“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11.28-30
During Jesus’ time, yokes were wooden crossbars with two rope or leather nooses that were placed around the necks of two animals, usually oxen but also donkeys. The crossbar lay across the neck and shoulders of the animals, and a large shaft ran from the yoke to the load being carried, from plows to carts or wagons. Yokes were heavy. They had to be strong enough to withstand the pull of the oxen and to drag the load. The yoke subdued the animals, through the weight and restrictiveness of the yoke, and controlled the oxen with their inflexibility and confinement.
That is, to me, the image of how so many of us live our lives. The plans and dreams of our youth have become great burdens lying across our shoulders, restricting us and confining our movement. Our jobs demand performance, and our family lives come with a host of expectations, spoken and unspoken. We must live up to certain ideals, both of our design and that of others as well. We earn money; we get married; we pay bills; we have children and buy homes. Those things we expected to bring us joy can become a heavy burden. We strive and look for meaning and purpose, but instead find ourselves pushing and straining under the load of daily life, disappointed dreams and waning hope.
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” are words that speak to so many of our hearts and souls today. Rest implies more than a break or a nap. Rest for our souls is deep peace; it is the sweet relief of a defeated fear, a resolved worry, an answered need, and a new possibility arising from empty and dark disappointment. My problem is that I have not always found Christianity to be easy or to be a light burden. To be a Christian is to be like Christ, but being like Christ is unbelievably hard to do. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light? For whom?
Many of us – most of us – approach Christianity with the same sort of performance expectations that we place on our own lives. We need to do it right, and we need to do it well. In fact, while we might be willing to let something slide in daily life, we cannot afford to fail as a Christian. The stakes are too high. This approach to Christian life and living is a defeat before we ever start. We cannot possibly measure up to the standard set for us.
Every great blessing, every joy, every promise of abundance begins with this short passage, but we miss it because we think we are being asked to serve as Christ’s beasts of burden. That is not so. We are being asked to draw our lives from Him, to live in His love, and to depend on His strength. When we are asked to do something for Christ – even something so impossible as living and loving as He did – we do so, not by our own wisdom and might, but under the humble yoke of Jesus Christ. To attempt to live a genuinely Christ-like life apart from the strength, direction, assistance and providence of God is to assure our failure. We cannot. Not one of us can generate peace in our own souls. Not one of us can flood our fears, needs and disappointments with rest. Only the Spirit of Christ can do that.
Approach Christ and lay bare your heart and soul. Show Him the heavy burdens you carry, especially those you carry because of Him. Be honest with yourself, as well as with Christ, that you are insufficient to meet the many demands you face. He will respond with the deep peace that passes all understanding. Christ has always known that we are incapable of living life fully, joyfully and well. He has always known that we need to be lifted by His might, sustained by His strength and nurtured by His love. We are the only ones who ever thought we could do Christian life and service on our own.
Lay your heart and life before Christ with the simple prayer, “Do what You will; I can’t carry it any more.” Your soul will find rest, even as your life is imbued with the goodness and power of God Himself.
In Christ –
Ó Servants’ Feast Ministry, 2007