When Jesus describes bad teachers, he says, “They tie up heavy burdens which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders – but they themselves aren’t prepared to lift a little finger to move them!” (Matthew 23:4, Tom Wright’s translation)
With that description Jesus implies that, as a good teacher, he not only imparts truth and wisdom in the form of an easy yoke and light burden (Matthew 11:30), he also comes near and dwells in us, so we can live by what he says.
This morning I read Jesus’ teachings on anger, lust, and truth-telling (Matthew 5:21-37). As always happens when I read Jesus’ teachings as standards of conduct, I felt convicted. When Jesus teaches that “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22), I start to look around for an asbestos suit. And then I recall not only Jesus’ teachings about mercy and forgiveness, I recall also an experience of Jesus, in which he removed a burden from my back.
Several years ago, a colleague and I arranged to meet for weekly for lunch and to do some studying together. In our conversation before our study time, my colleague discerned a “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15) in my words that threatened to poison not only me but also those around me. Having a charismatic background, he led me into a practice called “listening prayer.”
In listening prayer, you approach the Lord trusting that he always speaks and acts in your life in saving ways. So my colleague encouraged me to take my bitterness to the Lord in prayer and to listen for the Lord’s response. As I spoke to the Lord and gradually choked out some words of confession, my friend laid a hand on my shoulder, and my prayer shifted from speaking to listening.
During this dialogic prayer, I felt the burden of bitterness slide off my back. The Lord did not give me some instantaneous solution to my problems. Instead, he gave me himself. He came near and offered me the new life that comes with forgiveness. For that new life, which I can receive every day, I feel lasting gratitude. And out of that grace-filled experience of listening prayer, I encourage you to listen to Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher who has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).