Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.
Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”
That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:
- A plan
- A way to implement the plan
- Will (or heart) and desire
If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:
1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.
2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.
3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike.
4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.
5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.
I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”
What we practice is the plan Jesus laid out for us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 through 7), presented step by step for maximum success. Here we find the “mechanics” of spiritual re-formation and recovery in Christ, which fulfills the vision:
1. Get rid of anger and contempt; learn and practice mercy.
2. Get rid of obsession with others; practice partnership with God.
3. Get rid of swearing and insistence; practice letting Yes be yes, and No be no.
4. Get rid of score-keeping and payback; learn and practice “lending” without return.
6. Get rid of hypocrisy; practice on the planks in your own eye.
A Way to Implement the Plan
By ourselves, we’re lost and don’t know how to put it together. Fortunately, God hasn’t left us by ourselves to figure it all out. He supplies the first three corners—the vision, plan, and way to carry it out.
That Way is to enter into partnership with God through discipleship to Jesus. He’s the vine; we’re the branches. We watch and study him, follow his lead, and learn from him how to do what he says to do. This is “walking” with Jesus or “abiding” in the Lord.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart….” (Mat. 11:29) “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jhn. 14:6) Original Christians were called “people of the way.”
Will and Desire
Now this is where “Take heart!” comes in; and only we can supply this fourth corner of the puzzle. We don’t just wander into God’s kingdom. Neither does God drag us in. And He can’t desire something for us, just as He can’t eat, breathe, or sleep for us.
First, it has to make sense to us. We pursue new life, well-being, and good cheer of our own free, willing intention, but it’s an intelligent choice born of vision. Otherwise, we’re left with blind faith and telling ourselves to “just do it.”
Second, it has to actually be doable. If we don’t see possibility, we lose hope. And without hope, it all goes back to willpower and legalism, which always fails. (See also, “The One Thing to Come Away With.”)
Obviously, there’s a lot of stuff in between, but every person needs these primary corners to begin a cheerful life with God. That’s why we can be glad about Jesus’ good news instead of turning it into a heavy, begrudging, humorless chore.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and input.