God's Rest Means We Carry His Burdens Instead of Ours
Following God isn’t easy for me. It takes a lot of work. I do a lot of things I wouldn’t do if I weren’t a Christ-follower, and I don’t do a lot of things I’d otherwise do. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
How do I square my experience with Jesus’ words? “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.”
First, notice that Jesus didn’t say “take off your yoke and have a seat.” He told us to put on His yoke. A yoke is a harness to help us carry burdens. God intends for us to carry His burdens, not lay down all burdens. Somehow using His yoke to carry His burdens is supposed to give us rest. Riddle me that, Batman.
Let’s look at it another way: the question isn’t whether you wear a yoke to carry burdens, but what yoke you use for what burdens. Everybody has to carry burdens. We all have to navigate the trials of life in a fallen world. People sin – we sin. There are natural disasters. We age and die. These are all burdens. Good luck avoiding them.
And how we deal with these burdens is our yoke – the thing equipping us to deal with hardships and responsibilities. For some people, their yoke is principally their wealth, which can help with lots of burdens. Flooded basement? Pay for a recovery team. Toothache? Go to a dentist. Money can be a great yoke. But there are a bunch of things that money can’t help us fix, like broken relationships or inoperable cancer.
Academic and professional achievements can be another yoke. Fame or beauty can be yokes. They can each help us carry some burdens.
But Jesus wanted us to use His yoke, and He suggests that learning from Him is the yoke. His words are the yoke we’re supposed to wear. I think that begins with studying, meditating on, and memorizing the Bible – keeping His words bouncing around in our heads and being shaped by them.
I’m a big fan of daily Bible study and memorization. I’ve read the Bible more times than I can count, I’ve memorized four entire books and hundreds of additional verses, I do word studies on the original Greek, and I devour biblical commentaries. I started all this when I was 18 years old, and I’ve never stopped. This is part of how I put on His yoke.
I also attend church weekly, I’ve been in Bible studies with other groups of men for 40 years, I sing songs to God (alone and with others), I have fellow Christians to whom I can confess my sins. I pray daily, keep a prayer list, and regularly fast.
This is dangerously close to boasting, and God knows how much sinful pride resides in me.
But let me be clear: none of this can save me. I’m deeply sinful, sinning every waking hour of the day in my thoughts or deeds. The only way I will make it to heaven is because I have put my faith in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. If that doesn’t pay my ransom, I’m cooked. He paid the price I never could afford. My “good works” can’t save me.
I’m writing this in the hopes that you’ll do likewise. I don’t know another way to put on Jesus’ yoke but to assiduously learn from Him in a community of fellow Christ-followers. The burdens of life are heavy, and you need a good yoke to carry them.
Speaking of which, Jesus said His burdens are light – seemingly the opposite of what I just wrote. Here’s what I think Jesus meant: His burdens are lighter than the world’s burdens. The world’s burdens are measuring up, being beautiful or talented or popular, out-competing others, getting rich. Jesus’ burdens are different: they don’t require us to be perfect, just to submit to Him and His ways. Our failures are forgiven. We can afford to be authentic, because we know we’re broken; but Jesus is our Savior, our hope, and our confidence.
That means that the good things we do now are expressions of gratitude, not measures of our success. I can fail, fail, and fail again and still go to heaven because it’s not about whether I measure up – I never can. That means the pressure is off.
Do I want to please Him? More than anything. But not to satisfy His just requirements. Only Jesus can do that. I want to get an A in life out of gratitude, not to earn my way into heaven.
That’s the way in which His yoke is easy and His burden is light.