My sister and all those cleaning up their homes after massive flooding are exhausted. The task is huge and the frustrations wearisome. She describes insurance companies willing to pay for some things and not others. Her spouse is physically not able to help her very much and this is wearing on his soul. Even though she is not fighting God or struggling to earn His favor, I think of her as I read these verses again today,
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
It isn’t just the unsaved who labor for God’s favor that this invitation is extended. Sometimes the people of God also become weary and burdened. It could be from the burden of ceremony and legalism imposed by a rigid denomination. It could simply be the burden of serving others and being so caught up in it that we do far more than God asks and get ourselves burned out.
It could also be the burden of sin, for it weighs on us perhaps far heavier than on those who are unaware of their guilt before God. We know His favor and when we violate His godliness and take our lives into our own hands, we feel a weight that is unbearable. For that weight, this invitation is most needed.
But it is also needed for the simple fatigue of unceasing hard work, of sleep interrupted and matters too pressing for the human heart. For this, Jesus says “all” who work hard, “all” who are burdened. He didn’t even define the work or the load, just offers the solution. He bids the weary to take His yoke upon them.
Wearing a yoke is an expression that refers to subjection. The image is a beast of burden paired with another, both involved in the work. Jesus invites those who are slaves to sin, or just overworked, to be yoked with Him, serving alongside Him rather than serving self, or sin, or Satan.
He offers to be King, Master, teacher and coworker, One who is “gentle and humble in heart” and who models those same qualities for the rough and proud, but also promising kindness to the timid and fearful. His attitude will always suit the needs of those who are willing to share His yoke.
Notice He says “rest for your souls” not “rest for your bodies.” Sometimes the work must go on. Sometimes we cannot take a physical break. I think of the situation with Jesus’ friends, Mary and Martha. Mary sat at His feet, which was commended, but Martha had work to do and was “distracted by much serving.” Jesus rebuked her, not for her hard work, but for being “anxious and troubled about many things.” She needed to come to Him and bear His yoke, not the self-imposed yoke that was too heavy for her. (Luke 10:38-42)
My heart is with my sister these days. I wish my physical body to be there too, but so far God isn’t letting that happen. However, instead of being anxious and troubled, He calls me to support her in other ways, including prayer and with words that point her to the One who can ease her burden and give her inner rest. She needs to sleep well, to stay calm, to rely on Jesus, yet she already knows the power of His presence lightens all loads.