Have you ever been tired? Not just sleepy. Not just worn out from a good day outside in the sun. But tired deep down in your soul?
I have. And it’s not pretty. It’s the kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away even if you sleep until noon on Saturday. It wears you out, despite having one all the things that normally rejuvenate you.
It’s also not the way Jesus intends for us to live our lives with Him.
In Matthew 11, Jesus draws a stark contrast between those who, despite having seen great miracles, reject Him as the Messiah, and those who, like little children, receive the truth of who He is.
He concludes with a startling invitation:
“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)
When I read those verses, the natural reaction of my heart is to hear Jesus saying something like, “You poor dear. You’ve had it really rough haven’t you? Here, come sit down in my spiritual easy chair. Put your feet up, and have a nice long rest.”
But this is not quite the rest Jesus has in mind.
The image of being yoked together would have been readily accessible to the first-century audience.
A yoke was a large wooden beam used to keep two plow animals, usually a team of oxen, pulling in tandem. Because the beam rested on their shoulders and was attached to them with a harness, it also became a word picture for being burdened or weighed down.
When Jesus issues an invitation to come and be yoked to Himself, He isn’t picturing a carefree life in which we can do whatever we want while experiencing rest and reassurance from Him. He is issuing an invitation to come and be inseparably linked to Himself, going where He goes, doing what He desires. Being inseparably bound to Jesus is going to come with its own requirements—requirements that will feel a lot like death to my sinful heart.
But, by choosing the imagery of the yoke, Jesus is also highlighting the reality that we can never outgrow our need for Him.
Being yoked to Jesus means He bears the weight of our sin and brokenness and He directs our paths. This shift from being sole responsibility-bearers of all our concerns to taking our cues from God, offers us the rest and lightness He speaks of.
When I am tired and worn out from the weight of circumstances, or from pretending to be less needy than I really am, it’s easy to overlook Jesus’ central point. Jesus isn’t merely giving us an invitation to rest. He is giving us an invitation to Himself. “Come to me… and I will give you rest.”
It is by coming to Jesus, abiding with Him, literally being “yoked” together with Him that our souls find the rest they so desperately need.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so desperate for the “rest” that I’ve ended up missing Jesus altogether. I almost always think that Jesus’ yoke is going to be heavy, and whatever else my wayward heart yokes itself to will be ultra-light. But it’s never true.
A Serge missionary translated Jesus’ yoking idea into “African English” for a friend in Bundibugyo, Uganda, by saying: “My things are small. My luggage is not heavy.”
Is your luggage heavy?
If so, take this opportunity to respond to Jesus’ invitation to lay it down and be yoked to the only One who will make our burdens light.