Fatherlike he tends and spares us
Well our feeble frame he knows
In his hand he gently bears us
Rescues us from all our foes
– H.F. Lyte, 1834
We live in an unsettling and difficult time, in spite of the fact that we enjoy unprecedented comfort and wealth. The lavishly pampered court of Louis XIV at Versailles might have enjoyed the impressive digs, but they couldn’t get their hands on oranges any time of the year, or get a prescription for Amoxicillin if they had an infection, or come in out of the sweltering 90 degree heat into the A/C. There are many, many blessings we enjoy from the hand of God today. But that does not change the reality that we are also in a time of turmoil, controversy, isolation and pain. In the last week I have had half a dozen conversations and meetings with people that had to do with hurt feelings, strained relationships, acute suffering or painful conflict. Our children are simultaneously worn out by screens and increasingly dependent upon them. Financial ruin has visited people who a year ago could never have seen it coming. Friends feel disconnected and distant, the natural result of spending a year apart.
Where do we turn in the midst of all this pain when we need help and comfort? We go to Jesus. Dane Ortlund has written a wonderful devotional book called Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. He mines the insights of several Puritan pastors and writers to examine a very simple truth: the heart of our Savior for people like us. His introduction:
This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty. Those running on fumes. Those who Christian lives feel like constantly running up a descending escalator. Those of us who find ourselves thinking: “How could I mess up that bad—again?” It is for the that increasing suspicion that God’s patience with us is wearing thin. For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him. Who have told others of the love of Christ yet wonder if—as for us—he harbors mild resentment. Who wonder if we have shipwrecked our lives beyond what can be repaired. Who are convinced we’ve permanently diminished our usefulness to the Lord. Who have been swept off our feet by perplexing pain and are wondering how we can keep living under such numbing darkness . . . It is written, in other words, for normal Christians.
When I think about Jesus’ love for me and for all of his people, I tend to focus almost exclusively on the work that Christ has done on my behalf. He substituted himself in my place for my sin, and paid the penalty for me (“penal substitution” is the theological term for this beautiful doctrine of the cross). Ortlund pushes us to consider not just what Jesus has done for us (which is infinitely valuable), but who he is, and the affections of his heart toward his broken, sinful people. We do not give this aspect of Jesus’ being very much attention. Yes we know he loves us, but isn’t he also disappointed with how often we sin? Isn’t he rolling his eyes at our repeated follies? We know that He is loving, but do we really believe that Jesus actually has a depth of compassion and concern for us and that he loves it when we cry out to him for help, no matter how badly we mess things up?
The truth of the matter is that Jesus loves when we come to him with our broken lives.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus loves when we come to him with our broken lives. His heart, who he is, he summarized for us: he is “gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29). Jesus is not difficult to approach, and he does not demand that we get our acts together beforehand. We have no power to do so. “The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with.” In other words, the only thing we must do to be embraced and loved and gently led by Jesus is to come to him acknowledging our sinfulness. He loves to work with those who know they are lowly themselves.
To take it further, Jesus is actually made more joyful and more glorious precisely when we go to him for comfort and help. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin puts it this way: Jesus’ “own joy, comfort, happiness and glory are increased and enlarged by his showing grace and mercy in pardoning, relieving, and comforting his members here on earth.” Think about this! Jesus is made more fully joyful when his people go to him for comfort and forgiveness and help (Hebrews 12:2, Luke 15:7).
Ortlund uses an analogy. Imagine a missionary doctor who travels thousands of miles to a remote tribe suffering from an infectious, contagious disease that the doctor has the antibiotics to heal. The afflicted tribespeople, suffering but fearful, refuse to come to the doctor for the treatment that will heal and comfort them. He is there for the sole purpose of healing them, but they won’t come. They don’t trust the doctor and will not submit to the efficacious treatment he has for them. Suddenly, a brave woman steps forward to receive the shot that will heal her. Thrilled, he administers the shot, and she immediately begins to feel better. The treatment is visibly working. As the tribe witnesses this, one by one they step in line, eager to be cared for. What would the doctor feel in this moment, and as he tends to these patients, one by one? Joy. This is, after all, the reason the doctor has come.
Friends, we all “face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). But Jesus is here for us, and stands ready to comfort and tend to us if we would simply cry out to him for help. In a time of tremendous distress and uncertainty, Jesus is our true hope and our great physician. He is gentle and lowly, and he loves us.