Hacking Your Way Through Life
Few things on social media are as immediately intriguing as life hacks. The Wikipedia article on “life hacks” defines them well: A life hack is “any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life.” The way influencers put it, ”Your life is complicated. It’s fast paced. It’s overwhelming. But if you try this, it can be easier.”
Most life hacks promise more than they deliver. Just how life-changing can a new closet organizer or a baked chicken recipe be? But I love life hacks as much as the next guy. After all, my life is filled with problems and puzzles, most of which are annoyingly small. (Is there a cheap way to clean my computer keyboard?) Anyone who can actually help me solve those problems is my friend. (Answer: Try using the sticky side of a Post-it note. It works well enough in a pinch.)
Life hacks don’t work when the person offers a solution that, while easy (ish), still requires more work than a problem warrants. Am I concerned about getting the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube? A little. Do I want to spend 25 minutes creating a machine—using elastic hair ties, a wooden dowel, a pencil, and a hacksaw—to get that last little bit? Thanks, but I’ll pass.
Would I like to reduce my water bill? Sure, sounds great. Am I willing to solve this problem by placing a brick inside all of my toilets, thus reducing water waste? Um, ew.
(I did not make these up.)
Even worse are the life hacks that, while potentially helpful, aren’t at all easy. Want to get ahead of your to-do list? Just try waking up at 4:30 AM! You can get more done in two hours while the rest of the world sleeps! Well, yes, I suppose. But if you’re a normal human, the prospect of setting your alarm two hours earlier doesn’t strike you as “easy.” So you don’t do it.
The best life hacks, whether big or small, make you think, “Hey, that’s actually something I can do. That’s attainable. That’s accessible. That’s easy.”
You know, like Jesus said.
“Follow Me. It’s Easy.” –Jesus
OK, so Jesus never said you could life hack your faith. But he did say following him would be easy. Check it out:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
–Matthew 11:28–30 ESV
Now, to be clear, this is also the same guy who just a few verses earlier told his followers, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16), “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22) and, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). So he’s clearly not promising a life of carefree ease. Following Jesus is hard. It requires complete surrender. It reorients everything about our lives. It is costly.
And yet, at the same time, I want to take Jesus at his word: He said he had an “easy” yoke for us. He said he was bringing rest for weary souls, not more homework for those of us failing class.
So what gives?
Think about the “yoke” metaphor. A yoke is a wooden beam placed on a pair of oxen, helping them pull in the same direction. It’s a tool for work. Jesus doesn’t promise that following him gets us out of the yoke. He promises a different yoke—an easy one rather than a burdensome one.
As a contrast, consider Jesus’ words, later in Matthew, about the religious leaders of his day: “The scribes and the Pharisees … tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2, 4). Rather than offering people a light burden and an easy yoke, the religious leaders created heavy burdens and a hard yoke: Give more money, pray longer prayers.
When Jesus said, “Follow me,” he wasn’t simply asking us to believe a few things about him. He was inviting us into a way of life. That way of life—that “yoke”—is something we both practice for ourselves and promote for the people around us. So it’s not a question of if we’re placing yokes on the shoulders of others. It’s a question of what kind of yoke we’re placing on them. The Pharisees opted for the heavy yoke.
In many of the ways we encourage the Christian walk today, we do the same. Someone becomes a Christian (praise hands!), and we respond by saying, “Sweet, welcome to the fam. Now, we have a lot of work for you to do. Tell someone in your office about Jesus every other day. Read the Bible for 45 minutes every morning. Then pray—that means talking out loud to someone you can’t see—for another 15 minutes. Oh, and let’s have a look at your finances, because you need to start giving a lot of that away, too. Don’t worry: We’ve got a whole chart.”
You tell me: Is that an easy yoke?
Practice, Practice, Practice
We believe that the best discipleship materials are also the easiest—not because following Jesus is always easy (it isn’t), but because we want everyone who follows Jesus to actually do it. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone in a church to take a few baby steps than for just one or two people to become super Christians?
Consider a more mundane practice, for example. Say, working out. A friend of mine has a workout goal of “jumping in the pool three times a week.” Of course, his real goal is to swim laps. But the stated goal is simpler: Just get in the water. Or eating healthy: It would be better to eat a small portion of fruits and veggies every day than to have one (and only one) extremely healthy eating day each week. The goal here isn’t to reduce healthy living to the least common denominator: It’s to create a practice that people can actually do and that can actually grow. And what’s true with eating and working out should be true with discipleship, too.
Jesus called all sorts of people to follow him. That might have felt different for a Pharisee than for a fisherman, but the call was still radically simple: Literally, go where he goes. Everyone had the capacity to do it. They just needed to take the next step of faith. Then another. And another.
A lot has changed. But a lot hasn’t. Sure, Jesus isn’t walking around my Raleigh neighborhood. But he’s still calling me to follow him. I just need to take my next faithful step. So does everyone else in my house, my neighborhood, my church. One faithful step. Which means—it’s got to be easy.
I find it helpful to think of following Jesus as a practice. It’s a mundane enough word, but it’s enjoying a bit of a comeback in the church today. I’m for it. It levels the playing field a bit. Practice means none of us has it all figured out. Even the greatest saint, after 70 years of faithfulness, is still just practicing.
Practice means we’ve all got something we can be doing. Kevin Durant and my 7-year-old daughter both have basketball skills to work on. They certainly don’t practice the same way. But they both practice. They learn by doing.
Practice also means that we’re often doing it very poorly. But as G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” Give me the mother who sings to her son, knowing that she can’t carry a tune. Give me the husband who writes a heartfelt note to his wife, knowing that he often fumbles his words. Give me the faithful church member reading one psalm a day, praying one prayer every morning, helping one family in poverty.
Give me all of that over the experience that says, “I can’t do this very well. So I just won’t.”
In many of the most important areas of life, intentionality matters just as much as skillfulness. It’s better for someone to give it their best shot (even if it’s dismal) than to give up altogether. And if we can help make that “best shot” actually faithful and fruitful? If we can make it easier for someone to practice their faith? Well, why wouldn’t we?
Enter Like a Child
Jesus said the kingdom of God belonged to those who approached it as if they were children (Matthew 18:3). Not in the immature sense, but in the simple, trusting sense. If what we are promoting in our churches makes no sense to a child, then it’s not an invitation to the kingdom of God. It might be theologically accurate. But if a kid can’t get it, it’s not the kingdom of God.
As the “Big Book” (of Alcoholics Anonymous) puts it, “Most good ideas are simple.” Perhaps not obvious, or intuitive, or effortless. But simple.
In the end, following Jesus, while difficult, is remarkably simple: Trust him and follow him. The challenge for most of us is not an intellectual one (as if what prevents people from faithfulness is the question of Calvinism or the age of the earth or whatever). The challenge is one of practice. Will we align our daily actions with what we say we believe? Will we truly follow him, today, in this moment, in this context? Will we continue to practice by taking our next step of faith?
I legitimately believe that life will be easier if we live it Jesus’ way. Not just better. Not just more fulfilling. Not just more meaningful. But easier. More characterized by rest and freedom and lightness.
So, no: We’re not offering a life hack. Your faith can’t be fixed in “three easy steps.” What Jesus offers is far better than a life hack. The easy yoke isn’t a life hack; it’s life itself. It’s keeping time with Jesus, one step of faith at a time.