Come to me all of 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
This is one of these verses which sounds nice and for a while you can take comfort in it. Until things really just get pushed too far and you realize that you have no idea what the blazes it’s supposed to mean and it doesn’t even seem to be true as far as you can see. What is Jesus’ yoke anyways? If we say it’s living in obedience to God as Jesus did, then we’re even more up the creek without a paddle. Anyone who has actually devoted themselves to following God’s instructions will figure out in pretty short order that God is forever asking people to do things which are hard, if not practically impossible. Look at scriptures:
Abraham, leave your home and your family. I’ll tell you where you’re going later, but just go now.
David, take a small rock and go kill that giant.
Hosea, marry that woman who’s going to cuckold you and redeem her with your love. Make sure every knows about your humiliation so they see a model of my Love for them too.
Jesus, give up your glory to live among the fallen then let yourself be tortured and killed.
Paul, you just keep on preaching until they kill you. And when you’re whipped bloody and imprisoned, be sure to count it all glory.
God’s ways are many things, but easy and light don’t really fit the bill. So what is Jesus talking about here?
I think that I’ve figured it out. This is going to take a minute, but stick with me here.
The first thing we need to know is that one of the greatest lies the world tells us is that a good life, and perhaps especially a good Christian life, is having safe, respected, comfortable, hopefully prosperous lives. But over and over in scriptures we see that God calls people to live recklessly in following Him. God never guarantees our safety or comfort or even respectability. Instead He asks us to give up absolutely everything in order to follow where He leads.
One of my favorite verses of scriptures is where Jesus says, “seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) To me this means that we are called to do what God asks us to do regardless of the cost and trust that God will cover you. Know that your kids would suffer in daycare? Then have a parent home to raise them and trust that God will cover you. Know God wants you to help someone who needs money to get their car fixed? Then give them your savings and trust that God will cover you. Know that God has called you to live in an impoverished neighborhood? Then move there and trust God to cover you. Seek first God’s kingdom. Always and in all things, regardless of the cost. Because God will cover you.
Now, the problem is that inevitably, there is a cost. There is suffering involved. Sometimes it seems like God’s not doing His part. There’s not enough money to pay the bills. Your car breaks down. Your new neighborhood is dangerous and unwelcoming. And you begin to think that maybe you’ve just been foolish. God isn’t really going to cover you. He wants you to use good judgement and take care of yourself, not do foolish, reckless things. After all, you’ll find more than enough good Christians who will tell you just that.
This is, I think where Jesus’ yoke comes in. Just a couple of verses before the famous yoke verse, Jesus prays to his Father, “I praise you Father, lord of heaven and earth because you have . . . revealed [these things] to little children.” (Matthew 11:25) It comes down to a child-like trust. This is Jesus’ yoke. Even in the midst of disaster, we can trust that God is in charge, that He has a purpose for what is happening. Or if it is an attack of the enemy that He will aid us in the battle so that we can overcome. So you trust. You don’t despair, you don’t curse God or your lot. If you allow the Holy Spirit to work, you will even find that the fruits of the spirit continue to grow. Instead of anxiety, there is this joy and peace.
And then you begin to wonder if you are crazy. It doesn’t help that people keep coming up to you with sad puppy eyes to ask in tones usually used for those suffering from dementia, “how are you doing?”
“Fine,” you reply with a smile.
“No really. It must be so hard. It’s OK not to hide behind a strong face all the time.”
“Um, well I have my moments, but really, I’m doing well. I’m just trusting God, I guess.”
“Of course. Well, if you ever need to talk . . .” and they pat your hand and walk away.
(That’s a best case scenario. At worst, they do like a good friend of mine once did and say, “stop feeding me a bull s**t sandwich – of course you’re not OK!”)
So you begin to wonder. “I thought I was OK. Actually, I’m pretty happy. Maybe I am just kidding myself. Maybe I’m subjecting myself to some weird form of self-induced brainwashing and really I should be majorly depressed and planning a trip to the doctor for some happy pills. What if it’s not really God and I’m just CRAZY? Ahhhhhhh!” Or at least that’s what you say to yourself if you’re me.
See, we struggle with the yoke because it is easy and light. We’re like oxen who have been trained up under too much weight- always having to lean into it, tug and pull and huff and puff at the exertion of carrying this heavy yoke. And then Jesus comes along and gives us His yoke. But it just feels wrong. It’s so easy and light. It can’t be right. So a lot of us go back to our old, heavy yokes. They’re painful, but at least they feel like they fit.
And then all of us Christians who have taken back our yokes (if we ever actually took them off to begin with – most don’t), sit up at night and worry just like everyone else. And we live just like everyone else, because God can’t really think I’d be able to go there or do that – He knows what an unreasonable burden it would be. That’s for saints and missionaries, not for everyday Christians like me who are just trying not to get into trouble.
And this is exactly how we lose our saltiness. Then we wonder that Christianity is seen as fit for nothing more than to be trampled underfoot. But Jesus’ yoke is easy. His burden is light. That’s a good thing to, because there’s no way we can go to the crazy places God wants to send us carrying our own yokes. We just have to be willing to trade our worry and sorrow for peace and joy. Give up our safety and respectability for gentleness and humility. And trust that God will cover us. And He will.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39.