The Roots of Restlessness
Aspens are beautiful trees, reaching 45 to 90 feet (15 to 30 meters) in height. They thrive in cold climates with cool summers. Their wood is used in furniture and also for making matches and paper. Deer and other animals often feed on young aspen trees during hard winters, as their bark contains many nutrients.
Aspens need lots of sunshine, and they grow all the time—even in winter, making them important winter food sources for different animals.
Aspens, however, are most notorious for the fact that they have one of the largest root systems in the plant world. The roots spread by underground suckers and form a colony that can spread relatively quickly, covering large areas. Individual aspen trees can live up to 150 years, but the larger organism below the ground can live for thousands of years.
In this week’s study, we want to discover some of the roots of our restlessness. There are many things that can prevent us from finding true rest in Jesus. Some of these are obvious and don’t require much attention. Others may be less obvious to us, and, as with the huge aspen organism unseen beneath the ground, we may not always be conscious of the attitudes and actions that separate us from our Savior.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 17.
Very few people enjoy conflict. We crave harmony and peace. We even teach seminars on peacemaking and conflict resolution in our churches or institutions.
Jesus’ statement in Matthew 10:34–39 is shockingly counterintuitive. The Savior, who came as a helpless babe instead of a powerful king surrounded by elite bodyguards, who preached love to both neighbors and enemies, now tells His followers that He brings division and struggles. His disciples and His audience may have wondered, as we are wondering: How can this be?
Matthew 10:35–39 is really about allegiances and loyalties. Quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus challenges His audience to make choices for eternity. A son should love and honor his parents. That was a legal requirement of the law that Moses had received on the mountain. It was part of God’s required mode of operation; and yet, if that love would trump the hearer’s commitment to Jesus, it required a tough decision. A father and a mother should love and care for their children. Yet, if that love would top the parents’ commitment to Jesus, it required a difficult decision. First things first, Jesus reminds us in this passage.
Jesus expresses this choice by formulating three sentences, each using the term worthy. Worthiness is not based on high moral standards or even overcoming sin. Worthiness is based on one’s relationship with Jesus. We are worthy when we choose Him above everything else— including mother, father, or children. We choose the suffering of the cross and follow Jesus.
“I have no higher wish than to see our youth imbued with that spirit of pure religion which will lead them to take up the cross and follow Jesus. Go forth, young disciples of Christ, controlled by principle, clad in the robes of purity and righteousness. Your Saviour will guide you into the position best suited to your talents and where you can be most useful.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 87.
As in the case of the aspen and its larger underground system, selfishness is part of the huge underground system called “sin,” which keeps us from finding true rest in Jesus. Of all the expressions of sin in our lives, selfishness seems to be the easiest to manifest, doesn’t it? For most of us, selfishness is as natural as breathing.
This parable appears only in the Gospel of Luke and is told in response to an anonymous question from the audience. Asked about a question regarding an inheritance, Jesus responds by rejecting the role of the arbiter between brothers. Instead, He opts to put His finger on the bigger underlying problem, namely, selfishness. He digs deeper to show the root mass underneath our individual actions.
By focusing solely on his own needs and ambitions, the anonymous rich man of Jesus’ parable forgot to take into consideration unseen heavenly realities. Bigger, better, and more are not the foundational principles of God’s kingdom. Paul offers us a glimpse into what motivated Jesus as He decided to become our Substitute.
Philippians 2:5–8 describes the blueprint of unselfishness, humility, and love. If love for God and others does not drive our choices and priorities, we will continue to build more barns for ourselves here and put less treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20).
Studying the last week of Jesus’ ministry on earth prior to His crucifixion is always a source of encouragement and inspiration. It also offers a snapshot of how restlessness and ambition drive people to do and say ill-advised things.
We seldom discuss with others who is the greatest in our church, our family, or our workplace. We may think about it a lot, but who, really, openly talks about it?
This was not the first time that this question was raised in the community of Jesus’ followers. Matthew 18:1 reports the disciples’ bringing the question to Jesus and framing it in a more abstract way: “ ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ ” (NKJV). Jesus’ answer involves an object lesson. After calling a child, He sets the child in the center of the group. Eyes are opened wide; eyebrows are raised. Jesus’ action requires an explanation, and in Matthew 18:3 the Master offers that, too: “ ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven’ ” (NKJV).
