We are not to see ourselves as the world’s doormat or appear to be a poor, pitiful creature, all the while saying that God is taking care of us and seem as if He abandoned us. Denying self is an internal working out of our salvation so that the Light of Jesus shines through.

Jesus also says we are to take up our cross. This is a concept some may find hard to understand. The cross we are to bear isn’t Jesus’ cross of sacrifice for sins. It is our own cross…the cross of fleshly desires, desires that would lead us back into sin. Daily we are faced with decisions that must be made. Will we turn to an area that will lead us into sin or do we deny ourselves the temporary pleasure of that sin and walk in the path of righteousness?

Galatians 5:19-20 gives a list of “works of the flesh”, those things that we are to walk away from. Daily we need to nail those things to the cross and kill them so that we can turn our hearts to righteousness. Some of those things are easy for us to reject while others can be a source of constant struggle, thus we battle daily with overcoming our fleshly desires. We may deal with something our whole lifetime. It is only through daily nailing our sin nature to the cross that we can find victory.

The Apostle Paul put it this way in the book of Romans. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NKJV) We are to deny our sin nature and daily endeavor to walk in righteousness. Righteous living is exhibited in the fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23. Those things are what we are to strive to turn our attention to, to place in our lives as we walk daily with Jesus and follow Him.

Walking with Jesus is a life-long journey. The more we crucify those things in our lives that would turn us away from Him, the closer to Him we will walk. Deny self and take up your cross.

The Future is Uncertain – Now What?

As we continue to look at our topic of following Jesus, there are times that life throws us a curveball. We have no clue what to do, where the next step is going to take us, and the future is uncertain. Jesus’ command to follow Him includes those times. Our Bible Journaling verse today is from Mark 2:14, “As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him.” (NASB)

Levi was a tax collector. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were not looked upon as being upstanding citizens. The Jewish people looked upon them as traitors, thieves, and cheats. The Roman government hired Jews to be the tax collectors against their own people, and that didn’t sit well with the population. Often, the tax collectors would overcharge to the point that they became extremely wealthy and left the people paying exorbitant taxes and poor. When Levi decided to follow Jesus, it was a complete change in his lifestyle. He gave it all up to follow Jesus. If he found that Jesus wasn’t all He claimed, Levi couldn’t go back to be a tax collector because Rome would hire someone else to take his place, and he couldn’t do other work because no one would trust him. So, for Levi, following Jesus meant the future was uncertain. He was stepping out into the unknown.

Many times, we find ourselves in situations like that. We are faced with circumstances that require a decision to be made, and we have no idea how things will come out in the end. Following Jesus’ urgings and callings can be just like that. All He says is, “Follow Me” and we have no idea where or when or how. That can be a scary thing!

I know I’ve had times like that. When my first husband decided to quit a chief engineering job at a secular station and go back to Christian broadcasting, it was a very scary time. All we knew was, God was calling him to go back to Christian radio or TV, but we had no idea where or how. We put resumés out all over the country. We really wanted to stay in Montana, but the station we applied to didn’t call us to work for them. Several stations wanted us but couldn’t pay a wage that we could live on. (Christian stations survive mostly on donations from viewers and listeners, so their income is low.) We knew we would be taking a substantial pay cut as it was. All we could do was follow where God was leading us, and that ended up being Southern Illinois. My husband was happy once again working in a field he loved and serving Jesus. After we lived here three years, he had a stroke and had to quit work altogether, and then he had another stroke and landed in a nursing home for the rest of his life. We had to take each day one step at a time. All we could do was hold onto Jesus’ hand with everything we had. But God knew that we needed to be here because of the medical care my husband would need. We held onto God’s hand, following Jesus wherever He took us.

We may not understand the whys or wherefores, but we can rely upon the knowledge that Jesus knows the path ahead of us and He would never take us into something and leave us stranded. (Hebrews 13:5) He requires that we trust Him even when we can not see the way ahead. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Sometimes, following Jesus means trusting that He knows what is best for us and will lead us into something much greater than what we desire for our lives. About six years ago, a guest pastor came to our church at the request of our pastor. At the end of the service, he asked for people to come forward who wanted prayer. I went forward because I was dealing with some things I needed to get resolved. When he came to me, he asked me, point-blank, “Do you journal?” I told him I did but was not good at it or very consistent. This was before I had ever heard of Bible Journaling. I thought he was talking about note-taking or keeping a daily journal. Then he spoke a word of knowledge over me. He told me that I would journal and people from all over the world would read my journaling. I had never had anyone speak a word over me before. I looked for confirmation of this and spoke to my pastor and our associate pastor’s wife. They gave me some ideas on what I could do. That’s when I tried writing my blog. Then I discovered Bible Journaling, and God showed me what that pastor meant.

