His Burden Is Light? (Really?)
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Dane OrtlundDane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers and Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Dane and his wife, Stacey, have five children.
In rough days, it’s easy to see God as our #1 critic. Is He fighting for us—or fed up with us? Author Dane Ortlund examines whether God’s adding the unbearable weight of perfection on top of our pain … or if it’s true His burden is light.
His Burden Is Light? (Really?)
Dane: Jesus says His heart is gentle and lowly—His heart—this is consistent with the testimony of the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love [emphasis added],”—Exodus 34, which is picked up, time and again, throughout the Old Testament. We picture God as the photo-negative of this; because we know, way down deep, we are guilty sinners. We’re free to honor Christ by letting His forgiveness loom larger than all of our guilt, shame, and regret.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife App.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
Ann: Have you ever heard someone say, “If I walked into the church, the walls would come down.”
Dave: My brother said that; I’ve heard a lot of people say that, actually.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: But I remember my brother saying that. His thought was, “I have so much sin in my life; there’s no way that a sinner like me can be accepted in church.”
Ann: Although he never told us that! [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; I mean, it’s what we think.
Dave: We think that God would never embrace a sinner, and the truth is so much different and more beautiful than that. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
But, you know, before we get there, we’ve got David Robbins in the studio with us today, the president of FamilyLife. He’s here because December is such a crucial moment in the life of FamilyLife [as a] ministry. David’s going to talk about that, so tell us why December is such a pivotal time in our ministry.
David: Well, it’s really simple. What happens over the next few weeks will determine the amount of ministry that we will be able to do in the year to come. Like many ministries and non-profits, so much of our giving [from] people, who generously donate to FamilyLife, comes at the end of the year. When I think about this year, 2021 has been a vivid reminder of why we need to stay deeply committed to Jesus in our homes. That’s why, at FamilyLife, we are doubling down on this vision of every home becoming a godly home; because that’s when people will find satisfaction in their families and in their lives.
We are committed to it, and we are seeing our engagement on radio and podcasting grow; it’s grown 84 percent this year of 2021. We’re thankful for that growth, but we want to reach even more homes. Your gift, this yearend, can help us engage more homes with the gospel and the ways of Jesus that can be lived out among families. That’s why I want to invite you and challenge you to give this yearend if you can. Every gift matters. Whatever you are able to give, we are so grateful for it; and we invite you to please join the team.
Dave: Yes; and so, as David said, we need you. As we are rolling into December, this is our December match.
Ann: This is the time to give; because of that match, it will be doubled.
Dave: Because we’ve had some generous donors give up to $1.5 million.
Ann: —which is amazing!
Dave: —which is a miracle from God.
Dave: Thinking, as you give, that’s going to be matched by that. I hope you join us and make a yearend gift to FamilyLife. You can do that; just go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Ann: And as a “Thank you,” for your giving—
Ann: —this is kind of fun—we’re going to send you a couple gifts as just a special “Thank you,” for helping us meet this generous match. We’re going to send you some conversational playing cards, and we’re also going to send you a devotional.
Dave: Yes, which is written by our guest today, who’s in the studio: Dane Ortlund.
Thanks for being with us today, Dane. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dane: Thank you. Good to talk with you guys.
Dave: And we’ve already spent a day—boy, what a program—talking about the heart of Jesus being gentle and lowly—which is the title of your book, Gentle and Lowly—which is a book on that/the very heart of Jesus, which is so paradigm-shifting.
Ann: If you haven’t picked up the book, you need to pick it up; read it—put it beside your bed, even if you read a few pages every night—because it will transform your view of Jesus and God.
Dave: Yes; and obviously, you’re a pastor in the Chicago area; married how many years?—20?
Dane: Coming up on 20, yes.
Dave: You know, we get into the idea that Jesus is so much different than a lot of us think and behave. How does that affect how we approach Him?
I know, as a pastor—and I was a pastor—often, people sort of were afraid of me. Like, as a Detroit Lions chaplain, if I walked into the Detroit Lions locker room, which I did daily, every once in a while, somebody would say, “Oh, sorry, pastor!” when they cursed.
Dave: Like I couldn’t be around that, and they shouldn’t ever do that around me, and they wanted to run away from me. My response/I was always like, “You don’t understand me at all.
Ann: You’re not judging, yes.
Dave: “I don’t think any less of you because of that. I actually would love to spend time with you.” I felt that—and even, I know you’ve experienced the same thing as a pastor—and I know Jesus felt that, but that’s not His heart. Talk about how we approach Him if that’s who He is.
Dane: Boy, I’ve experienced that, too—not in an NFL locker room—but people thinking they have to suddenly really watch what they say when they’re around you.
Dane: How awful! [Laughter]
Sinclair Ferguson is an author who makes this point in one of his books: “People view me or you in our preaching. They form a picture of Christ based on how we are, not mainly what we say,—
Dane: —“but how we are looking people in the eyes, and the tone and posture with which we are conducting ourselves toward [them].”
