Dependent living is a tough concept to grasp, especially in a culture that prides itself on independence. Good grief, one of our country’s most celebrated holidays is July 4th, Independence Day. We literally have a day where we hoist our flags and set off our fireworks in honor of the day we, as a nation, gave dependence a permanent boot and decided we would be our own lords and masters. In America, independence isn’t just a virtue, it’s a way of life.
And those who choose to live dependently are thought to be lacking in character. Sometimes I think the “virtue” of independence is so ingrained in us, we think it a sin or a mark on someone’s character when they choose to live any other way.
So what does an independent, powerful, wealthy nation do with a Savior and King who came to be humble, weak, poor, and dependent?
We must take some time to sit by the manger and ponder the One within. Ponder the One who ruled the Universe with a scepter in His Hand and decided a better place to be was within the confines of a manger, a feeding trough for animals, with His primary caretaker a teenage girl from Nazareth who was poor, persecuted, and and a peasant.
When Jesus described Himself in Matthew 11:29, the only description we have from His own lips about His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (emphasis mine).
The word there in the Greek for humble is taipenos and means “humble, lowly.” The Greek commentator Spiros Zodhiates says this about taipenos and its various forms in the New Testament: “[Taipenos] is the real estimate of ourselves. The sinner is taipenos when he recognizes the sinfulness which is his true condition; the unfallen creature, when merely recognizing that he is a creature; Jesus in His incarnate state, in recognizing His absolute dependence on the Father.”
The author of Hebrews tells us in chapter 2 that “it was fitting for [God], for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings….Therefore, [Jesus] had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:10, 17-18).
Jesus was perfected, or in other words, matured, through suffering, just as we are. It wasn’t that Jesus was imperfect; it was that He was untested. And just like you and me, He had to undergo suffering, hurt, unjust treatment, and pain, in order to be tested, tried, pressed on, pushed down, and, unlike the rest of us who falter and fail under pain and pressure, emerge from every test perfectly.
Why? Because He lived dependently. That is what the word taipenos tells us, and what Jesus tells us about Himself. I think a better translation of Matthew 11:29 reads, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and dependent in heart upon God.”
Every step Jesus took through life, He took dependently. Every test Jesus went through, He went through dependently. Every day He lived, He lived dependently on the Father. Jesus never celebrated an Independence Day. Every day was a Dependent Day for Him.
I can’t tell you how much I have pondered that simple fact over the course of this week. I can’t tell you the freedom that one thought has brought me. So much of my life I attempt to live independently, especially during the Christmas, holiday season. I feel like I have to muster up enough strength each and every day to get it all done on my own – perfectly, rightly, and completely. And every day never lives up to the expectations I have for myself. Something is left undone. Something goes amiss. I fail. My kids fail. My marriage fails. My family members fail.
But this week, in those failing moments, I have crept to the edge of the manger and looked down at the One inside who never lived an independent moment in His life. I have lingered long by this dependent Babe, knowing that He identifies fully with the feelings of my frailty, my imperfections, and my weakness. And He has tutored and taught me this week how, in my moments of weakness, I am to press in in dependence to the One in the manger.
That is all He asks us to do. He does not ask us to figure it out, or carry the burden of a 1000 things on our to-do lists, or be the perfect parents, spouses, family members, friends, or people. But He has asked us to live dependently. To acknowledge our aching need for a Savior who came and lived through every moment, every test, every day, dependently, and empathizes with us, showing us how to do so as well.
So today, don’t feel like you have to pull up your bootstraps and do the next five days, or five weeks, or five years perfectly. Crawl to the manger (maybe that’s all you have the energy to do), look long over the edge, and understand that all you have to do is live this moment, today, the next five days, the next five weeks, the next five years, dependently, leaning on Him, the weak baby in the straw, for all the comfort, hope, mercy, empathy, love and strength He gives.
His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Take a deep breath, and know that He came so that we might learn to live as people who are…dependent.
