Discipleship in Shorthand – by Biff Weidman

(Originally published in the newsletter of the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker House.)

Years ago, I spent eighteen months living and working at The Hermitage. I experienced a way of life that was “sane and simple”. I was nourished in solitude. I glimpsed a simplicity I’d never known before. Seemingly everything about the setting and our rhythm of life encouraged mindfulness, alertness to God’s presence. Again and again I was called back to Jesus’ words: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

Each morning we gathered for prayer, reciting “The Hermitage Affirmation.” And these lines in the Affirmation have been written on my heart ever since:

“The call to us here today are these words of Jesus: ‘Come, all who are weary and whose load is heavy; I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to wear, my load is light.”’ [Matthew 11:28-30]

These few verses, it seems to me, distill the way of Jesus— discipleship in shorthand:

Come to me
Remain with me
Learn from me
Rest in me

Come to me

On the eve of his death, Jesus assures his friends: “I will not leave you orphans. You will not be left alone. I will come to you.” [John 14:18] Daily we’re invited to rest in this promise: “You are not alone”. We’re called out of isolation and into communion. Jesus calls us to come to him, to live in him, and to set aside any thought that we can “live the Christian life” apart from him. As disciples, we’re to live our lives in the very same way that Jesus lived his. He lived by the indwelling life of the Father, doing nothing in his own strength, but “only what he saw the Father doing” (John 5:19). We’re not meant to weary ourselves trying to live by Jesus’ example. We’re meant to enjoy his presence, to be yoked to him, to participate in his life.

The call comes anew to us each morning: “Come to me. Journey with me. Listen to my voice. Let me show you the heart of the Father. Let me show you what I see.”

Remain with me/Take my yoke

We are bound to Christ, united with him. Yet how easily we turn our attention elsewhere. We can lose sight of the treasure of his presence. We can “wander into a far country”.

Jesus invites the “weary and heavy laden” to come to him. What leaves me “heavy laden”? So often I grow weary when I forget that “the Lord is near”, when I lean on myself rather than on Jesus, when I live “as if orphaned”. Theologian Geordie Ziegler suggests that “to be a Christian is to be—here and now—in the company of the risen Lord.”[i]

 And when I forget, I falter. And I begin to think that what’s needed is more earnest effort to “be Christlike,” to conform my life to Jesus’ example. Instead of staying close to Jesus, who is the way, I live as if Jesus was the way, but is no longer. The Christian life becomes a disheartening attempt to imitate Jesus’ exemplary life. And that’s a sure path to weariness and discouragement.

Learn from me

In Isaiah 50, the servant cries out: “Morning by morning the Lord God wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” The disciple is one who listens, who knows the Shepherd’s voice. As we daily turn to Christ, and are taught by him, we learn the mind of Christ. We come to have the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). “Learn from me,” he says. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). What are we learning from him? How to rest in the Father’s love. How to act, to serve and to “be” in a God-centered way. This is Jesus’ word to us, theologian Chris Hall suggests:

“By the power of my Spirit enter into relationship with me and I will teach you how to live … I will teach you how to pray …. I’ll teach you how to study … I’ll teach you how to speak. I’ll teach you how to act. … I’ll teach you all these things … Come and watch, come and listen, come and rest. I will teach you.”[ii]

We are apprentices of Jesus. The hymn writer declares: “I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord.” This is surely true. We can turn to Jesus in every hour, and away from our anxious attempts to “live faithfully” out of our own resources. We can let go of the question “What would Jesus do?” and ask instead: “What do you want to show me?” “What do you want me to see?” “How are you present, Jesus … in this moment, in this conversation, in whatever this circumstance holds?”

Rest in Me

As we keep company with Jesus, and learn from him, we are promised rest. We will not be spared suffering or disappointment or loss. We will share in Christ’s sufferings. Yet the apostle Paul assures us that even in the midst of distress we will know “the comfort and encouragement of God” (2 Cor 1:3-7). He surely knew affliction. “We ourselves are like fragile clay jars,” Paul wrote. “We are pressed on every side by troubles … We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are… never abandoned by God” (2 Cor 4: 7-9).

Writing to the Philippians, Paul shares another glimpse of what it means to know Christ as our rest. “Do not worry over anything,” he says. “Let your requests be made known to God. Entrust every detail of your need in earnest and thankful prayer. And the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). In every circumstance, we can turn to Jesus, and enter into conversation with him.

Jesus was attuned to God, moment by moment. And in the same way, we are to be in communion with Jesus, allowing him to live his life in us. We can abandon every burdensome attempt to justify ourselves. We can come to him … remain with him… learn from him … and know him as our rest. We can entrust every detail of our lives to the Lord. We can turn our attention away from ourselves, and our designs, and listen to the voice of the One who shepherds us. “There is nothing we shall want.”

“Teach us, Jesus,
to hear you,
to come with the heavy loads we feel,
to be yoked with you,
to be taught by you,
to learn what things really matter,
and to receive in faith the gift of rest.”[iii]

[i] Geordie W. Ziegler, “Is it Time for a Reformation of Spiritual Formation? Recovering Ontology,” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 11, no. 1 (2018): 81, available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1939790918758164

[ii] Chris Hall and Nathan Foster, hosts, “The Trinitarian Nature of Spiritual Formation”, Renovare Podcast , November 20, 2016, accessed June 17, 2020, https://renovare.org/podcast/episode-57-the-trinitarian-nature-of-spiritual-formation

[iii] A prayer from “The Hermitage Affirmation”