Starting from Scratch: a Retreat Meditation

This past weekend I had the joyful opportunity to join with a lovely group of ladies from my church with the express purpose of experiencing our God on a deeper level. The group was comprised of women of all ages who were at different stages in their walk with God. Yet despite the differences, an amazing oneness prevailed. How like the Holy Spirit to join us in Christ and allow us to sense Him in and through each other!

On Friday evening, I had the privilege of sharing the opening meditation. If you were at that retreat, you may like to revisit our focus by reviewing the meditation. If you weren’t able to join us for whatever reason, please join us here now as we explore the rest we are called to in Christ, who is our Focus, our Ground Zero, our Foundation, our All!

Actually HE IS the Christian Life! Amen!


Resting in the Lord

About 35 years ago, I hit the lowest point in my spiritual walk with Christ. But this lowest point changed EVERYTHING and ushered me into what would become a life of freedom and joy and rest in the Lord. 

 Let me just quickly paint the picture and prayerfully the Lord will use it in your life to encourage you to start afresh with Him.

I WAS the ultimate poster child for the performing of the spiritual disciplines. I spent years doing them in some form or another. And every Christian tradition I was a part of had its own list … somewhat the same but then a bit different. When I started out my walk with the Lord, my heart was toward HIM, but gradually it became, without my fully realizing it, more about MY growth, My spirituality, MY maturity, MY…MY…MY… and as a result, it became a bondage, a chain around my neck, a legalism, a performance, and I hated it! 

 So after years of spiritual disciplines that I checked off day by day on my chart literally, after years of the “success/failure cycle,” never feeling enough was enough, I came to the end of myself. My health was broken; I was in despair and desperation; and I said to the Lord, “I give up…I can’t do this anymore!”

 It was then that the Lord broke through to my heart and soul and basically said, “Jan, that’s what I was waiting for.” Then He said words that set me free, 

I love you even if you never do another thing right again.” 

And everything began to change after I truly believed and embraced His unconditional love for me personally. Little by little, the legalisms began to drop away. I started from scratch (and told my husband so…)

 First, I threw out my masterpiece of a prayer list (set up daily, weekly, monthly, even quarterly) – I hated it!!!! So I said to God, “I hate praying.  I’m not praying unless YOU show me what true prayer is. Obviously what I’m doing is not it!” So I threw out my list and I stopped “praying”… for days … weeks … maybe even months?  (I can’t remember how long). 

Then before I even realized it, instead of prayer being a formulation in my mind, prayer began to well up from within, from the Spirit who was united with my spirit in the depths of my being. Prayer then became freedom and intimacy and relationship.

I did that with other things – so-called spiritual activities that I did because ‘I should if I’m a spiritual Christian’ (like going to ladies’ meetings at church) until I could do them from freedom and joy and relationship.

Recently I heard Pete Briscoe share about his wife Libby’s throwing off of legalisms and embracing her freedom in her relationship with the indwelling Christ, the Living Word:

 Libby said to Pete one day, “I’m not reading the Bible for awhile.” 

 Pete was appalled! By his own admission, he himself was still living in performance and it would be two more years for him to finally get what Libby already realized … her union with Christ.

So Pete protested and asked her “Why?”

She responded, “Because it’s dry and I’m not getting anything out of it and I’m only doing it legalistically. So I asked Jesus to draw me back in.”

And Pete observed, “So she quit reading, but it wasn’t long before the Living Word who dwells within drew her back to the written Word, and she had a voracious appetite for the Scriptures.”

 Because there was a new Source and a new Focus. 

Watchman Nee says, “All true spiritual experience begins with rest.” 

 Andrew Farley says that relaxing in God is the neglected spiritual discipline

 So let’s start by relaxing in God

The GOOD NEWS for us is that Jesus Himself has already invited us and is continually inviting us to HIS Rest.  The rest that Jesus is offering in not primarily physical rest but rather the deep,inner tranquility(anapausis in Greek) even in the midst of the labors and the circumstances of the day. And this is rest indeed!

And it’s a rest of spirit that is received as a gift, and it’s also a rest of soul that is found.  And this rest is all wrapped up in HIM, not in all the periphery and practices of what we call “the Christian life.”  He Himself is our Ground Zero, Our Foundation, our Rest. He Himself IS the “Christian Life.” As we focus on HIM and rest in HIM, we will lay the proper foundation for all of the spiritual practices. 

So to see this, let’s join Jesus as He teaches a crowd in Galilee, as recorded in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11.