The week before Thanksgiving, I wanted to eat lean. My goal was to be on a strict diet of protein, vegetables, fruits, and water, forgoing all desserts and small bites of chocolate I steal like a thief from the pantry once the kids have gone to bed. I wanted to eat gluten-free, guilt-free, carb-free Sunday through Thursday morning of that last week of November. Why?
Because I wanted to enjoy The Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday afternoon.
I wanted to savor every morsel of my aunt’s cornbread dressing, marshmellow-melted sweet potatoes, and vinegar-marinated green beans. I wanted to go back for seconds on my mom’s stuffed turkey, Sister Schubert rolls, homemade pumpkin and apple pies, topped with her own whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon. I wanted to eat, and eat, and go back to the buffet line and eat again, without having one ounce of guilt or remorse for stuffing my face with all of the goodness before me.
I “fasted” the week before Thanksgiving because I wanted to thoroughly enjoy the feast of Thanksgiving…and because a sure way to ruin any appetite for any feast is to stuff your face along the way. To eat a whole pbj with potato chips at noon when the feast is set for 4pm. To eat bad, poorly made desserts every night of the week before the feast so you are too guilt-ridden to enjoy the real thing when it is set at the table before you.
Today begins the true countdown until Christmas. Only ten more days until all the cards are mailed, all the presents bought and wrapped, all the parties attended, all of the cookies baked. Only ten more days to prepare our hearts for the Feast of Christmas Day when we peer over the edge of the manger and marvel at the mystery of the one who resides there.
But let me warn you: you and I will not enjoy the Feast of Christmas if we eat whatever we want over these next ten days. If I stuff myself on my to-do lists, my parties, my home, my cards, my gifts, my wrapping, my menus, my own personally mandated lists of perfection and exhaustion…I will miss the Babe in the Manger and will not even have an appetite for Him when it comes to Christmas Day.
A very wise friend of mine says, “In the physical realm, we eat to get full. But in the spiritual realm, we eat to get hungry.”
If you want to be hungry for Jesus, for Emmanuel, for the Prince of Peace, this Christmas Season, you must eat of Him every day in order to be hungry for Him on the day that counts. And to eat of Him every day over the next ten days, you and I are going to have to refrain from eating everything else. Something – all you moms, aunts, teachers, businesswomen, friends, grandmothers – is going to have to be left untouched and uneaten and undone so we still have an appetite for Jesus.
And let me tell you, I am preaching to myself more than I am preaching to anyone else. I am already knee deep in weariness and exhaustion and can feel my appetite actively waning for the things of the Spirit, for the only thing that really counts, that is really worth eating on the Christmas Table.
So to combat my waning taste for the things that really count, I have been actively praying for the past two weeks, a list of things I found on John Piper’s website, www.desiringgod.org, to help my hunger for Jesus.
How to Pray for the Soul –
1. The first thing my soul needs is an inclination to God and His Word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read His Word and draw near to Him. Where does that “want to” come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to gain.”
2. Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened, so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”
3. Then I need for my heat to be enlightened with those “wonders.” I need to perceive glory in them and not just interesting facts. Who enlightens the heart? God does. So Ephesians 1:18 teaches us to pray “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (i.e. pray that we would be fascinated by God’s Word and His Glory)
4. Then I am concerned that my heart is fragmented and that parts of it might remain in the dark while others parts are enlightened. So I long for my heart to be united for God. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? From God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, “O Lord, I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your Name.” (See too Mark 4:19 – that the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things would not enter in and choke the Word, making it unfruitful.)