I may not minister to many people, in fact, I have an exceedingly small following, but God is using it, and to me, it is far greater than I ever imagined. I hear from people all over the world, just like the pastor said. My future was uncertain, but following Jesus brought me to something bigger than me, and the desire of my heart to tell others about Jesus’ love is being realized.

If you are feeling uncertain about your future, follow Jesus’ leading even when you can’t see what’s ahead. You may just be surprised at where it will lead you. “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.”

Following Jesus Requires Faith

Today’s Bible Journaling comes from Luke 7:9, “Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” (NASB) To give background, the Centurion had a servant who was extremely sick and about to die. He sent some Jewish leaders to ask Jesus to heal his servant. As Jesus was headed to the man’s house, he sent some friends telling Jesus not to come to his house, but just speak the word and his servant would be healed. I looked in a couple of commentaries about this, and they seem to agree that the Centurion was a man of great humility even though he was a man of great authority. He didn’t feel that he was worthy of having Jesus in his home and that he knew, he had faith, that if Jesus just spoke the word, his servant would be healed.

The commentaries both said that this is only one of two times in the Bible that Jesus ever marveled at something someone said. The other was when there was such unbelief, Jesus just couldn’t believe it. Here, Jesus is astounded by the faith of the Centurion, who was a gentile, and in Jesus’ day, gentiles were not highly regarded. The fact that the Jewish leaders to came to Jesus, at the bidding of the Centurion, and they told Jesus how righteous the leader was because he made it possible for a synagogue to be constructed and he loved the Jewish nation; so, he was well admired and honored among the Jewish people, and Jesus knew he was a man of humility and honor. Jesus is amazed by the faith of this leader.

In our study of following Jesus, we recognize that to follow Jesus, we must have faith. It requires faith in God to follow Him. What is faith? I Googled the definition and it means, “1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something. 2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” Let’s take the first definition…complete trust or confidence in someone or something…when we accept Jesus as our Savior, we put our total trust AND confidence in Him. We trust Him to save us from our sins, we trust Him to lead us on the pathway He has chosen for us to travel. We have confidence in His ability to keep us in every aspect of our lives, no matter what circumstances we face.

The second definition, a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof, this, I think, can also be attributed to having confidence in Jesus. Jesus was a man, but He was also God, so when we place our full faith, trust, and confidence in Him, we are relying upon His knowledge of what we endure based on what He experienced here on earth, but also we are trusting in His love for us as God and the sacrifice He made for us on the Cross. I don’t really like the “belief in doctrines of religion” part, mostly because, religion doesn’t save us, Jesus does. We have a RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS, rather than a religion. Religion is just ritual and a list of do’s and don’ts, there is no relationship.

Following Jesus requires our faith to be present. The Bible doesn’t say it necessarily must be strong (mustard seed faith – Matthew 17:20), but it must be present. Jesus was amazed at the strong faith of the Centurion because, I think frankly, not many people have that kind of faith. Most of us feel like we’re barely hanging on…kind of like the kitten holding on to the rope with the last claw of his foot. But we also realize that even if we have a little faith, what little faith we have, is enough in following Jesus daily.

Difficult times in our lives sometimes make it hard to have faith. We must realize that our faith is not based upon what we feel, but upon what we know about Jesus. Feelings are fickle! They change one minute after another. But when we base our faith upon what we KNOW about Jesus, how He’s helped us in the past, what we have learned about His character from His Word, even the small faith we have is enough to follow wherever He guides us.

Reading His Word also helps us in strengthening our faith. When we hide His Word in our hearts, we gain confidence in knowing that He will never leave us or forsake us, (Hebrews 13:5) He will always love us, (Jeremiah 31:3), He will be our helper (Hebrews 13:6), and He has promised us a home (John 14:1-3).

Our faith in Jesus keeps us grounded and our lives are examples to others of that faith, in how we live, speak, and react to daily life. Keep your faith strong, hold on to Jesus, and follow Him!

In Following Jesus – Stand Fast!

