In Matthew 11:28, Jesus extends an invitation to “all you who are weary and burdened.” In today’s culture we have a great disdain for being weary or burdened. We have an idea in our nation that we should be happy all the time. We take to heart the claim in the Declaration of Independence that we have the inalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We take to heart the McDonald’s ad that we deserve a break today—and in our minds it is not just a break that we deserve; we deserve happiness immediately; we deserve to feel good all the time; we deserve to have life go our way.
So we spend a lot of time, money, and energy chasing happiness. In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson points out,
“We try to get it through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing songs. We buy the vitality of another’s imagination to divert and enliven our own poor lives. The enormous entertainment industry in our land is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture. Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal. But that kind of joy never penetrates our lives, never changes our basic constitution. The effects are extremely temporary—a few minutes, a few hours, a few days at most. When we run out of money, the joy trickles away.” (p. 92-93)
Our culture puts great value on being happy and “having it all.” But Jesus seems to put value on our weariness and on our burdenedness. Larry Crabb explains why in his book, Fully Alive:
“When the reality of emptiness and brokenness brings us low, we must wait, aware that we are unable to manage our way to satisfaction through the blessings available in this world and unable to heal our wounds in a deep, lasting way that frees us to love as men and women. As we sink into the depths of distress and defeat, we are confronted with only two options: give up on life or seek God for life. Our misery becomes an agonizing opportunity to ‘earnestly seek’ God.” (p. 209).
At the point of our “emptiness” (“weary and burdened”), Jesus invites us to come to Him, not with the promise of happiness, but with the promise of rest for our soul.
Interestingly, the promise of rest for our soul is bound together with putting on His yoke.
We clamor for liberty, but Jesus calls us to put on a yoke—His yoke—with the promise that it is in wearing His yoke that we find rest for our soul.
Here’s what we need to know about this, which the farmers of Jesus’ day already knew: The best way to train a young oxen was to yoke it alongside an older, experienced ox. Then, as the farmer went about his normal work, giving directions to those two oxen, the younger would gradually learn to do what he was supposed to do while yoked to the older. Sure, at first it may have been a bit awkward. The two walked down the road together. The younger one noticed a bit of clover off to the side, and he turned to the right to go over and get it. But he was jerked back into place by the older and stronger ox who stayed on the road and kept walking straight ahead as the master had directed. When the farmer commanded the team to stop, the older one stopped at once, but the younger stumbled to a halt only because he could not keep walking while his partner stood still. When they were commanded to turn right, the younger tried to turn left but got pulled back on course by the experienced partner. In the beginning it was awkward. He ended up with some bruises and tired muscles. But gradually he learned, and as he learned the going got easier, and the burden became lighter.
In The Message Bible, Eugene Peterson offers this translation of Matthew 11:29: “Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”
I want to learn to remember when I am weary and burdened not to clamor for a “fix” of happiness but to take up Christ’s invitation to come to Him and to take on His yoke so as to learn from Him His “unforced rhythms of grace.”
Is that just a nice phrase? Or did He mean it? If He meant it, what does that say to His followers? Are we to be people who love to gather together with fellow believers to take refuge with each other from the troubles and temptations of the world in the comfort of each other’s fellowship? Or are we to gather together to encourage and help each other in the vital task of going out to seek and to save those who are presently lost?
I read recently that only three countries in the world have more people who are spiritually lost than the U.S.A. Are we serious about reaching out to save people around us who are lost?
An old parable about a Rescue Station continues to challenge me:
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was a once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.
Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so it became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding areas, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews were trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in an enlarged building. Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club. Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work. The mission of life-saving was still given lip-service but most members were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the life-saving activities personally.
About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and some spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of future shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal life pattern of the club. But some members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station down the coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club and yet another life-saving station was founded.
If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown.
This sounds to me like a lot of churches.