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6 min read

The End of Striving: How the Gospel Brings Rest to the Weary

Since its foundation, Union Gospel Mission has existed to offer rest and nourishment to people coming in off the streets. A hot meal, a warm shower, a night of rest. These are good things - humanizing things - that every person needs.  

Food, fresh clothes and a break from the elements don’t solve the issues of the heart, though. They don’t have the power to bring rest to a weary soul. For those who are struggling, battling feelings of regret and the loss of hope, we want to offer more.

UGM Men’s LIFE Recovery counselor Mike Judge spends his days listening and ministering to the needs of men who are craving what only the gospel can provide.  

“There are many guys who see this wreckage of their lives and absolutely lose hope.” Mike says that many of the men who enter UGM Recovery are dealing with the detrimental effects of years of addiction and they’re aware that, in many ways, there is no going back. “Like, ‘This is even if I stay sober. I have so wrecked my life that I can never have joy, can never have peace… can never have healthy relationships with other people because of what I see in the rearview mirror.’” 

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Many of these men have never known anything but brokenness. Their families of origin were dysfunctional or abusive. Why should they expect that anything could ever be different? 

These fears are real, but they certainly don't signify a death sentence. As with all of us, the hope of a fulfilling future does not have to be contingent upon our past. True, you may have lost friendships, you may never have learned some vital skill, you may have damaged your body or lost a career opportunity, but that does not negate your chance at real, soul-level rest and joy.  

“The hope of the gospel is that all you’ve learned in your life–it’s not about that. It’s about being in relationship with the intimate, personal God.” 

“The hope of the gospel is that all you’ve learned in your life–it’s not about that. It’s about being in relationship with the intimate, personal God.”  - Mike Judge, UGM Men's Recovery Counselor 

How the gospel brings rest 

The gospel is not a formula. Although God’s solution for sin and suffering is for all people at all times, it is not meant to be a quick fix or an impersonal solution for personal problems; at its absolute core, the gospel is an invitation into a life-altering relationship with the God of the universe. 

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One can see the value God places on this relationship with us in Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus hanging on the Cross, bearing our sin, experiencing our cumulative shame and choosing to relinquish His very life blood for our sake is a quiet, ground-rumbling, sky-darkening insistence that God so desires a relationship with us that He will go to every extent to make it possible. And the resurrection of Christ is all the proof we need that He has the power to create life from the rotting mess we’ve made of our own existence. He can create peace in our chaos and rest in our striving. He can and He wants to.  

But the question is, how do we apply this truth to our lives - especially when our lives are a mess of vision-blurring pain, troubling consequences and the persistent fear that we cannot possibly be worthy of such a God’s love and affection?  We fear we are beyond saving, unworthy of love. We have screwed up too much and all we do is fail in our attempts at building relationships. How are we ever going to enjoy a relationship with God when we can't even trust ourselves, let alone another person?

Learning to trust 

Mike says that experiencing the gospel begins with relearning how to trust.  

 “A lot of the men, they don’t even trust their own hearts. They don’t trust anyone. I mean, we project the pain we’ve experienced onto God, so trying to relearn who God is... The way Recovery staff try to do that is by being trustworthy men who’ll just walk with them, not put burdens on them. Not necessarily take burdens off either, but help them to walk with the burden and be able to trust people again. 

“I say this to a lot of these guys: If you won’t let someone close enough to you to ever hurt you again, you’ll never allow anyone close enough to you to help you again.” 

“I say this to a lot of these guys: If you won’t let someone close enough to you to ever hurt you again, you’ll never allow anyone close enough to you to help you again.” 

Mike says that some of the most profound growth he witnesses happens in the self-evaluation process. “When they can come out into the open and allow the light to shine on their most dreadful behaviors, freedom happens. In our self-evaluations, guys are so fearful because they don’t trust anyone. You can just see their knee shaking. And then when they share their deepest darkest secret—and then to hear guys relate to them—their knees stop bouncing. You can see the fear, almost like a backpack, come off their shoulders.” 

