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|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||8.26(w) x 5.70(h) x 0.54(d)|
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UNBURDENEDthe secret to letting God carry the things that weigh you down
By chris tiegreen
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2010 Chris Tiegreen
All right reserved.
I remember the feeling clearly. I had just completed a very difficult term and was driving home from college with an entire summer ahead of me. There were no more oppressive exams or papers hanging over my head, no messy relationship issues lingering in the background, no financial pressures in the foreseeable future, no nagging health problems. The windows were rolled down, and the fresh air of early summer washed over me at highway speed. Life felt good.
In a way, it's sad that I can remember that particular moment so many years ago. I wish it was one of many such moments, but it was unique-a brief haven in time, a last vestige of childhood-and I haven't felt that way since. That's why it sticks out in my memory. It was a very rare exception to normal life.
I want that feeling back. I didn't have it very often in childhood, and I certainly haven't had it since that summer break in college. But it seems to me that this is how we were designed to live-with hearts that aren't stressed out by the burdens of life but are free to soar and enjoy and dream. We feel alive when we aren't weighed down by burdens, and we instinctively know something's wrong when we are. It seems that we have an inherent desire to go through life weightlessly.
You know that desire. I know you do; everyone does. You get a glimpse of it every time you look forward to Friday or plan that desperately needed getaway. Whenever you get a brief respite, you kick back and enjoy the quietness and wish life were always so hassle free. Every desire to unwind, to take a break, to carve out some quiet time from a busy schedule, to escape into a book or movie, to dream about the day you retire, to laugh and forget about the demands on your life for a moment-it's all a hint of that craving to be as free as God intended for you to be. You want-we all want-to live without feeling like we're under extreme pressure.
I can hear the objections already. "That isn't realistic." "God didn't intend for us to live without responsibilities." "You're describing childhood, not adulthood." And that's all true-to a degree, which we'll discuss later. But the Bible undeniably offers us a certain weightlessness to life, and most Christians aren't living in it. Though life in a broken world is full of concerns and problems, the "Good News" is supposed to actually be good. There are answers. There's a better way to live. Through God's promises and the hope and faith he stirs up within us, we can have a level of freedom that people who don't know him can't have. We don't have to submit to the oppression of our concerns. We are called "overcomers" and "more than conquerors" for a reason. No matter how heavy the weights on our shoulders are, we can't ultimately be defeated by them. The rest of the world can't say that. We have resources others don't have.
For the most part, the crowds who were gathered around Jesus weren't very wealthy. They were people who got by on the basic necessities and who depended on seasonal rains for survival. They worked a full six days a week, generally from sunrise to sundown. They farmed, fished, worked with their hands in fabrics, metals, and woods, maintained simple homes, and trained and cared for their children. It was a simple life but not an easy one. Their welfare depended not only on weather patterns, but on compliance with Rome and the impulses of tax collectors. Their entire well-being could suddenly be threatened by an unexpected disease or a common thief. Many of their children didn't survive childhood. They were familiar with hard economic and political realities and the fragile nature of life.
Like all of us, Jesus' listeners tended to preoccupy themselves with surviving and earning a decent living. They looked forward to God's Kingdom, but they spent most of their waking hours thinking about immediate needs. So what did Jesus tell this group of subsistence- minded people? "I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear." Why? Because that isn't what life is about. All they had to do was look at the birds of the air and the flowers in the field. God is in the business of taking care of little, insignificant creatures. How much more will he take care of human beings, the pinnacle of creation on earth? If he has invested his attention in the relatively small matters, won't he be much more committed to us?
These are such familiar verses that we often lose the impact of them. Try to read Jesus' words as though you are seeing them for the first time. Hear what he is saying. He isn't giving this crowd of people a slap on the back and telling them to eat, drink, and be merry today because they'll die soon enough anyway. He isn't telling them that they can't do anything about their fate, so they might as well not worry about it. He isn't just encouraging them to keep a stiff upper lip or to look at the bright side of things. He is telling them that they have a very well- founded reason not to worry. The Father is diligently, actively looking out for their interests.
Peter knew that. The same apostle who slept in prison one tumultuous night quoted a well- known psalm in one of his letters several years later: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." He had heard Jesus command the disciples not to worry, he had been delivered out of several storms by Jesus' word, he had been miraculously rescued from prison twice, and he had seen God's sovereign hand guiding the church's affairs. But he had also suffered persecution and seen fellow believers die, so he wasn't naive about the costs of faith. Still, he trusted God. He knew from experience that in every situation, at every moment, in every way, God was taking care of his children because Jesus had said emphatically that he would.
Do you see the absurdity of our stress? We are very busy and anxious about the very things God has already said he's taking care of. We are relentless in our pursuit of what he has already promised to deliver. We micromanage the concerns we've allegedly asked him to handle. That's about as ludicrous as a confirmed lottery winner anxiously watching the news to see if his number will come up. God has already guaranteed what we need. What are we worried about?
