Smarter, not harder

Scripture: Luke 8:26-39

Title: Smarter (not harder)


  • Introduction
  • Going hard
  • Smarter, not harder
  • Conclusion



Last Friday was Waitangi day (or New Zealand day)

  • With this is mind it seems appropriate to examine one aspect of our Kiwi culture


In New Zealand we have a saying: ‘Go hard’

  • ‘Go hard or go home’
  • ‘Work hard, play hard’
  • This saying is not unique to New Zealanders but it does point to something we value


We honour those who we consider to be hard men in sport – like Sir Colin Meads who during a game against Eastern Transvaal in South Africa, emerged from a particularly vicious ruck with his arm dangling horribly

  • Although he had fractured a bone he completed the match
  • When the doctor cut away his shirt and confirmed the break, Meads muttered, “At least we won the bloody game.” [1]

Going hard is part of the NZ way of doing things. We see something heroic in it

  • Even if you were not born in NZ it may also be part of the ethos of the culture you were raised in


Looking at this positively we might say ‘Going hard’ is about giving 100% and leaving nothing in reserve

  • Like the NZ cricket team in their fielding at the moment – they chase the ball hard all the way to the boundary to stop four runs
  • Or like a Seven’s player – sprinting hard out for the try line


But there is also a shadow side to ‘going hard’

  • While it may be appropriate to ‘go hard’ on certain occasions for short bursts – it is not appropriate to ‘go hard’ all the time
  • If what you are doing isn’t working then going harder won’t help
  • But even if what you’re doing is working, going hard won’t necessarily be good for you or others – in fact it could well be harmful in the long run


The way of Jesus is to do things smarter, not harder


Please turn with me to Luke chapter 8, verse 26, page 88, toward the back of your pew Bibles

  • In this reading Jesus encounters a man who suffered much under this notion of ‘going hard’
  • Jesus releases the man and shows us the principle of ‘smarter, not harder’
  • From Luke chapter 8, verse 26 we read…


26 Jesus and his disciples sailed on over to the territory of Gerasa, which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 As Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a man from the town who had demons in him. For a long time this man had gone without clothes and would not stay at home, but spent his time in the burial caves. 28 When he saw Jesus, he gave a loud cry, threw himself down at his feet, and shouted, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God! What do you want with me? I beg you, don’t punish me!” 29 He said this because Jesus had ordered the evil spirit to go out of him. Many times it had seized him, and even though he was kept a prisoner, his hands and feet tied with chains, he would break the chains and be driven by the demon out into the desert. 30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is “Mob,’ ” he answered – because many demons had gone into him. 31 The demons begged Jesus not to send them into the abyss. 32 There was a large herd of pigs near by, feeding on a hillside. So the demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he let them. 33 They went out of the man and into the pigs. The whole herd rushed down the side of the cliff into the lake and was drowned. 34 The men who had been taking care of the pigs saw what happened, so they ran off and spread the news in the town and among the farms. 35 People went out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were all afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the man had been cured. 37 Then all the people from that territory asked Jesus to go away, because they were terribly afraid. So Jesus got into the boat and left. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged Jesus, “Let me go with you.” But Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Go back home and tell what God has done for you.” The man went through the town, telling what Jesus had done for him.


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading


Going hard:

There has been a lot in the media lately about Gallipoli – particularly because 2015 is 100 years since the ANZAC’s landed in Turkey

  • Gallipoli is something of a sacred memory in the hearts & minds of New Zealanders and Australians
  • Some say it is where we forged our identity


In reality though Gallipoli was a military disaster for both sides really

  • This is because those who were in charge (the military command) had a ‘go hard’ policy
  • The whole campaign was poorly managed – the details weren’t thought through
  • The allies took only 3 weeks to plan the assault and they made no secret that the Gallipoli peninsula was their target, so the Turks had time to reinforce that area with 40,000 troops initially – they saw us coming


The Australians and New Zealanders were supposed to land on the level coast of Gaba Tepe, but a naval blunder set them down on rugged, steep coastline two kilometres north [2]

  • About 50% of those Australians and New Zealanders who landed on the 25th April 1915 were killed or wounded
  • Some of the surviving officers wrote a letter to General Hamilton (who was in charge of the campaign) proposing immediate evacuation, saying


“The men are thoroughly demoralised by shrapnel fire. Even the NZ brigade which has only recently landed has lost heavily. If men are subject to shell fire again tomorrow there is likely to be a fiasco.”