I want to give people—to come back around to your question now—I want to give people the aroma of Jesus Christ. They might say, “You know, I didn’t know that word that he used; I didn’t quite follow the second point. I don’t know about that point of application, but I am drawn in; I’m attracted to this kind of person.”
And I want to be just a little modest—in my own fallen, finite way—glimmer of what Jesus Himself is like; because I want to defiantly correct the deep, deep, deep intuition and reflex that people have, that they can’t approach Christ except at their best. Actually, the testimony of Scripture—and this is the way God is in the Old Testament prophets—is that He is drawn to us when we are at our lowest. I just want to keep immersing people in that.
Ann: It reminds me: we recently interviewed your dad. Ray, your dad, has this magnetic personality. He pulls out and calls out the greatness in everybody that he met; he asks them questions.
Dave: I felt a sense of warmth. I don’t know if that was your experience, growing up—and I don’t know him, obviously, anywhere near like you did—but I felt, just what you said, drawn in.
Ann: We were drawn to him! Like, he speaks life everywhere he goes; and I think it’s exactly what Jesus did.
Ann: He could see the sin; but He still loved, and wooed, and called people toward Him to the point—and of course, people were following Him—because who wouldn’t want to follow that person?!
Dane: They did, yes. I mean, why is a “sinful woman” washing His feet with her hair when He’s hanging out with all the religious PhDs of the day?—
Dane: —all the impressive people! But these are the people—the destitute, the outcast; those who are at the end of their rope—in other words, really, we see ourselves all the time in these people. They can’t stay away!
Dane: They find Him irresistible, so praise God!
Dave: Well, I’m sure you’ve heard the pushback. The pushback is: “Whoa, whoa; wait! We’re supposed to fear God; we should be afraid of Him. We should be afraid to be near His holiness; because we’re full of sin, and we’re dirty. That’s the God that I know, and that’s who God is.” What do you say to that?
Dane: Well, that’s a very understandable feeling; and actually, I believe that, racquet-ing out the gospel. That is true! I am a dirty, messy wretch; I’m a train wreck! But then, if you bring the gospel in—and the reason we have to go to church every week; the reason we have to read our Bible every day—is because we keep forgetting this.
When you bring the gospel in—actually, you are told what you feel about your state of cleanliness: your state of being not guilty, but acquitted, and free to leave the court room—you don’t feel that way; but actually, in the gospel, because of what Christ did, that is who you are! Therefore, it feels scandalous. If you’re in Christ, you’re free to feel totally forgiven and to stop. That’s very deeply against our intuitions, but it’s gloriously true.
Ann: Well, it reminds me: we recently interviewed a friend of yours, Sam Allberry.
Ann: We’re going to have you listen to this clip of Sam, and we want you to respond to it.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Sam: The flesh has its own fleshly way of dealing with the flesh. [Laughter] And we think, “Okay, I need to man up! I need to just kind of fight harder.” But Titus 2 says, “It is the grace of God that teaches us to say, ‘No,’ to ungodliness.” The only way we can fight these very, very deep-seated impulses that we find within us is we need to keep receiving the grace of God.
Dane: Amen. It takes a Bible to believe that; because our own natural intuitions are: “Yes, I’ve screwed up! Okay, let me try to chip away at this.” I love what Sam says there!—“We use the flesh to battle against our own felt flesh-ness,”—and we have a lot of flesh going on!
But actually, we are softened, and melted, and lifted into change. We can white-knuckle external behavioral change—“I can cut carbs and get up earlier!” “I can make myself do it!” But actually, that’s not changing me—that’s just surface-level—that’s not from the inside-out.
What Sam is saying there is so wonderfully true. Actually, this is a sustainable Christian life—if that is true, according to Scripture—because actually, the way I grow, the way I get traction, and the way I move forward is by receiving more deeply than I ever have the same gospel/good news grace that got me in in the first place, enjoying that more deeply, not graduating beyond it. So Sam, “Amen!” [Laughter]
Dave: But what happens to us, as I think we all experience, is instead of running close to Jesus, we pull away. I’ll read you a quote from your book that I just—I read it out loud to Ann—you wrote, in Chapter 2, I think: “It is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over-celebrated,—
Dave: —“made too much of, exaggerated. It cannot be plumbed, but it is easily neglected/forgotten. We draw too little strength from it.” And then you say this: “When Christ sees the fallen-ness of the world, and its effect on His people, He moves toward that sin and suffering; He does not turn away from it.”
Forever, we’ve had the opposite picture!—
Dave: —He turns away from me, and I sort of have to turn away from Him—sometimes, I’m like, “Wait, wait, wait! Are you saying we can’t over-celebrate this?”—you are!
