I’m sure we’ve all heard or read this verse dozens and dozens of times.
“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, NIV)
It’s held out as a beacon of hope and rest, as a panacea for all that ails us. Who wouldn’t want to rest? Who wouldn’t want to be relieved of their burdens? Here is His promise. We only need to believe it and it’s done. All our problems disappear and life is stress-free. Easy, right? The problem is that it doesn’t seem to line up with our experience or, for that matter, the experience of most of the Christians I know. So what’s the problem? Why, when Jesus makes such a remarkable promise, we are unable to make it real in our lives? Let me offer some suggestions.
I think too many of us live with the expectations we or others have set for us. We think we have to live up to some standard of behavior, thought or belief that becomes unbearable because we will never be able to measure up. We will always fail in some else’s eyes or our own and we feel the burden of defeat. So you want to stop feeling so weighed down, then stop living some else’s life.
Similarly, we are overburdened by wrong priorities. We spend our time, money and energy pursuing some idealized version of the Christian life because that is what “we are supposed to do.” Aren’t we supposed to volunteer for every church event or kid’s school activity? Aren’t we supposed to take care of everyone else’s needs instead of your own? Somehow we’ve come to believe that busyness equals godliness, even though I’ve never found a verse in the Bible that says, “Be busy and know that I am God.” I’m not saying that our lives will never be busy – more on that later – but that we need to be busy for the right reason.
And many of us are overburdened and overwhelmed because we are living in unforgiveness. Every day we live with the hurt, anger, hatred of what someone has said or done to us. We re-live it and we grow bitter and hostile and unpleasant, perhaps not outwardly but certainly our souls grow dark. Perhaps our feelings of hurt and anger are justified, but the unforgiveness is not. Whether it is directed towards others or ourselves, unforgiveness weighs on our spirits. It crushes our spirit. It drags us down into very ugly depths.
We fail to live out Jesus’ promise because we haven’t taken the time to lay down our own burdens. How can I take his yoke, when I am carrying so much other stuff? So we wistfully smile at the concept of rest and try to make it through another day. We think we are “carrying our own cross,” when, in fact, we are carrying our own garbage. First, take a good hard look at all the burdens you are carrying, then drop them. Just drop them. Then you can go to Him to see what He has for you.
There is yet one more misconception I want to address. If you read that verse carefully again, you will realize that Jesus did not say we would have no burdens. He did not say life would be easy. He did not say our life would be stress-free. He said He would put a yoke on us and lay a burden on us. His, not ours. To me to have a yoke means we are harnessed to do work, not lounge around. Christ has work for us to do. He has an assignment for us. We have a row to hoe. I believe that Jesus is telling us that we can drop the self-imposed loads and instead take up His calling for our life. You see, I think that when we are living out our mission, our calling, our gifting according to His willing we will find the strength and endurance to carry on joyfully even in the midst of difficult external circumstances. I think that living the life He gives us will seem to us as any easy yoke or a light burden. But be careful here, everyone’s yoke is different. So don’t judge yourself or others by what you perceive as unequal treatment by our Lord, instead be content to carry your own yoke.
There you have it. I’m not telling you how to live the un-burdened life, but how to live the “true-burdened” life. It starts with laying down expectations, wrong priorities and unforgiveness. Then ask Him to show you what He has prepared for you and receive it gladly.