  • When General Hamilton was told that continuing to defend the ANZAC sector might mean appalling losses, his reply from the safety of his naval vessel was, “There’s nothing for it but to dig right in and stick it out…”
  • In other words, “Go harder”


The Turks it seems also had a go hard mentality

  • Mustafa Kemal, the commander of the Turkish forces (who was as much anti-German as he was anti-British) looked down on the ANZAC landing from the heights of Sari Bair and said to his men…
  • “I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die” – and die is what they did
  • The Turkish casualties were far greater than ours


Going harder didn’t work at Gallipoli

  • The men on both sides deserved smarter, not harder


The ANZAC and Turkish soldiers were like the man Jesus encountered in the reading from Luke 8

  • They were subject to forces which made them go hard and in the process created a hell on earth


The demons were hard on the man from Gerasa in a number of ways…

  • Firstly, and most importantly, they did not let him rest
  • They drove him to do things he did not want to do
  • He could not sit still or be quiet
  • He was always shouting – always on the move
  • When the townspeople tried to restrain him with chains, the demons gave him strength to break the chains and run off into the desert


If you take away a person’s ability to rest

  • If you interrupt their sleep or take away their weekend and holidays
  • Or make them so anxious that they can’t sit still or hold their tongue
  • Then you basically undermine the foundation of their life
  • Without rest there is no enjoyment, no health, no peace, no wisdom, no ability to discern meaning in life, no point


The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who lived last century, observed the restlessness and busy-ness of Western culture and wrote…


There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence… activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form… of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence… It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” [3]


Or to phrase that more positively – rest is the root of inner wisdom which enables us to work smarter, not harder


Conversely, activism and overwork undoes our effort and indeed the rest of life

  • By taking away the man’s ability to rest the demons successfully did violence to almost every aspect of his life


They caused him to physically harm himself [4]

  • They caused him to run naked – robbing him of his dignity, exposing him to shame and ridicule
  • They isolated him from his friends and family so he lived by himself in a graveyard – like a zombie
  • And they destroyed his sense of self, his personality, his identity
  • The man was a toy (the play thing) of evil


The cause of the man’s problems was spiritual – he was driven by demons

  • His particular case is so extreme that we might find it hard to identify with him – but sometimes we are not all that different
  • We may not be possessed by evil spirits but we can still be driven by things unholy and untrue


Some people are driven by success, always wanting to achieve more, to earn more, to do better – unable to enjoy what they have

  • Or we may be driven by a compulsion to please others, to meet their expectations of us so they don’t get upset
  • Or perhaps we have experienced some trauma or deficit in our past which affects us now – making us react in ways we don’t want to


May be, as a child, you had to look after an alcoholic parent but despite your best efforts mum or dad never got better

  • So now, as an adult you are always trying to save people – always coming to their rescue (still trying to fix mum & dad)


Or perhaps growing up you didn’t get the approval or acceptance or affirmation you needed and so now you are driven to over work, always trying to prove yourself (still seeking that acceptance, that acknowledgment you crave)


Or maybe you have stuffed up really badly at some point so that as a result of your actions someone else got hurt

  • Now you’re driven by guilt – not able to forgive yourself
  • Always being unnecessarily hard on yourself in a vain attempt to atone for your mistakes


Of course we are not just driven by things inside us – we can also be kept restless by things outside of us

  • For example, the financial pressure of having to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet
  • Or having a partner who is violent toward you and the kids – so that you are always on your guard, always having to manage the risk of an explosion, always planning a safe exit, never able to relax


There are any number of things (both internal and external) which can make us too anxious to be still

  • But there is one who is able to calm the storm in us and around us
  • Jesus offers a rest from ‘going hard’


Smarter, not harder

Chess is a game of strategy

  • The idea is to position your pieces in such a way that you capture the opposition’s king without letting your king be captured
  • I don’t know much about playing chess but I do know it requires you to think several moves ahead


One of the beauties of chess is that even the lowest ranking piece on the board (the pawn) is able to capture the enemy king – although a pawn can’t do it alone – a pawn needs the help of other pieces

  • In Luke 8 Jesus works smarter, not harder
  • He uses a humble pawn to out manoeuvre the opposition

In crossing the lake of Galilee to the region of Gerasa, Jesus was moving into Gentile territory – a place without Jews

  • In fact a place most Jews would normally avoid
  • Reaching out to the Gentiles like this was a departure from Jesus’ usual pattern


Jesus’ ministry (his work) was primarily with and for his own people – the Jews

  • And Jesus was quite clear about this – one time when he sent his disciples out on a mission he said, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel…” [5]
  • I think Jesus employed this strategy because of God’s commitment to the Jews (his chosen people) but also because it was smart – it made sense
  • The lost sheep of Israel were those most receptive to the message
  • They believed in God and were well aware of their need for Him


So why then does Jesus cross over to Gentile territory on this occasion?

