Lightening the Load

On Sunday morning, we heard from a brilliant guest speaker form Restore Community Church in London - Ian King. He spoke about bearing fruit in a time of challenge, and the very first point he made was about guarding our hearts. "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it" (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
Ian used the analogy of a backpack - the load you're carrying in your backpack (i.e., your heart) can really weigh you down if you're not careful. There's a reason we say that misery is having a "heavy heart." Join me as we load up our backpacks for the long walk of life.

The Weight of Worry 

First, let's pour some gravel in our backpacks. Every pebble represents something you're worried about. Worries are bad things that haven't happened yet but could; they're fears for the future.
Right now, there's no shortage of worry in our world. We worry that we might get sick, that we might lose our jobs, that our children's education will suffer, and that we'll never get to enjoy parties or church services or theatrical performances again. 
But worry isn't new to us. As humans, we fear what we cannot see, and the future is entirely unseen. 
The problem with worry is that it's ineffective. Jesus was very clear about His perspective on worry:
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. .... Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? ... And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well (Luke 12:22-23, 25-26, 29-31, NIV).
Peter, the apostle who founded the Church, had plenty to worry about. Christians in his care were shut out of the Jerusalem economy, starving, and persecuted. Yet he didn't believe in worrying either:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:6-10).
God gave us two powerful perspectives on worry: focus and humility. When we focus on the kingdom, we don't have time or bandwidth to focus on worries about what might or might not happen. When we have humility - an accurate estimate of our worth and power - we realize that we can't control the future and therefore should just leave it up to God. These tools are like big shovels, scooping the worry gravel out of our backpacks and pouring it into God's hands.

The Difficulty of Disappointment

Find a good chunk of concrete for your backpack. If you've ever really looked at concrete, you can see that it is full of smaller pieces - rocks, old concrete, and other debris. Every smaller piece in your chunk of concrete represents something that just didn't go your way. If you're like most of the people in the world right now, 2020 holds enough disappointments to make a sizeable concrete building. And 2020 is just one half-year out of the five or twenty-five or fifty years of your life.
Have you ever had a job interview that didn't go well? A project that fell through? A plan that backfired? These disappointments add up. They leave us feeling deflated, discouraged, and discontent. Over time, the disappointments can make us afraid to try again, to do our best, to take the next step. Disappointment becomes a fear that our future will look like our past.
The apostle Paul had his share of disappointment. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten to death, shipwrecked, and destitute; Paul kept getting back up and moving forward. When he could, he preached; when needed, he counseled; when trapped, he wrote. He just... kept... going. "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV). 
Paul's solution sounds over-simplified. "When I do things through Jesus, I can be strong." In other words, Paul's faith "bulked him up" enough that the weight of his backpack was just easier to carry. What motivates us to keep going through disappointment - what gives us the strength to try again - is faith, "the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, NIV). What we've seen might be discouraging, but what we hope for is like steroids for the soul.

The Burden of Bitterness

Finally, I want you to find a big rock. This rock needs to be big enough for you to write on it every mean thing anybody has ever done to you. Add in all the bad things that you've ever witnessed, especially those committed against your loved ones. Finally, add in all the bothersome things you've seen in the news or on social media.
Now be honest, how big is your rock? If you're like me, you can remember experiencing and witnessing enough evil that your rock is more like a boulder. Every time I dwell on any of these things, I feel weighed down, angry, frustrated, and bitter. Bitterness drags us backward into our past and holds on tight.
God has given us two amazing gifts to help lighten the load of bitterness - love and forgiveness. 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins," and Mark 11:25 says, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
Ultimately, all the evil things we remember amount to sin of some kind. People sin against one another all the time, and it drives wedges between us. It weighs us down and makes it hard for us to live in community.
Love and forgiveness are like two giant helium balloons tied to our backpacks. Love elevates our view of people and reminds us that all are created in the image of God. Forgiveness helps us to let go of what has been done to us and our loved ones; it is the supernatural ability to love one another in spite of the evil in the world.
This is the prayer that lifts the weight of bitterness from our hearts, "Lord, this person really hurt me. I'm angry and upset, and it's hard to let go of what they did. But I know that you have promised justice for your people; you have said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' I know that You died to carry the sins of the world on your back, so that I don't have to carry them on mine. Thank you for your sacrifice; help me to forgive."

Lightening the Load

May you have the focus and humility to give your worries to the Lord.
May you have faith gives you the strength to carry on, even in the face of disappointment.
And may you have the love and forgiveness to build a flourishing and fruitful community.
May your heart be light.

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