In the short story by Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”1, the title character devolves into a life of desolation by deciding – and declaring – that, “I would prefer not to”, when offered opportunities for work, shelter, and food.
If we were to offer solutions to the average unemployed, homeless, or starving person in the world (that is, in the situation where Bartleby eventually found himself), we would expect a favorable, positive response. However, the scrivener – whether for medical, personal, or psychological reasons – turns down the very opportunities that he requires.
Children can be the same way. Sometimes the simplest solution is offered, and they say, “I don’t wanna!”.
Lest we be too quick to judge, though, let’s take a look at a passage from Jeremiah. Read all of Jeremiah 6:16-19, but notice in particular the first verse.
Thus says the LORD,
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it. ‘
Jeremiah 6:16 NASB
If we are honest, sometimes we know the right thing to do, but we “don’t wanna”. After a long day’s work, going to a Bible study or other small group may feel like a chore (even if we regularly find ourselves recharged after participating). The person God has called us to show His love to might be someone we don’t like, or someone who is likely to not show any appreciation. We get worn down, reach the end of our own energy, and politely tell God (whether literally, or implied through our actions), “I would prefer not to”.
At these times, doing the right thing can seem like a burden. I feel the same way when when the lawn needs to be mowed, the faucets need to repaired, or the trash needs to be taken out: “I would prefer not to.” I also feel like this when I know that an e-mail from my personal inbox needs a reply (after a day of work, I really hate sending another e-mail), or there is a family member I should call. While I care about these people, doing the right thing often takes energy, right when my tank is empty.
However, Jesus didn’t come to burden us (although others of His day did – see Matthew 23:4). Instead, Jesus offers us rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29 NASB
Note that Jesus doesn’t say that we don’t have work to do. The “yoke” that He described is His teaching, but also fits with the idea of a yoke worn by an ox to pull a plow. As followers of Jesus, we still have a mission, but it’s a lot easier than what followers of other beliefs have piled upon them. Consider this:
- The humanist is dependent upon himself (or society) to effect good in the world.
- Many religions require the adherent to be sufficiently “good” to get into their corresponding version of paradise.
- Even some who call themselves Christians add extra rules to what Jesus taught (not unlike the Pharisees that Jesus called out), making burdens heavier for others.
These statements may seem a bit contradictory at first. How can Jesus give us rest, and still have work for us to do? For one thing, I believe that there is an element where we share some of the responsibility for finding balance, both in choosing to obey Him and making room in our lives to do the right things. However, the key that bridges the gap is this: God provides us strength when we need it to do His will.
See the middle of the following passage:
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10-11 NASB
When we have reached the end of our own abilities (and ideally, long before that), we turn to Him, and He provides the strength for us to do what He has planned for us. He gives us that grace, and He deserves the glory.
But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
Psalms 59:16 NASB
So, when you are called to do “just one more thing” – when your calling is sure but your strength is gone – ask for God to give you what you need, from his limitless supply, so that you can do the right thing. Then, instead of, “I would prefer not to”, you can say:
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13 NASB
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.