  • Well, like any good chess player, Jesus was thinking several moves ahead
  • He went to Gerasa to show his disciples the bigger picture – to demonstrate that the longer term strategy (their future moves) involved reaching out with the message of the gospel beyond Israel to the other nations around them


As Jesus comes ashore he encounters (not the whole village) but just one man, possessed by an army of demons


Most people would think it unfortunate to meet someone like this but not Jesus

  • Jesus sees an opportunity to help this man and at the same time to help the whole community (two birds – one stone)
  • Because if Jesus can give this man peace then everyone else around him will get some peace as well – smart strategy
  • When you help the least and the worst you help the whole of society


Jesus sees the man in torment and he commands the evil spirits to come out of him

  • The demons don’t comply – not at first anyway
  • Instead they try to negotiate with Jesus
  • ‘Don’t send us into the abyss – send us into those pigs instead’ they beg
  • (Although they have shown no mercy to the man they still dare to ask mercy for themselves)
  • Jesus is into doing things smarter, not harder so he gives them permission. As C.S. Lewis puts it…


“There are two types of people: Those who say to God, “Thy will be done” and those to whom God says, “All right then – have it your way” [6]


Jesus lets the demons have it their own way with the result that they enter the pigs and the pigs are driven into the lake to drown

  • Same outcome as far as the man is concerned but without the wasted effort of an argument

The people who were looking after the pigs ran back to town to report all they had seen – they didn’t want to take the blame for losing the pigs I suppose


When the towns-people come to investigate what had happened they found the man perfectly still

  • Previously they could not restrain him with chains
  • Now he is sitting calmly at Jesus’ feet of his own free will
  • Jesus has given the man rest and with rest comes healing


Previously the man ran around naked, harming himself and terrifying others

  • Now he is fully clothed and in his right mind
  • Jesus has taken away the man’s shame and given him back his dignity
  • He has released the man to be himself


This might have inspired faith or at least amazement – but instead the villagers are seized with great fear and beg Jesus to leave them

  • The people of Gerasa were too shocked to take it all in at once
  • They needed time to reflect on what had happened
  • So Jesus does the smart thing of withdrawing
  • He doesn’t go harder or force himself on them
  • But, before going, Jesus sends the man home to declare what God has done for him
  • Now, whenever the townsfolk see the man, they will think of how Jesus restored him totally and in everyway
  • The man’s very presence will be a reminder to all the people of what Jesus did
  • So while the people of Gerasa were not quite ready for Jesus just then, in the years ahead (when the followers of Jesus came to their town with the gospel message) they would understand and be ready


Jesus’ way is smarter, not harder

  • On this particular occasion Jesus started small – with one person (the least in town)
  • Jesus took a long term view – he didn’t try to win the whole town over in one day (he gave people time)
  • And Jesus thinks local – he uses a local to reach the locals of that area
  • Like a master chess player Jesus positions the pieces in a way that allows a pawn (someone no one esteemed or expected) to win the town


This is not to imply the man had no choice in the matter

  • The demons pushed him around wherever they wanted but Jesus isn’t like that – Jesus set the man free to make his own choices
  • The man could choose to move out of the position Jesus wanted for him – he could choose to make a fresh start elsewhere
  • But he doesn’t run from his past – instead the man says, ‘Thy will be done’


Jesus’ way is smarter, not harder – that has been the key line in today’s message

  • But in saying this we also need to acknowledge that sometimes smarter feels harder – sometimes smarter is not what we want


When Jesus took the disciples away from the familiarity of Galilee, across the lake to the Gentile territory of Gerasa, I reckon more than one of them would have been quietly thinking to themselves – what on earth is he doing?

  • I thought our mission was to the lost sheep of Israel?
  • What are we doing in this God forsaken place?
  • It wouldn’t have been until a few years later, when they were reaching out to people beyond Israel’s borders that they would have understood


Likewise, the man Jesus delivered from the demons wanted to go with Jesus

  • I imagine he was deeply disappointed to hear Jesus say…
  • ‘Go back home and tell what God has done for you’


  • He may not have realised the wisdom in Jesus’ instruction until after the fact
  • By sending the man back to his village Jesus wasn’t just sowing seeds for the future – he was also giving the man what he needed
  • A home, a purpose and a community to belong to
  • (Two birds – one stone)



The way of Jesus is smarter, not harder

  • But sometimes smarter feels harder
  • And then we have a choice…
  • To say ‘Thy will be done’ or to insist on our own way


Before we sing our closing hymn I invite you to be still and rest

  • And as you do we will play a song…


Listen to the following YouTube clip… (Heal – by Tom Odell)



[2] The historical details regarding Gallipoli come from Maurice Shadbolt’s book, ‘Voices of Gallipoli’, particularly pages 104-107.

[3] Cited in Peter Scazzero’s book, ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’, page 173.

[4] See Mark 5:5

[5] Matthew 10:5-6