I know where our minds frequently go from here. We know deep down inside that Jesus has promised that God will give us what we need, but we want so much more. We want to maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle, send our kids to the right schools, achieve great things for God and his glory, take a decent vacation, get a better job, and so on. We don't want the assurances that a bunch of subsistence farmers and craftsmen received a couple thousand years ago. That essentially amounts to a guarantee of enough goat's milk and figs to keep us alive, and that doesn't exactly soothe our worries. We want the twenty-first-century version of the Sermon on the Mount, and we just aren't sure Jesus' promises translate to a Western, economically advanced culture. We want him to tell us that God will take care of our needs on a scale relative to the rest of our society, not on a scale relative to first-century Galilee. For the most part, we aren't traumatized by the threat of not surviving; we're traumatized by the threat of losing the status quo we've worked hard to maintain.
Even so, Jesus says not to worry. Period. Why? Because we have a very good reason not to. This is still a well-founded promise regardless of the economic conditions in which it was first presented. I happen to think, both from biblical evidence and my own experience, that Jesus' words translate to our culture, too, even though we aren't hanging on the edge of hardship quite as much as first-century Jews were. God understands that we want to achieve, to send our kids to great schools, to be salt and light in the suburbs as well as the inner city, and to get a higher degree or a better job. Sure, he may shift us out of our status quo sometimes, and we have to fully expect that he might. But only for great purposes ordained by him. If you read Jesus' teaching carefully enough, the gist of it isn't, "Don't worry; God will keep you alive by a thread"; it's, "Don't worry, your Father loves to bless his children, and he has his eye on you." After all, God lavishes the miracle of flight and extraordinary beauty on small wildlife and plants. Surely he lavishes generosity on his children, too.
When we really get this, we relinquish our fear, which frees us up to seek God above all else. We can be totally preoccupied with the things of his Kingdom because "all these things"-the necessities of life-will be added to those who fully invest themselves in eternity. We have to understand that he is devoted to putting us in the right places at the right times and stocking us with all we need for all he has called us to do. We have to be able to rest in that fact. Any stress about whether or not Jesus will take care of us is a stark rebuttal to his words. Somehow we got comfortable with being living contradictions: Christians who "believe" in the words of Jesus but worry anyway. That makes no sense.
The Sermon on the Mount isn't the only time Jesus urged us to live an unburdened life. Just as well known is his plea to the tired and burned-out: "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Those words had less to do with the basic needs of life; they were directed more toward people stressed about having a right relationship with God. Religion can be a huge burden, placing demands on us that are clearly higher than our ability to accomplish. It puts ideals in front of us that we long to embrace but can never reach, at least not in our own effort. Striving to live a spiritually fruitful life in the strength of the flesh is a never-ending pursuit. Obedience, in its truest and fullest sense, eludes us. But even that, said Jesus, isn't a matter for anxiety-not for those who come to him. He is gentle and humble. He gives rest for our souls.
Most Christians love that verse, but it's yet another ex ample of something we "believe" and still exhibit great stress over. We either strain to live a life of impact for God, or we assume that if he doesn't want us to worry about it, his calling must not be that extreme or compelling to begin with. Few of us get to a point of fully embracing both the radical nature of discipleship and the radical empowerment of the Spirit within us. But it's possible to be a Spirit-filled radical who isn't crushed under the weight of being a disciple and impacting the world for Christ. Those who come to Jesus in the way he calls can bear an enormous responsibility for changing the world and never be stressed about it.
Scripture includes plenty of references to this kind of life. "Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you," said a psalmist. "Don't worry about anything," Paul exhorted. "Let us strip off every weight that slows us down ... and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us," the writer of the book of Hebrews urged. "Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint," wrote a great prophet. In fact, the sheer number of occurrences of "do not fear" and "do not worry" in the Bible is staggering. Clearly, there is some quality of life, some sense of freedom, some level of energy that people are meant to have. We were designed to soar.
Having Burdens without Bearing Them
This doesn't mean, of course, that the Christian life is like cruising down the highway on summer break with the wind in your hair. The feeling I described at the beginning of this chapter was based on my lack of obligations, not a supernatural energy to carry the ones I had. But I'm convinced that I can experience that same feeling of freedom in almost any situation now, at least to some degree. I believe we were meant to be unburdened.
Let me explain what I don't mean by that. Some people pursue the unburdened life by adopting a laid-back lifestyle and a "life's a beach" mentality. They refuse to get too attached to anyone or anything. They pursue pleasure and comfort with as little effort and concern as possible. They may work hard, but only so they can take time off and party harder. Responsibility is only a temporary necessity to put up with between the lighter moments of life. That is, in fact, one way to be unburdened, but it isn't a spiritual ideal.
