Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Herein Lies the Key to Life: Cease to Strive and Rest in Christ

The following is an excerpt from a message I preached on Sunday, August 12. You can listen to the sermon here

A little over 100 years ago, Jesus profoundly taught a lesson to a man who in recent months has become a sort of mentor to me, and the Lord has pressed this lesson into my life as well. That man's name is Hudson Taylor, and for many years he was a pioneering missionary and leader of China Inland Mission which sought to reach unreached peoples throughout that China. From his youth, Hudson knew the truth that “Christ is all and has done all,” but he struggled to live it in his daily life. He wanted so much to know Christ and serve him better, so he strove to read the Word more. He strove to pray more. He strove to live a more holy life. He strove to be a better servant of the Lord. He strove to seek and save the lost. He strove to mobilize and train and send and support other missionaries. And although these things are good things, at times he felt almost crushed by the weight of them. The calling was so great and the needs were so vast and the resources within and without were so scarce and the necessary power seemed so elusive.

As I've thought and prayed about his life, I've come to believe God allowed Hudson to feel the weight of these things because he was preparing Hudson to learn a lesson he would never forget, a lesson that would mark the rest of his life and shape his legacy, a lesson that would be used to influence the church of Jesus Christ for generations to come. 

When the Lord knew the time was just right, he sent Hudson back to China from his native England where he had been laboring for some time, and upon his arrival he received a letter from a friend. In this letter his friend explained how Christ had been teaching him to rest in his finished work and to cease striving. The friend struggled for words and tried as best as he could to explain but at the end of the day he could only hope and trust that the Holy Spirit would give Hudson understanding. Near the end of the letter his friend wrote, in part, “[Knowing that faith is the means by which we are to rest in Christ,] how then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all he is for us: his life, his death, his work, he himself as revealed to us in his word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the faithful one seems all we need: a resting in the loved one entirely for time and for eternity” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, OMF Books, 2010: 118-19). 

The Lord used this letter in Hudson’s life, and powerfully so. In fact, those closest to him said he was never the same after reading it. One of those people wrote, “Troubles didn’t worry him as they had before. He cast everything on God in a new way and gave more time to prayer.” He stopped working so late into the night and instead just went to bed, rising at 5:00 or 5:30 to be with Jesus. He was giving more time to prayer and the Word now, and yet it wasn't a striving, it wasn't a work of his flesh. It was a resting a Christ, it was time spent with Christ for no other reason than to spend time with Christ. 

This was a black and white moment, a before and after moment in Hudson's life. His dreams and responsibilities and sufferings remained, but the burden of it all was gone. The anxiety had evaporated. He was only a man, so I’m sure he still had his moments of struggle, but by and large the Lord gave him the grace to rest rather than strive. He had discovered the peace of laying down in the sufficiency of Christ and his finished work on the cross. He had found the key to life: cease to strive and rest in Christ.

Of this time he wrote in a letter to his sister, “I don’t know how far I may be able to make myself intelligible about it, for there is nothing new or strange or wonderful—and yet, all is new!...And the sweetest part…is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything” (123). From this time forward he was often heard telling others to “roll the burden onto the Lord.” Someone would come to him with stress about sin or a relationship or circumstance or need or opportunity, and he would just say, “Brother or sister, roll the burden onto the Lord. It’s his alone to bear.” He had found the key to life: cease to strive and rest in Christ. This was Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret—deep dependence upon the Christ who saved him. 

The glory for this belongs not to Hudson but to the Lord who so graciously taught him. And the Lord taught him for the good of us all. If we’ll have ears to hear, I believe God will use this man to teach us a way of life that will free us from anxiety and escort us into a new fruitfulness in Christ that will be high and deep, wide and broad. And I believe that in part because this way of life is not just for the super-spiritual, for famous believers like Hudson, rather, this way of life is for all of God’s children. God wants all who are redeemed to learn the beauty and joy of resting in him. Herein lies the key to life: cease to strive and rest in Christ. Eat of him, drink of him, believe in him—this is your only work, and God will give you grace even for this. 

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