This Lent, I’m following along with She Reads Truth’s study of Isaiah. The opening paragraph of commentary reads:
“During Lent, Christians traditionally meditate on Scriptures that point us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we see our desperate need for salvation through the lens of a cross and an empty tomb, we are reminded that nothing we cling to for security outside of Christ Himself can offer us any real or lasting hope.”
Admittedly, as someone who grew up going to church, this message can sit stale in my heart, and I grow distant from the idea of my desperate need. Not that I’m entirely blind to sin and shortcomings, but that (grossly simplified) if my life had a scoreboard, the decent/kind/good parts of me would be winning. Many days, I feel like I’m okay. I’m doing the right things. I’m making my way.
I circled up with four college students at a retreat house a few weeks ago. We spent nearly two hours on our own in silence – sitting, reading, praying – before coming together and talking about said quietude. Each of us (in some form) spoke of desiring direction for the future and wrestling with anxiety in uncertainty. Don’t we all just want to know the way?
So we make neatly ordered plans (for both self- and circumstantial improvement) and get busy achieving them. And if the achievement – or satisfaction in the pursuit – doesn’t become a reality, we set out to control other seemingly controllable things (consciously or not) like our spouse, our grades, or our weight. To sit down, to be quiet, to rest, and to trust God with any of this uncertainty or doubt appears culturally regressive, irresponsible, and passive.
The lie pulses louder: I’m making my way.
1 “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
thus piling up your sins.
2 For without consulting me,
you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
You have tried to hide in his shade.”
15 This is what the Sovereign Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.’”
Isaiah 30 (NLT)
One word resounded in my mind the first day of that Lent study. Futility: the quality or state of being ineffective. If my need for a Savior really is desperate, then something in me is not working. Something in me is not effective.
And for the do-er types, this is terrifying. I want to do things the right way, and I want to know the way.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
John 14:6 (NLT)
The promise of Jesus – of God – is His very self.
He does not promise detailed action plans for big decisions, seasons of suffering, or periods of waiting. He does not promise rules to follow in order to be more significant, more powerful, or more loved. He does not promise that I will become more valuable in the Kingdom of God as long as I have the right behavior and right words, and as I long as I don’t screw up on the path to where He wants to lead me.
He promises His presence and says He’s the life. He’s the truth. He’s the way. And for the previously mentioned doer-types, this doesn’t seem very helpful upon first reading. The reality that Jesus is the way, and we don’t have to exhaust our childlike brains creating our own way, seems obscure and intangible and a bit void of practicality. But – if I come to the place where I remember my efforts toward self-made righteousness are ineffective, futile, and I believe Jesus’ words about Him being the way, truth, and life, and I read God’s words in Isaiah that invite me to return and rest and find my strength in quiet confidence – then I begin to realize that trust is a high and holy calling. And that trust often looks like the least productive or effective thing in the world.
Not that the big decisions don’t matter. Not that I’m now responsible for nothing and can do whatever I want. Not that I can watch Grey’s Anatomy for hours and call it real rest.
But rather, we can claim the freedom to acknowledge our limits and surrender them to an unfailingly effective God who promises His presence and says that’s enough.
He designated space for the people of Israel to be, not just do, and I believe He extends the invitation to us.
“Here is a place of rest;
let the weary rest here.
This is a place of quiet rest.”
(Isaiah 28:12 NLT)
The next line of that verse is pointed and convicting, simply: “But they would not listen.”
Lord, make us a trusting people.