Picture yourself in the “ragamuffin” crowd as you are following Jesus today. Maybe there are judgmental people all around in your life, like the Pharisees who hounded Jesus’ every step and were certainly in the crowd that day. And maybe there are those you consider the “chosen ones,” like the disciples, those special ones. 

 And then there is you -- exhausted…worn out, burdened by the should’s and ought to’s, never feeling like enough is enough – wounded, frightened, lonely, depressed … a mess: physically, relationally, and most of all …spiritually. 

Or maybe you are burdened by your past choices, and you never feel like you are getting it right. Maybe you are desperate because you’ve given up. Everything in your Christian life has become dead and heavy.


So hear the words of Jesus to you personally:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ESV

1.    First, there is the rest that WE RECEIVE. 

Let’s look again at the Lord’s invitation in verse 28:

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 

Literally, it reads,

 “Here to Me!”   

The word “come” is not even there in the Greek. [He is rather indicating “a place” and “a Person.” ]

Do you get that? Picture Jesus with His beautiful YES face pointing, as it were, to HIMSELF as the Person who is the place of rest, in contrast to the Pharisees with their constant NO faces who were following Him and harassing the people with their “religious mega-list.”

Also notice the little word translated “to” in this verse. It is like an arrow aimed in a certain direction. It stays focused and doesn’t miss its target. 

And Jesus is saying … HERE … aim at, focus on, come to ME! Not over THERE to them (the religious leaders) and their mega-list of “doing, doing, doing.”


It reminds me of my then 7 y.o. grandson Carter when he was on a swim team at their swim club.  He was only on the team because his mom & dad thought it would help make him a strong swimmer. But all Carter cared about was who was in his audience (mom & dad, g’ma & g’pa, Babci & Poppi, big brother Evan) and what color ribbon he could get. (each place had a different color, including last. And he wanted at least one of each. You have to know Carter is an artist so that’s what he was thinking of, not of winning). So instead of focusing on the finish line and winning, Carter looked from side to side to see if Mom & Dad, G’ma & G’pa, and Babci and Poppi were watching.

But the coach and the crowd (including us) wanted Carter and his team to win. So I had an idea. When I was at Carter’s next meet, knowing he was going to be looking along the sidelines to see if parents and grandparents were watching, I decided to get at the end of the lane where he was supposedly heading. I crouched down low trying to catch his eye and I began calling to him, “Carter … come on, swim, swim!!!!!” And guess what, he won … 1st place! So after that we all got at the end of his lane and beckoned and called out to him, “Swim, Carter, swim! Here, this way!”

And I can’t help but picture Jesus doing the same to us … “Here … to Me! Focus! Move! Come!” 

And then Jesus goes on to say … “When you come HERE to ME! {Literally it says,} “I WILL Rest You!”

So Jesus is saying “I am your Focus, not those religious leaders over there and their ‘religious to do list;’ not your own self-effort to be righteous and good … ME! I am your Rest.” And this is the inner rest of SPIRIT that Jesus gives is a totally free gift when we come to Him for the very first time, for eternal salvation. He says, “I WILL REST YOU! It’s My Gift. BELIEVE ME and receive it!”

What is this rest of spirit that Jesus gives as a gift? It’s the rest of UNION with the Living God.  

Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth to unite us, who were once separated from God, to HIMSELF. And this rest of UNION with God is fixed, permanent, unchanging, a free gift when we come to HIM by faith for salvation! 

And what does this Union with God include? It means we have …

*The rest of total FORGIVENESS of all our sins, past, present, and future (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:28; 10:14,17; Romans 8:1). It’s the rest of a completed work – the work of Christ on the Cross, where He said, “It is finished.”

o  It’s complete, no more striving to earn or make up for, no more penance, no more sacrifices to pay for sins. No more begging for forgiveness or even asking for forgiveness. It’s done.

o   And it’s the Key to the kingdom. It transferred us out of the Old Covenant of doing, to the New Covenant of done, resting–- the doorway.

o   No more working to get closer (you are as close as you ever will be b/c you are in union with HIM), 

o   No more earning (Jesus paid it all), no more making up for (the sinless & pure Jesus’ one sacrifice made up for it all), 

o   No more trying to get God to love you more (God loves you like He loves His beloved Son) 

 You are already totally forgiven — 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

 It also means we have …

       *The rest of eternal LIFE, God’s Life (NOT just going to heaven when we die)

o   Your old man died in union with Christ, and you were raised to newness of life, Jesus’ resurrection life (Romans 6:4-14; Galatians 2:20), 

o   You are a new person, a new “YOU”(2 Cor 5:17)  

o   You were born into God’s family, a beloved child of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-2)

o   You are a new creation; a saint (holy one); alive with the “pulsating eternal life of God” (zoe)as Jesus promised (John 3:16; 5:39-40; 6:33; 6:51; 10:10; 11:25-26; 14:6)

o   You are the beloved of your Abba, Father God. You know your Abba and His unconditional love for you (1 John 3:1-3)

