With whom are you yoked?

After writing more than a dozen books on family relationships, I confess I was a little out of my comfort zone when I signed this book contract. It turned out to be a blast. I hope you’ll consider The Next Verse for your own daily devotional for a couple months. I have other favorite entries, but chapter seven is golden.  Read it for yourself.

Chapter Seven

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
                                    —Matthew 11:28 NIV

It’s easy to love Matthew 11:28. The message feels like a comforting embrace and delivers clear meaning and intent. “Work hard and then rest.” There’s even an easy-going lyrical quality to the words of this verse.

We imagine Jesus’s voice inviting us to sit in the shade and drink lemonade. Clearly, we’ve earned our break having just finished an arduous task. Digging holes for fence posts. Weeding the garden. Painting the back porch. It’s time for a well-deserved respite.

“Thanks J.C.” you say as you mop your brow and kick back in the comfortable Adirondack chair He has provided. We’re enjoying satisfaction in a job well done.

But maybe it’s more than that. Maybe your weariness is not from a few hours of sweat-inducing labor, but a real burden. Something that is truly exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Maybe you’re suffering desperately from a life challenge that has gripped your very essence and left your soul weary.

Can Jesus help with a boss or bully that makes you feel like crud? Can He provide rest from a financial crisis that seems inescapable? If an ongoing history of abuse, mental illness, addiction, or anything else that is completely out of your control has left you broken, does this verse apply? What if life just doesn’t make sense? What if the burden is unexplainable or unspeakable?

What’s more, Jesus makes the invitation to “all you.” How can He possibly promise that kind of crucial care and comfort to everyone who picks up a Bible and reads the gospel of Matthew?

Might there be answers in the next verse?

“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 11:29-30 NIV

After the promise of Matthew 11:28, the next two verses seem to make no sense. Where’s the so-called rest? In the very next verse Jesus introduces the idea of some kind of farm implement or wooden harness we’re supposed to strap across our shoulders.

That’s right, the primary definition of “yoke” is a wooden collar fitting over the necks of two draft animals, such as oxen or donkeys, joining them to work in tandem to pull a plow, sled, or wagon. Literally, taking on a yoke is pretty much the opposite of rest.

Before we call Jesus a liar, let’s take a closer look at what He is really recommending for “all you who are weary and burdened.” He is not offering just any yoke. He is telling us to take on “my yoke.”

Let that sink in. Jesus, the Son of God, is already yoked. He is an expert in taking on heavy loads. He proved that when He took on the burden of sin, including the overwhelming weight of all the sins that were ever committed. In plain language, Matthew 11:29 has the one Divine Being experienced in carrying the weight of the world offering to partner with you. If we come alongside Jesus and share our burden, it’s pretty clear that He has the ability to carry all of it.

Confirmation comes in verse 30 and finishes with a promise that being yoked with Jesus leaves us with a challenge that is manageable. He says, “the burden I give you is light,” which means it matches our gifts exactly. Jesus doesn’t give us anything we can’t endure. He may give us tremendous responsibilities, but somehow He makes them do-able. We can handle the weight. Phew.

Going Deeper:
Did you notice the other benefit in this passage? Jesus is offering us the chance to “learn from me.” As so often happens when we turn to Jesus, He offers the unexpected. He knows working through some challenges is good for us.

Being yoked with Jesus gives him a chance to whisper truths we need to know. While modeling gentleness and humility, He reveals the ready benefits of experiencing affliction. While Jesus provides rest for our souls, He simultaneously give us a manageable burden that:

  • Confirms our dependence on God
  • Compels us to pray
  • Keeps us humble
  • Sends us into the arms of God
  • Produces endurance
  • Gives us empathy for others in need
  • Reminds us that we are not home yet.

These are just a few of the lessons revealed when we turn to Jesus with our heaviest burdens. But only if we let him teach us.

Final Thought:
With all the benefits that come from facing challenges and carrying burdens, is it possible that sometimes we should actually seek them out? Perhaps! Or at the very least, approach each day and each opportunity with a little more courage and confidence.

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