5. What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of His Spirit in answer to my prayers is that my heart will be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, “O satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
6. But I don’t just want to be happy in my own little private world with God. I want my happiness to be as full as possible for spreading and expanding for others. I want to be strong in joy. This will make me durable in the face of threats or adversity. Where does that strength and durability come from? It comes from God. So Ephesians 3:16-17 teaches us to pray, “That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hears through faith, and that you would be rooted and grounded in love…”
7. Finally, I want my strength in Christ to produce good deeds for others so that the glory of God will be seen in my life. Who produces these good deeds? God does. So Colossians 1:10 teaches us to pray, “That [we] will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord…bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
All this I pray “in Jesus’ Name,” because God gives these things to my soul only because Jesus died for me and removed the wrath of God so that the Father might “freely give me all things” (Romans 8:32).
Here’s the thing: there are a lot of things we can ask for from God and not be sure we are going to get a resounding “Yes!” But all seven of the things on the list above are things that if we pray, we can be CONFIDENT God not only wants to answer, but will answer, with a resounding YES. For they are all things that if we ask in Jesus’ Name, He loves to give.
I’m not sure what’s on your to-do list over the next ten days; I know the things on mine are enough to keep me busy for the next ten months, much less ten days. And many of them probably will not get done. But at the top of my list is to walk through the next ten days with a hunger and a heart for Jesus, as I forgo the junk food for the feast that awaits.
Only you know what exactly ruins your appetite for the feast of Jesus when push comes to shove, but I can tell you one thing: if you and I will eat of the bread of His Word and the Water of Presence consistently and thoroughly throughout the next ten days, we will be ready for the One we are readying to welcome into our hearts and homes on Christmas Day. We will be ready to eat at His Table, guilty no more.
So pull up a chair to the table; the Babe is waiting:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy, and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.“ Isaiah 55:1-3
It’s just Caroline and me this weekend. Jason took the two older girls hunting and was over the moon about the thought of Lillian having the opportunity to shoot her first deer.
I talked to the hunters briefly earlier today, and when I asked Lillian what she had been up to, she said, “Feeding cows and shooting guns.” Hmmm…I guess that adds up to a great weekend in Texas.
Caroline and I, on the other hand, have been watching movies and eating dessert (thank you, Melissa). In between servings, I decided to go for a jog and push Caroline in the stroller. I bribed her with a trip to the neighborhood park at the end.
Halfway through our run, we passed by a house that had a nativity set up in the front yard. Caroline shouted, “Stop, Mommmy, stop! I want to see baby Jesus!”
What self-respecting mom says no to that request?! So out she popped and ran up in a stranger’s yard to peer at the babe in the manger.
And I thought perhaps Caroline’s command was appropriate for all of us today: “Stop! Whatever you are doing – shooting guns, feeding cows, running around and getting ready for Christmas, suffering, hurting, rejoicing, relaxing, playing – stop! And look at Baby Jesus.” Because He’s easy to miss this time of year. I am in daily danger of running right past the nativity on my route to Christmas, and I needed the reminder to stop.
So today, take time to look at Jesus. He is worth the stop. Just ask Caroline.
This young mother sits across from me, her little one nestled in her arms, warm under an orange blanket that envelops them both.
Her chest rises and falls with her breath, her boy’s small body rising and falling in rhythm with hers.
She is his fortress, hidden underneath her wings, and all tucked in, safe and secure, by her love.
I need a momma like that right now. Someone to tuck me in. Someone whose heartbeat I can feel, whose chest rises and falls with mine, whose arms are a secure fortress around me.
The words of Psalm 46 pour over my head like oil, running down to heal every crevice and crack in my heart and pull me in, pull me close to the Mighty Fortress that is my God:
God is my refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore I will not fear,
Though the earth should give way,
And though the mountains fall into the heart
of the sea.
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride.
In a world where all around me is crumbling, including at times my very own heart, in a week when I have had to hold it all together, here is the one place where I can finally fall apart and let it all go. Into the rising and falling chest, the tender heart, and the safe and secure arms of the Mighty Fortress who is my God.
Whatever kind of week you have had, however glorious, however hard, however fulfilling, however disappointing, however uplifting, however crushing, however rejoicing, however perplexing…rest. Just like that little boy. And run to the Mighty Fortress who is your God.