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:4-9 ESV)

And it also means you have …

      *The rest of FULLNESS in Christ

o   You have been baptized [plunged] INto Christ-- Security -- Everything that has happened to Christ has happened to you: death, burial, resurrection. (Col 2:9-10; 1 Cor 1:30)

 o   You are Indwelt by Christ who lives IN you --IntimacyHE is the fullness of deity in bodily form and HE lives in you; HE is the hope of glory who indwells you;
All you need is in Him, and He is IN YOU! (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 4:6-7; John 15; 1 Cor 6:17, 19-20).

It means Christ is living in you by His Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:17, 19).  All of Christ is in all of you (Colossians 2:9-10)!  

1:27 …the riches of the glory of this mystery, … is Christ in you, the hope of glory…
2:9-10 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority
(Colossians 1:27; 2:9-10 ESV) 

And all this and more is true for you the moment you respond in faith for the very first time to Christ’s invitation:

“HERE TO ME and I will REST YOU!

So there is no more working, no earning, no trying to be right in God’s eyes; no grasping for His love, no agonizing over getting more of Him and His Spirit. There’s nothing you could do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you could do to make Him love you less. You have it all because you have HIM. 

It’s all about being in union with HIM who is your promised Sabbath Rest! 

So may I ask you, dear sisters, are you resting in the Person of the Son of God and His finished work in His death, burial and resurrection? 

Do you realize He rested you permanently when you came to Him 

·      for the first time years ago? 

·      even just last week? 

·      Or even tonight, if you have never truly come to Him before. 

Or are you doing, doing, doing even religious good works to get “more of Him” in your life, to get Him to love you more, to be “spiritual,” to earn His love and His forgiveness?

Well, there’s good news … STOP! You have all of Him and He has all of you. And in HIM you have total forgivenessof sin, past, present and future. You have Lifeeternal, the life of God Himself. You are the loved child of your Father.  And you have fullnessin Him, and He is in you.

HE HAS already RESTED YOU! So you can live resting in your union with Him.

But now the question is

·      “Are you experiencing this rest in your soul every day of your life on this earth?

·      “How can you commune with God and experience the intimacy and closeness and oneness with Him which is already yours while you are on this earth?”

Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark. That’s where the next two verses come in…

2.   There’s a rest that WE FIND. 

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ESV 

What is this soul-rest that we find? It’s the rest of COMMUNION with God, experiencing oneness and intimacy with God with Whom we are already united in a fixed and permanent relationship.  

Our union is fixed and unchanging; but our communion (experiencing our union with God) is changeable.

yoke easy.jpg

To help us understand this, Jesus uses the image of a yoke

What is a yoke? A yoke is a bar or frame of wood that connects two animals together for a purpose or work of some kind. This was and is a common sight in the Middle East. Typically, a stronger animal is yoked to a weaker or more inexperienced one and so takes the lead. The two animals then work together to complete the same job.  

In addition to this use with animals, a slave-owner sometimes used a yoke to bind and control his slaves. Symbolically then, the yoke is a picture of being attached to one who is stronger and more skilled to accomplish a purpose together. It expresses yielding control to a master who is greater in power and authority.

So a yoke signifies attachment and yielding control, surrender.

Jesus says that we are to take on HIS yoke in order to find rest for our soul. Our soul is our inner person – our mind, our emotions, and our will. One author has explained it this way: 

Your spirit is where you receive God’s Life; 

your soul is where you experience God’s Life; 

your body is where you express God’s Life.

And the soul is where we often struggle and experience lack of peace and rest. But as we chose living from union with HIM above all other competing attachments, as we focus on HIM and yield to HIM, we experience the peace and rest of a Loving Lord who lives through us in every situation we face. 

However, the fact is that there are other yokes, besides Christ’s yoke, that are pulling at us. These other attachments are often good things that end up becoming addictions, obsessions, dependencies, mini-gods that exert control over our lives. Christine Wyrtzen, in her lovely website Daughters of Promise, names a few that we women can become attached to if we are not living by our indwelling Christ, focusing on Him, yoked to Him above all else: 

·      the yoke of religion and living by “others’ measuring stick” (like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) 

·      the yoke of slavery and living by “the demands of controllers”

·      the yoke of shame and living by “the opinions of flawed people”

·      the yoke of the flesh and living “like I did before I believed”

·      the yoke of deception and living by “lies conceived at the gates of darkness.” 