Dane: Yes; I believe what you just read. [Laughter]
Dave: — because you wrote it!
Dane: Yes; He says His heart is gentle and lowly: His heart.
We know from the testimony of Old Testament and New, the heart is not anything frothy—it’s not merely your emotional or affectional life—it’s what pours out most deeply from your innermost core. When Jesus tells us what His heart is, He says “gentle and lowly.” Conclusion: we’re never going to overstate the wondrous, endless patience and love of His heart—we will understate it; it’s all we’re ever doing!—but we can’t go beyond that ceiling.
And again, this is consistent with the testimony of the Old Testament: “The Lord, the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love [emphasis added],”—Exodus 34, which is picked up, time and again, throughout the Old Testament—not the God I think is naturally there: “The Lord, the Lord, tepid and calculating in steadfast love,”—no!
This is, as you say, Dave: we picture God as the photo-negative of [who He is]. It feels very morally serious to make much of holiness and to say, “Oh, hang on! No, tap the brakes on His grace.” That feels right because we know, way down deep, we are guilty sinners. But actually, we’re dishonoring Christ. We’re free to honor Christ by letting His forgiveness loom larger than all of our guilt, shame, and regret.
Dave: And you know, as I’m listening, I’m thinking, “Well, the other side of that is: “If I celebrate it too much—and even as a parent—if I’m only all-loving, my kids are going to run amuck. They’re going to take advantage of me. They’re going to break every law because: ‘Dad’s going to forgive,’ ‘Mom’s going to forgive,’ ‘It’s no big deal; God’s the same way.’” Talk about that balance.
Dane: Yes, we do—do that—don’t we? But love in the Bible, is not leniency; love is not tolerance; love is not looking the other way. Hebrews 12: “God disciplines’’—the Greek word, paideia; it means “training”—God trains us; and that is, at times, painful. He’s pruning us. If we prune a branch—if that branch has any feelings, it’s going to say, “Ouch!” when that branch gets sliced off—but it’s, ultimately, for longer-term flourishing and fruitfulness.
God loves us too much to let us coast through life, while He looks the other way, and letting us remain the shallow, twaddling people we would all be if pain doesn’t come into our lives. He loves us enough to—in His tender, Fatherly, sovereign way—send pain to help us to grow and deepen. We just have to be sure what we mean by love: God’s love in the Bible and our love for our own kids.
Ann: Dane—I’m curious—talk about the Dane that is understanding this now in comparison to what your life looked like before you had a deeper understanding of this.
Dane: C.S. Lewis has a little essay—it’s two pages—called “Three Kinds of Men.” He says there are three kinds of people in the world:
Number one: people who throw out all the rules. They don’t care; they’re breaking the law, and they don’t have any conscience whatever—person number one.
Person number two: those who know they should fly right—either they’re to follow the Ten Commandments, or their own conscience, or whatever—but they do it like paying a tax, hoping there’s enough left over for them to live on. So: “Alright, God; I know in the Scripture you’re telling me to do this; alright, I’ll do it. But I hope there’s enough for me to enjoy my life after I do all of that.”
He says person number three: Are those, who actually have collapsed into the delicious freefall of knowing that it is, as they are yielding themselves to God, that actually that is their deepest joy.
I’ve lived most of my life as person number two. And if I’m totally honest, that’s who I still am. I can experience person number three for like 15-second blips at a time—[Laughter]—like we’re enjoying it right now, because we’re talking about this!
Dave: Fifteen seconds! [Laughter]
Dane: But in an hour, I’ll be right back into, you know, grumbling, like the people of Israel. So the question isn’t: “Can you do certain things?” The question is: “Can you enjoy God?”
Dane: And the way to enjoy Him—actually, to have fellowship/friendship with God—is to know His deepest heart. If we think that He’s got a clipboard in His hand, and He’s taking notes on how we’re doing—and there’s a good side and a bad side, and we’ll see how it all ledgers out at the end—forget it! That’s not sustainable; you can’t do that! You can only do that for a certain amount of time, and then you will crash and burn, or give up the faith or something.
But what if, as we go stumbling our way through the Christian life, we are okay?—because at every point, Christ’s grip of us is stronger than our grip of Him; and He’s going to see us through. And as we fail—as we simply bring that failure to Him afresh—His own deepest joy is to pull us into His heart all over again; that’s a win-win.
Dave: I just want to respond to that; because I’m looking over at my wife, and she’s in tears again. Way to go, Dane! [Laughter] You’ve got my wife crying again!—[Laughter]—like all during this interview and the previous one.
And let me ask you [Ann]:
If this is why? I’m thinking you’ve grown up, so often in your life, believing in a God, who was all the things Dane just said—a clipboard: “You’ve got to measure up,” “…measure up,”—and you’re a/you came from the Barons: “We are the best!”; so you don’t just try to be good;—
Ann: Oh, you’re a failure if you aren’t the best.
