His Yoke

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Recently, I visited a gorgeous garden with a ring of bronze statues at its center, all depicting vignettes of healings, sermons, and other miracles. In the serene beauty of that garden, I eventually came to stand before a representation of Jesus carrying His cross towards Calvary. I was captivated, and I studied the sculpture, the imposing cross, the antagonizing wreath of thorns, the burdened shoulders, the determined, forward posture of the wrongly condemned Savior. The sculpture showed Him bearing—very literally—a weighty punishment for a crime that He didn’t commit, and I started to reflect on all the burdens He has borne for me and for all of us, burdens He didn’t deserve, burdens we couldn’t lift. There, in that garden, I thought about His incomparable love and about the incomprehensible magnitude of His sacrifice—and I felt His reassuring love, reinforcing me against the unyielding pressures of life.

Millennia ago, Isaiah prophesied of the burdens Christ was to carry. He said, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Isaiah foretold that Christ’s life was to be marked by adversity and struggle. Just as Jesus carried a cross He didn’t deserve, He bore afflictions and sorrows that weren’t His own. Isaiah makes it clear: He was wounded for our wickedness, and He sorrowed for our sufferings.

In a way that I don’t completely—or even mostly—understand, Jesus took our troubles upon Himself so that He could relieve us of their terrible weight. In bearing His cross, He somehow carried ours too, and the result of it is that we don’t need to suffer the weight of our struggles and sins. As a good friend once taught me by his cheery example: why should I suffer all over again if Jesus has already suffered in my place?

However, trouble inevitably befalls us throughout our life. Christ’s suffering, then, isn’t exactly a guarantee that we will slip through life without friction or turbulence but is, rather, a promise that, through Him, we will find a way to transcend the opposition that we meet along the way. In a very real and inexplicable way, Christ didn’t just experience abstract agony: per Isaiah’s words, He experienced our specific and individual heartaches, regrets, headaches, and woes. Because of that, His compassion is perfect, and His desire to help us to overcome opposition is limitless.

Why would He reach out to strengthen us against temptations? Because He knows the pain of temptation, having suffered it Himself. Why would He relieve the critically ill? Because He has felt the terrible discomfort of sickness. Why would He heal the frayed relationship or soothe the wounded heart? Because He has felt the urgent yearning for loving kindness. In some miraculous way, He has, literally, felt the pains and sadnesses that we feel from day to day.

Often, we hear, or perhaps even say, you wouldn’t understand, but that is something we can never tell Christ. Standing in that garden, studying that sculpture of the Savior and His cross, I felt the reality of His compassion more clearly. Beginning now, and in future posts, I hope to explore Christ’s compassion, to explore the ways in which He experienced our sorrows as well as the ways in which He transcended them. Surely, we have in Christ not only a companion in our misery but also a Savior, a rescuer who knows our griefs with intimate clarity and who knows the way out with godly certainty. Indeed, Christ’s yoke was not just to live an exceptionally hard life in order to take away our right to complain. Instead, His yoke was to shoulder our yokes, to share our loads and ease our burdens, and to honor the promise He made when He said that “every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

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Whatsoever Ye Sow

IMG_0398“God is not mocked,” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Of course, he meant it as a caution. It is contrary to the order of agriculture to get a vegetable you didn’t plant, and it is just as contrary to the order of heaven to get something—an answer to prayer, relief from sorrow, success in self-improvement—that you haven’t worked for. Paul makes it clear: such would be a mockery and a denial of God’s perfection, goodness, and justice.

But I’m not writing to talk about the perils of expecting to reap the things we haven’t sown. No, instead, I want to talk about the comforting and encouraging fact of the matter—we will reap whatsoever we sow.

It’s true that a gardener cannot cheat nature by sowing dandelions in an effort to get tulips. However, it’s just as true that nature will never cheat the gardener by causing dandelions to grow from tulip bulbs. That means that the gardener doesn’t have to spend the whole growing season worrying about whether she’ll get tulips. She planted tulips, so she will get tulips.

Similarly, when we work for something, we don’t have to spend our time worrying whether our efforts will pay off. When we give our all and allow God to improve and perfect our best efforts, we can be confident that He will help us to reap abundantly from whatsoever we have sown.

In recent months, I’ve experienced the reality of Paul’s promise that “whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” In preparing for graduate school, I met with professors and discussed possible programs, wrote and rewrote my application materials, studied for and took the GRE, and used up every other spare minute, filling out forms, mailing off transcripts, or re-punctuating my personal statements. I knew I faced stiff competition, and, frankly, I occasionally feared that my exhausting efforts might be in vain. However, I refused to give up, trusting that God would honor my efforts and bless me to reap the best fruit that my efforts could yield.

After the heady days of submitting applications came the nerve-racking wait. Then, all I could do was pray and hope—despite the nagging fear that I could have sown in vain. Finally, after spending weeks on a couple of waiting lists, I finally heard that a spot had opened up for me at the school that I had hoped to attend throughout the entire process.

I shouldn’t credit my own talent or brilliance for that success—because I don’t think that I have enough of either to credit them—but I do think that, with the blessing of heaven, my hard work in sowing prepared me to reap, even when my own qualifications were limited.

It’s true that we cannot mock God, but it’s also true that God will never mock us! Just as He sends rain and sun to the hard-working gardener, He will send light and strength to His hard-working children, whatever good thing it is that they hope to achieve. He loves us, and, because of that, we can be sure that we will, with His help, reap abundantly from the things that we sow. Our Father in Heaven will not let us work in vain.

The Savior asked His disciples, “[W]hat man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” He continued, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11). We will not receive serpents when we ask for fish, gather dandelions when we plant tulips, or find failure and frustration when we give our best to achieve worthwhile goals. God respects us and our efforts—and that, I think, is the encouraging, inspiring promise stored away in Paul’s declaration that “whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.”