And I might add …

·      the yoke of self-effort and living by my own ingenuity and drivenness (type-A personality)

This last yoke is my trap if I’m not careful. Earlier this year I was talking to the Lord about a situation I was anxious about. My tendency is to run ahead and want to figure it out to fix it instead of waiting on Him and focusing on Him for the next step. In the midst of my conversation with the Lord about it, He took me to a favorite verse in a newer translation:

We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy,
    just as servants keep their eyes on their master,
    as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
Psalm 123:2 NLT 

I thought of how my attachment is to Christ alone, and how I am His bond-slave/servant just as the Apostle Paul was. And how then I need to focus on Him and wait for His “signal.” And as I did, I found rest for my soul and ultimately a resolution to my problem. 

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A few days later, I shared this verse with my young sister in the Lord, Rebekah VanBuskirk, and she responded with the most amazing illustration. Here it is in her own words:

…That Psalm really hit me. I know it feels awkward for us thinking of slaves and servants, but I’ve really been getting into training dogs this past year because of my puppies, and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that before you can train a dog to do something, you have to get them to look at and focus on you. You can’t teach a dog anything if they aren’t even paying you any attention. 

One of the biggest behavioral problems I was having with my dogs is that they go nuts barking at people when they first show up to the house or if they walk by in the street. Once they take off or start “sounding off” it’s hard to rein them back in. So the first thing I started teaching them is to make eye contact and focus on me. Now my dogs sit around me and watch me like a hawk waiting for any physical or verbal cues. Once I give them one, even if it’s just the flick of a finger or pointing at something with my toes, they take off to obey. 

So now when someone shows up or walks by the house, they’re learning to run to me and “wait on me” to give them the signal to relax or the signal to “attack” which really means just bark. But now they can relax because they know what to do. They find me and wait for me to signal if it’s under control or not. They’re watching me instead of the problem. And that actually gives them the freedom to relax because they don’t always have to be on alert. 

But it starts with building up the muscle memory of focusing on me in the calm every day situations. If I started out trying to get them to focus on me with dogs and people running around, it’d never work. I had to start in my kitchen where it was quiet and familiar. Then start adding in little distractions and disturbances. The more distractions I added the more they built up a muscle memory of staying focused on me no matter what. Now it’s almost to the point where I can trust them outside, unleashed and unfenced, to remain completely under my verbal control. We’re still working on it, but what a difference it made to start with focusing on me. 

And now I need to focus on my Master. I need to watch him with the same intensity that my dogs watch me. I need to build up that muscle memory of turning to him when the little distractions and disturbances come, so when the big ones hit, the muscle memory takes over and I run to him and watch him, waiting for his cue. 

And maybe one of these days I’ll find I’ve wasted so much time going nuts barking over things that were never really threats or issues to me and my family because He had it under control. 

What Rebekah describes here is the rest of soul, the communion with God we can experience as we live attached to Him (yoked to Him), learning from Him, watching for His “signals.”

And this is where I think the spiritual practices or “spiritual disciplines” can be helpful. As spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said, 

Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create time and space where God can become our master and we can respond freely to God’s guidance. Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God…where God’s gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, February 27

I would like to close with these words of AW Tozer … from his masterpiece classic Pursuit of God, “The Gaze of the Soul,” speaking of the spiritual disciplines: 

Private prayer should be practiced by every Christian. Long periods of Bible meditation will purify our gaze and direct it; church attendance will enlarge our outlook and increase our love for others. Service and work and activity; all are good and should be engaged in by every Christian. But at the bottom of all these things, giving meaning to them, will be the inward habit of beholding God. A new set of eyes (so to speak) will develop within us enabling us to be looking at God while our outward eyes are seeing the scenes of this passing world.

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Let’s PRAY

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. 

Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. 

Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 MSG 

Oh Lord, that is our desire … to gaze at You, to focus on you, to rest in You, and to move with You and to experience YOU as …

·      Love beyond our love 

·      Forgiveness beyond our forgiveness 

·      Patience beyond our patience 

·      Skill beyond our skill

·      Fullness beyond our fullness 

·      Peace beyond our peace 

·      Rest beyond our rest.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.



To print out as a pdf file, click HERE.

For more about Rest & Matthew 11:28-30 (from A Branch in the Vine):

The Invitation to Rest:

Resting while You Work: 

For more on Yokes (Christine Wyrtzen, Daughters of Promise):

For Rebekah’s blog post on Watching and Waiting (training her dogs):