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New, trustworthy relationships rewrite our inner narrative about the trustworthiness of God. We have believed that we deserve to suffer because we've been stupid or selfish or made too many mistakes. We think we need to sacrifice to make up for our mistakes. But if people can see me for who I really am, if other men can see a man's sins and forgive him, is it possible that this God who loves us can do the same? 

“We can start to understand that personal sacrifice which lands on the hearts in such a way that it ends our own need to suffer and sacrifice.” 

Learning to grieve 

Letting go of the need to suffer and sacrifice—the need to save ourselves—is freedom in the making. But it’s a process. Experiencing the rest and relationship made available to us through the gospel involves moment-by-moment surrendering of our desire to retain control.  

The irony is that making it all about our own suffering and sacrifice allows us to maintain control, and we are deathly afraid of giving up control. 

“So,” Mike says, “letting go often begins with a willingness to move toward the pain of what’s been done to you, or what you’ve done. So many men come with deep loss, like abandonment through death, divorce, penitentiaries… they’re just lost. They need to learn how to grieve what has been their life and the harm that has come to them through their own decisions and the decisions of others and the loss they’ve experienced. Over time, it’s ‘I can let this go now. And now this.’ Being able to grieve and forgive is a key part of that surrender. I think if the gospel is a diamond, one of the strongest or deepest facets is forgiveness.” 

“Letting go often begins with a willingness to move toward the pain of what’s been done to you, or what you’ve done."

Grieving, forgiving and letting go leaves room for new thoughts and new desires of the heart.  

Through sitting with men in their grief and being a trustworthy figure, Mike finds opportunities to introduce the healing promises of God to men who had been closed to the notion of grace. “But it’s not my work,” he admits, “It is God’s work alone. He’s got to reach into a human’s soul and take out that heart of stone, that pain, and replace it with His love. A tender, soft heart. To Him first, and eventually to others and to the self.”  

Learning to rest 

“It is a God-sized leap to embrace whoever God says He is, regardless of people who have hurt us.” A God-sized leap. Sounds like exactly what God did when He entered human history and marched to the cross of mercy. What we see at UGM, time and again, is once a person can see the truth that God desires to set them free, they begin to rest.  

But like letting go, learning to rest is a process.  

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“In essence, I hear, ‘I need to rest in a way I’ve never rested before.’ I think that only the Holy Spirit can give us that ability. If I can comprehend the way that the Cross addresses my fears or my anger and my need for justice, then I can rest. I think when the men experience that, they want it more, because all they’ve done is strive.” 

"If I can comprehend the way that the Cross addresses my fears or my anger and my need for justice, then I can rest. I think when the men experience that, they want it more, because all they’ve done is strive.” 

Mike can’t make this leap for anyone. At UGM, we’re aware that every time a person learns to truly rest in the finished work of Christ, it is a miracle. It’s a miracle God is eager to offer every one of us.  

“I don’t bring sermons, I bring questions and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. Maybe one of my questions can jar open a door and the Spirit can do what He wants to do. Comfort or convict. Guilt is real. Shame is real. But there’s real healing at the Cross. And I think that’s what UGM is trying to do, bring whole-soul healing instead of just behavior change.” 

"...that’s what UGM is trying to do, bring whole-soul healing instead of just behavior change.” 

Reflection questions

It isn’t just homeless men—or homeless women, children, families—who need the forgiveness and rest provided by Christ at the Cross; it is all of us. And it is a lifelong process to learn to give God our striving and let His Spirit mold us into creatures after His own heart. Mike wrote some reflection questions to open the door to areas where the Lord might be asking you to trust Him in a new way.  

  • What are you hanging onto that the Lord may be asking you to let go of? 
  • What harm done to you are you afraid to move towards or address or confront?  
  • What harm have you done to others that you’re afraid to move towards and admit?  

Because Jesus lived perfectly, bore our sins to death and rose again in glory, we can rest. The work is done.  

 

See how God's love impacts UGM guests in this free e-book. 

Download our free e-book, God Loves the Poor. >>

 

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