Others pursue the unburdened life in a more spiritually sophisticated way. One of the major goals of Buddhism is detachment. Because human desires and passions are the source of pain and suffering, the way to "salvation" is to get rid of all desires and passions. The path to enlightenment is to escape from individuality-a complete denial of self, though not in the Christian sense-a process that takes multiple lifetimes to achieve. That, too, is one way to become unburdened. But that isn't what Jesus was talking about either.
There are a lot of counterfeit ways to live with less weight, but they aren't ultimately satisfying. The gospel doesn't lead to a "don't worry, be happy" lifestyle. It isn't simply about shedding all responsibilities and obligations in order to be unencumbered-though God often leads us to streamline our lives for more single-minded service. It doesn't make us apathetic or uncaring. The unburdened life is not a matter of "chilling out" or becoming "laid-back" in pursuit of the ideal personality. And it isn't about having all the conveniences and comforts we can afford in order to take it easy-or about saving up for them so we can retire in peace. It's about a godly way to live life with less effort and under less weight.
But is that even feasible-or, for that matter, biblical? After all, we're told to bear one another's burdens. Paul was "burdened" for his churches. Prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah were weighed down with extremely serious messages from God to his people, and they suffered greatly to carry those messages. Jeremiah, for example, had two options: to let the fire in his bones burn with the unspoken warnings of God, or to speak the warnings and bear the wrath of his kinsmen. Ezekiel saw traumatic visions, acted out extremely uncomfortable prophecies, and watched his wife die for the sake of God's message to his people. Were they missing out on the unburdened life they could have had?
Likewise, history is full of people who went to extraordinary lengths and endured extreme hardship to take the gospel to new places or to blaze new trails in the church's methods and ministries around the world. Many of them were ridiculed or even killed for confronting the world's sins or violating the religious traditions of the church. They suffered pain and rejection for the sake of God's Word. Were they missing out on a biblical ideal of living weightlessly?
Many Christians can testify to the pain of being "burdened" with prayers of intercession. They have withstood many sleepless nights and forgone numerous meals in order to do business in unseen realms for the sake of the lost and the God who loves them. Are they just naive and spiritually immature enough to have missed a vital biblical truth of being unburdened?
No, of course not. Persecution and toil are not light matters in the Kingdom of God. But nearly every one of those people affirms that there's a difference between the kind of burden God places on a person's shoulders to carry in his strength and the kind of burden that overwhelms and crushes a person's spirit, miring him or her in futility. Some burdens are oppressive, and some are supernaturally carried.
That's why it's possible for someone like Isaiah to preach a hard message to a stubborn nation, encounter oppressive resistance to it, and still talk about soaring with wings like an eagle's. That's why David could suffer the consequences of his own sin, endure the deepest pains of family dysfunction, fight for his life in numerous battles against a multitude of enemies, and still praise God for renewing his youth, setting him on high places, and fulfilling his heart's desires. And that's why Paul could write about all his shipwrecks and beatings and opponents and still break out in gratitude for the inexpressible joy of serving God and identifying with Jesus. These people were able to carry extraordinary weight because they had learned the principle of resting in a supernatural source, often by sheer necessity. They had borne burdens, but not without help. The unburdened life isn't so much about avoiding burdens as it is about carrying them with the strength of Another. The former leads to a life of purposelessness; the latter builds an eternal Kingdom. The first approach is a choice to be weak; the other is a choice to be super naturally empowered. This isn't a matter simply of living with abandonment, but of living with abandonment to God.
Excerpted from UNBURDENED by chris tiegreen Copyright © 2010 by Chris Tiegreen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: Freedom....................1
CHAPTER 2: Roots....................19
CHAPTER 3: Loads....................43
CHAPTER 4: Trust....................69
CHAPTER 5: Release....................97
CHAPTER 6: Passion....................127
CHAPTER 7: Perspective....................147
CHAPTER 8: Praise....................167
CHAPTER 9: Presence....................189
What People are Saying About This
What wakes you up at night? Worries about your finances or your job situation? Anxiety about your health or the struggles of one of your children? If you feel weighed down by trouble, you’re not alone—but you don’t need to stay stuck there.
I’ve read Chris’s devotions for years, and he regularly speaks truth into my life. Now, in his typically insightful and thoughtful manner, Chris Tiegreen invites you to journey with him as he considers what it means to allow God to carry our loads. While your burdens may still be there when you finish this book, I suspect they will suddenly seem a lot lighter.
Masterful, calming and wise. A liberating study on what it means not to battle burdens but to let God carry them. A great gift for anyone eager to exchange spiritual struggles for victorious freedom. Probing and life-changing. Makes me want to say “aaaaah!”
Don’t read this book! At least not if you like simple formulas, clichés, and easy answers, because Chris’s thoughtful treatment of this challenging topic will just frustrate you. If, however, you’re tired of carrying burdens God never intended you to bear, let Chris serve as a trusted guide to help you lighten your load and surrender the delusion that you’ll someday get it all under control if you just try a little harder.