Have you ever felt like you are always trying? Trying and trying and trying so hard, never sure if you’ve done enough?
I had a period of time in my life where I thought it was all about being good enough. Being a really spiritual person. I was involved in so many Christian activities in college, leader of several, and I was trying SO hard to prove that I was enough. To feel like what I was doing was enough, and to feel worthy of God’s love. And I remember having so many emotional breakdowns. I remember feeling like I was barely hanging on by a thread, because it was so exhausting. No matter how much “good” Christian stuff I did, it never seemed to be enough.
Then I graduated college and went into full-time ministry for 4 years. When I look back on those 4 years, I see a weary soul. I see a woman young in her 20s who should have been full of life, entirely burnt out. A woman who was constantly trying to prove that she was worthy.
Thankfully, this is not how it is supposed to be.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says,
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.”
The word “labor” used here carries the idea of working to the point of utter exhaustion. Jesus was addressing the fact that the Pharisees’ (The religious leaders at this time) interpretation of the law had become a crushing burden to people. The standards were impossible to keep up with. They preached a message that you had to strive to achieve perfection under the law to obtain salvation.
Many people spend much of their lives trying to prove that they are a “good person.” Even those of us who are Christians and have been a part of the church for many years. We may say that we know we can never be good enough to earn God’s favor; that it is only through the Grace of Jesus through his death and resurrection that we can have good standing with God. Yet we find ourselves time and time again falling into the same trap of trying to prove ourselves “good enough.”
The pressure of this labor we try to carry often manifests itself in strained relationships, depression, stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.
And how do we usually seek to get rid of the burden? By trying harder.
Maybe we’re trying harder by climbing the career ladder, maybe we’re trying to impress people by looking good, maybe it’s “upgrading” our possessions, gaining recognition and approval for our accomplishments, taking on more roles at church, volunteering more in our community, helping other people, getting a higher degree, etc. Underlying all of these efforts is a desire to win the approval of God and of others.
The problem is, no person can make a grade high enough to merit heaven. So attempting to do so is frustrating and exhausting.
Jesus used the image of the yoke to show people that it is impossible to measure up to God’s standard, and also to teach us that Jesus does measure up.
Let me explain.
There is a story that a pastor named Jim Shaddix tells about some time he spent with a mentor of his who is a sawmill operator. One day when he was visiting this man, he noticed an actual yoke hanging on his wall and he pointed it out. The sawmill operator explained to him how the yoke worked.
First of all, when you look at the design of a yoke, you realize that it is intended for two animals to carry. He explained that one animal could never carry the whole load on its own.
The burden of the law is too much for us to carry on our own. This is why all of our striving is so exhausting to us. We are trying to do it all on our own. And specifically we are trying to live up to God’s perfect standard. But it’s too much. It is impossible to succeed in carrying it.
Second, the two animals on which the yoke was placed were different. One of the animals was always more experienced than the other. So the second animal became somewhat of a learner. The experienced animal was schooled in the commands of the master. So this experienced animal was the one who provided the direction, leadership, help, and training for the unexperienced member of the team.
Jesus is the experienced guide! He is the one who has fulfilled the law. He is the one who knows the commands of the Master. He lived the perfect life that we cannot. He invites us to come under his yoke with him, as he guides the way.
Jesus promises that being yoked together and following His lead will result in a refreshing experience for his tired followers. The rest he offers is a rejuvenation from the weariness of trying to measure up.
Although Jesus is not trying to give people another heavy load to carry and is inviting them to rest in his, he was not suggesting that a relationship with him is absent of work. He would have never chosen the “yoke” as his illustration had that been his intent. The yoke was an instrument of work.
Following Jesus isn’t always easy. In fact, it often is not.
I’ll admit: At times, I have felt frustrated when this passage has been talked about, because it makes it sound like being a Christian is supposed to be so easy and I should feel so light all of the time, and that hasn’t been the case for me. It helps me to realize that this isn’t what Jesus is saying.
Sharing a yoke with Jesus certainly does not mean that our life circumstances are going to get easier. Look at His life. Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus says, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus was broke and homeless. He was rejected and mocked by family and friends. We certainly have no reason to believe that sharing a yoke with him means that things should turn out better for us!
But the work IS light because we have already been forgiven! Jesus may not always give us what we think we want but He gives us everything we need – including things we thought were impossible (real security, full approval from God, actual complete and utter freedom). He lived the absolute perfect, sinless life that earned full favor from God. And in dying the death that we deserve for our rebellion against God and determination to live for ourselves, He offers to us his perfect life. For those of us who follow Jesus, his perfect life has been credited to us. We have all the approval we long for. We are safe. We are enough. We are free. We don’t have to prove anything, and we don’t have to make up for the things that we did wrong. Jesus rose from the dead to offer us a new life, one where we get the benefits that He earned. Where we are covered in grace. Where we rest in knowing that the end turns out amazing. He has gone before us to prepare a place in eternity for those who love him. And knowing that makes this life light, under his yoke. The work under the yoke of Christ is the work of love and joy.
While Jesus asks much, he provides the strength necessary for people to respond.
Instead of doing things for Jesus with insecurity, we are doing things with Jesus, fully secure.
“This is the gospel call; Whoever will, let him come. All who thus come will receive rest as Christ’s gift, and obtain peace and comfort in their hearts. But in coming to him they must take his yoke, and submit to his authority… He accepts the willing servant, however imperfect the services. Here we may find rest for our souls, and here only… It is a yoke that is lined with love.”
May you find your rest in Him today.