In our last post, we learned that following Jesus begins with a personal relationship with Him. Once we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin a life-long journey that will bring us many ups and downs throughout our relationship with him. The Apostle Paul encourages us in our verse today in Philippians 4:1, “Therefore my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” (KJV)

Paul has encouraged the Philippian church in how to live the Christian life, and now he builds upon this by saying, “Therefore,” (which means, because of this) and he gives a final instruction to be built upon all that he has told them… “stand fast in the Lord…” In our quest to follow Jesus we must stand firm, in belief, in action, in faith, in every aspect of our life with Him. There will be times when life throws us into obstacles, and we need to be firmly planted in Christ or we will be thrown off course, off the pathway, He has laid out for us, and we will falter in our faith. The Bible tells us that those who keep their faith and trust in Jesus will “be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3 KJV)

If you look at trees, their root system digs deep until it can find a water source. This helps the tree to stand firm and not be blown over by every wind that comes along. So then, when we are firmly standing on God’s Word and our faith in Him is deep, we will not be blown about by every difficultly that comes our way.

In the middle of this pandemic, I’m hearing so many who are fearful. The news media isn’t helping, and I believe that many are so hooked into the newscasts that they are becoming fearful because of what they hear. They haven’t looked at the One who can protect them, they haven’t placed their faith deep into Him, realizing that He will not let them go, but will hold tightly to them.

Another means of standing firm in Jesus in to put on the full armor of God, that we find in Ephesians 6. Paul tells us that we are to stand! As soldiers in God’s army, we are to stand, not cower, against the forces of evil or in fear of the things that come against us.

We notice that each piece of the armor protects us. The belt of truth is the knowledge of God’s Word. It is the piece upon which the other parts of the armor are anchored. Without the study of God’s Word, we find it easy to falter in our faith.

The breastplate of righteousness represents a holy character and moral conduct. In his commentary on Ephesians, J. Vernon McGee says, “Only the righteousness of Christ can enable the believer to stand before men and before God, but the heart that is to be protected should be a heart that is not condemning the believer;” McGee says that our hearts should have a heart and conscience that is right with God.

Our feet should be “fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” (NIV) Good shoes are necessary for standing. Our shoes need to provide a good foundation upon which to stand. A soldier must have good footing that is anchored. For a Christian, that anchor is in Christ Jesus, who is our peace.

Next is the shield of faith. A shield protects from the attacks of the enemy. Paul tells the Ephesians that the shield will help them “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” (Ephesians 6:16 KJV) When we are in a battle of the enemy of our souls, we need that shield. My study Bible says that “The shield of faith means taking God at His word by believing His promises.”

Then we have the helmet of salvation. J. Vernon Mc Gee states that “The helmet protects the head, and God does appeal to the mind of man. I recognize that He appeals to the heart, but God also appeals to the intellect. Throughout the Scriptures God uses reason with man.” However, Satan also appeals to our minds, and then we are fixed in a battle between God’s voice and Satan’s. Joyce Meyer states that the battlefield is our mind. If we don’t put a guard around our mind, Satan can and does come against us with thoughts that will cause us to doubt our faith, will cause us to think on unholy things, and will downright lie to us. So, as we trust in our hearts what God’s Word tells us, we must also think on His Word, tucking Scripture into our memory so that when the enemy comes, we can do battle by speaking truth from God’s Word to defeat our enemy, which leads us to our last piece of armor, the sword of the Spirit.

This is the only weapon in the Believer’s arsenal that is an offensive weapon. All the others are defensive. The Bible has been called a sword. Its contents are sharp. It reveals truth from lies. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (NASB) This is where speaking Scripture becomes a weapon to be used against the enemy. The advantage of hiding God’s Word in our hearts helps us to defeat Satan.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan, it was Jesus speaking the Word of God that defeated the enemy. We must remember though, that Satan also knows Scripture, so we must be able to use it appropriately, knowing the meaning and the context of the Scripture. We can win any battle by showing the enemy that we are standing firm upon the foundation of God’s Word and nothing can move us.

Verse 18 of Ephesians 6 tells us that what makes the armor powerful is prayer. We are to pray in every situation, seeking God’s wisdom and help. My study Bible says, “Without prayer God’s armor is inadequate to achieve victory.”

All of this helps us to stand fast in the Lord! So, put on your armor, pray, and put your roots deep into God’s Word. You will be like those trees whose roots run deep!