Conversion is foundational for finding true rest in Jesus. We recognize that we need outside help. We suddenly realize that we cannot depend on ourselves but need to rely on Jesus. We experience a transformation of our values and ambitions. Jesus tells His disciples: Trust Me and rely on Me as this child does. True greatness is giving up your rights and embracing kingdom values.
Unfortunately, it seems that the disciples had not yet learned this lesson by the time Jesus ate the Last Supper with them. Their bickering and infighting ruined a moment of perfect communion that was never to be repeated.
All this, even after years of being with Jesus, ministering with Jesus, and hearing and learning at His feet? What a sad example of just how corrupt the human heart remains! On the more positive side, however, think about the ever-present reality of the Lord’s grace, that despite this pathetic discussion among His followers, Jesus didn’t give up on them.
A hypocrite is somebody who playacts, who wants to appear to be somebody he or she is not. The term is used seven times in Matthew 23 in a discourse in which Jesus publicly shames the scribes and Pharisees, the very center of Jewish religious leadership (Matt. 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29). The Gospels show us Jesus offering grace and forgiveness to adulterers, tax collectors, prostitutes, and even murderers, but He demonstrated little tolerance for hypocrites (see the many additional references in Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; Matt. 7:5; Matt. 15:7–9; Matt. 22:18).
Jesus associates four characteristics with the scribes and Pharisees. In the spectrum of Judaism in the first century a.d., the Pharisees represented the conservative religious right. They were interested in the written and oral law and emphasized ritual purity. On the other side of the spectrum were the Sadducees, a group of mostly wealthy leaders, often associated with the elite priestly class. They were highly Hellenized (i.e., they spoke Greek and were at home in Greek philosophy) and did not believe in a judgment or an afterlife. We would describe them as liberals. Both groups were guilty of hypocrisy.
According to Jesus, we are hypocrites if we don’t do what we say, when we make religion harder for others without applying the same standards to ourselves, when we want others to applaud our religious fervor, and when we require honor and recognition that belongs only to our heavenly Father.
No matter how sharp and to the point His words, Jesus’ engagement with those He called hypocrites was nevertheless full of love and concern, even for these hypocrites.
“Divine pity marked the countenance of the Son of God as He cast one lingering look upon the temple and then upon His hearers. In a voice choked by deep anguish of heart and bitter tears He exclaimed, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ ”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 620.
Overcoming restlessness always begins with Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He knows the right direction when we wander aimlessly in the wilderness of our media-saturated world; as the divine Lawgiver He Himself is the personified Truth, and His Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). When we are hurt, tired, worn out, sick, and discouraged, He is the life—not just any life. In fact, He has promised us life in abundance (John 10:10). This includes our eternal home and eternal life, but it also entails a different quality of life here. The Creator surely is able to give abundantly and beyond measure, even now.
“Let not your heart be troubled” is an invitation to live in anticipation.
When we feel low, He is able to put us on a higher plain. When we struggle with darkness and sin, He is the One who not only began but also will finish His good work in us (Phil. 1:6).
No matter how bad things get here (and yes, they can get bad), look at the promise we have been given in Jesus. He is preparing a “place” for us, a place where our pain, restlessness, and suffering will forever be banished. That is the hope we have been given in Christ Jesus, and it is offered to all of us, no matter who we are, no matter our background, and no matter how sordid our lives have been or are now.
The key, however, is for us to come to God anyway in our weakness, in our hurt, in our brokenness, and in our general fallen state, knowing that He accepts us despite these things. That is what grace is all about, and why we must believe that we have been given it if we seek for it in faith.
Further Thought: “There can be no growth or fruitfulness in the life that is centered in self. If you have accepted Christ as a personal Saviour, you are to forget yourself, and try to help others. Talk of the love of Christ, tell of His goodness. Do every duty that presents itself.
Carry the burden of souls upon your heart, and by every means in your power seek to save the lost. As you receive the Spirit of Christ—the Spirit of unselfish love and labor for others—you will grow and bring forth fruit. The graces of the Spirit will ripen in your character. Your faith will increase, your convictions deepen, your love be made perfect. More and more you will reflect the likeness of Christ in all that is pure, noble, and lovely.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 67, 68.
In dealing with issues between church members, “conversation has been protracted for hours between the parties concerned, and not only has their time been wasted, but the servants of God are held to listen to them, when the hearts of both parties are unsubdued by grace. If pride and selfishness were laid aside, five minutes would remove most difficulties.”— Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 119.