Pastoral Notes for Sunday, January 28, 2018

Our youngest son, Luke, recently saw Christy and me crunching numbers and making adjustments to our family budget. The sight of us with dollar bills in hand and numbers on pages must have provoked a memory. For with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen, he told me he put 50 cents in the offering box this last Sunday.

A little context—we’ve recently been teaching our children about the priority of giving to the Lord before anything else. So, this smiley faced little boy knew I’d be pleased, and his announcement was certainly intended to gain His Father’s approval. And that it did. But what really touched me was how happy he was about giving. In fact, it was convicting to see him so happy. There we were in the midst of the joy-killing tedium of budget planning! Our focus certainly wasn’t on giving but on surviving. And yet our full-of-joy little boy was sent by God on a divine errand to remind us of what’s most important about money, even more, about life itself.

The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, made an observation that has stuck with me. After years of being on the mission field, Taylor wrote, “The less I spent on myself and the more I gave to others, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.” We don’t naturally think this way, do we? When I examine the default settings of my heart, I far too often think that happiness will come as a result of getting what I want. But when I pause and consider the times when I’ve experienced the deepest and most satisfying forms of happiness, it comes on the heels of great sacrifice.

This makes perfect sense in the gospel. We follow a Savior who went to the cross out of love for you and me. What we sometimes forget is that His sacrifice was motivated by joy. The writer of Hebrews says, …let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Jesus saw the joy coming. Through the pain, He saw the resurrection and exaltation. Through the suffering, He saw the redemption of His people. He sacrificed in the present for the joy that would most assuredly come later.

When we give financially to the church, when we volunteer to teach Sunday School, when we bear a casserole for someone in need, help someone move, or sit at the bedside of a shut-in, it often feels like a cross. But if you can see by faith that the joy of the Lord is set before you in the midst of the work, then you can endure it. You might even find that the cross isn’t as bad as you thought. For in the midst of the work, Jesus faithfully meets us and lightens our load. He gives us His yoke and teaches us His gentle and humble way. In Him, we truly find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29).

Have you had a tough week? You’re not alone. All the people around you are bearing heavy loads, too. That’s why we’re all here. Don’t keep trying to be strong. Today is the Sabbath. Just lay your cares at the feet of Jesus right now, and let His grace restore you and give to you the rest you so desperately need.