—“You are the best!” And so you, often, felt like you were failing God.
And early in our marriage, we would have—I shouldn’t have had a conflict with you about it—but I’m like, “That’s not who He is! He doesn’t feel that way about you!” And I’m saying it just like this—like that sounds real loving; doesn’t it?—“Come on! That’s not who God is!!” [Laughter] I’m shaming her, trying to convince her that God’s a loving God.
I was always, you know, leaning more toward the love of God; you were more toward the Law—is that what’s going on?—you’re sitting here, going, “Oh, this is so beautiful; because it’s so right”?
Ann: I think, growing up, because of having to strive and to work, I felt like, “That’s what God’s like; He has this clipboard,” exactly what you explained. And I think so many of us feel like, even though we are new creatures in Christ, we feel a sense of: “I’m not measuring up, and I’m continuing to fail.”
Because of my past—like I have abuse in my background—I feel like I’m not good enough; I’m not worthy enough. And so I think what’s happening is that Jesus—and I know this Jesus now; I feel like I have been set free—but I lived under that yoke of trying and striving, and it was so heavy. I love that Jesus offers us freedom; that He says, “You’re my child! You’re my daughter; I delight in you.”
Ann: And I think it’s a good reminder. I think that’s why, as people read your book, Dane, I feel like people will be set free into the true gospel.
Dane: May it be.
Ann: I think they will; I have been!
Dave: I mean, what do you say to Ann?—what do you say to a person believing that?
Dane: A couple of things come to mind. One is: “Wow! You too?!” [Laughter] That’s one thought that comes to mind. [Laughter]
Another is: “What do you guys think about this?”—what you just described: the inner psychology of what you just laid out—I suspect/actually, I believe that’s not unique to one type of personality, or one Enneagram type, or one side of the Myers-Briggs, or one kind of upbringing. We might have an upbringing that exacerbates it, heightens it, makes it stronger—that Law feeling—but I think that’s in all of us. We all are born—one thing the fall did—original sin is it entrenched in our minds dark thoughts of God and of Christ.
One Scripture that comes to mind is Saul being on the road, persecuting Christians, in Acts 9. The risen Lord Jesus does not say to him, as He knocks him on the ground lovingly, “Hey, dude! Why are you persecuting believers?” And He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My disciples?” He says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” The reason we can stand and look Him in the face, and actually be embraced by Him, is we are His own body parts; that’s how He feels about us. If I stub my toe—I don’t give it a pep talk—I want it to be healed, and soothed, and helped, and tenderly cared for.
Dane: So even if it’s our own sin and folly, as well as the affliction and suffering we’ve experienced at the hands of others, He wants us to be healed. We are His own body. That’s very comforting.
Bob: When we read in the Bible that we are united with Christ, we often think about that in some abstract sense. Certainly, it’s a metaphor; but it’s also a reality that we are intimately connected with Christ. What happens in our lives: He is with us in that.
Dane Ortlund has been joining us today to talk about how Jesus is gentle and lowly/His heart for all of us, who are sinners and sufferers. Dane has written a book by that title. It’s a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order your copy from us. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order the book by phone. Again, the title of the book is Gentle and Lowly. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, you have probably heard already today that this is what’s known as Giving Tuesday. We’ve had Black Friday, and Local Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday—we’ve had all of that—today is Giving Tuesday. It’s a day when ministries like FamilyLife Today are asking friends to consider a special yearend gift to help with the ongoing work of these ministries.
As we enter into the Christmas season/as we approach the end of the year, this yearend giving is so significant/so important. We really need to hear from you in the next few weeks. In fact, there’s some extra incentive for you to give today, on Giving Tuesday. First of all, whatever donation you make today is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, thanks to the generosity of some friends of the ministry, who have put together a matching-gift fund of $1.5 million. Every donation we receive, we’re able to deduct an equal amount from that matching-gift fund and match your donation, dollar for dollar.
In addition, we want to say, “Thank you for your support,” by sending you a copy of Dane Ortlund’s new devotional from the book of Psalms: 150 devotions from the hymnbook of the Bible. Dane’s book is called, In the Lord, I Take Refuge. It’s a great devotional to have as you begin the new year. We’ll also send you a deck of playing cards. On each of these cards there’s a conversation starter for you, as a couple, or for you as a family. The book and the cards are our thank-you gift for you today when you make a Giving Tuesday donation to support FamilyLife Today.
Again, whatever donation you make is going to be matched, dollar for dollar. We hope to hear from you; you can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to make a donation at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for your support/your vote of confidence in the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and for letting us know how God is using this ministry in your life, in your marriage, and in your family.
And we hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how we reconcile the fact that the gentle and lowly Jesus will one day come and judge the earth and bring final judgment. How does that make sense? Dane Ortlund will talk more about that tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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