Thursday, October 7, 2010

Take It Easy on Yourself

Come to me, all 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. (Matthew 11.28-29)

Digging Down and Doing

This is one of those passages we regularly reach for, yet seldom grasp. Without doubt, it’s one of the most blissful—and blessed—promises Jesus makes: “When you’re worn down, come to Me. When you’re overloaded, come to Me. I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28) Could it be more straightforward? So we take Him up on His offer. We go to Him and sigh, “Oh, Jesus, I’m so beat. I just don’t have it in me to move ahead.” Or, “Oh, Jesus, I’ve had it up to here. I just can't find the strength for one more problem.” We stand and wait, as though He’s running a supernatural rebound clinic, where He doles out reenergizing pills and burden reduction therapy. To some degree, the protocol we’ve derived from this text works, because time spent in Christ’s presence always restores energy and strength. Yet when we study the instructions attached to it, our approach is out of line with His direction. Like everything Christ teaches, the outcome He promises expects significant behavioral change from us.

It’s the next part that throws us, where Jesus explains how we get rest. Thus, before staggering to His doorstep, clutching verse 28 like a gift certificate to a spiritual spa, we should read verse 29’s fine print a few times:

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.

Notice the not-so-subtle shift from “I will give” to “you will find”? When we feel too exhausted and put-upon to keep going, we turn to Christ. But in our turning, we realize His promise isn’t about standing around and waiting. It’s about digging down and doing. Jesus never says He’ll handle the heavy lifting. He invites us to exchange our baggage for His lighter load. He doesn’t offer a massage and a nap. He shows us how to take it easy, so our backs don’t ache from unnecessary burdens and our stamina isn’t spent on pointless exertion. “Be like Me,” He says. “Be gentle. Be humble. And you’ll find rest.”


At a glance, this passage seems to pop up from nowhere. It feels tacked-on at the bottom of a relatively uneventful chapter, as if Matthew decided he needed a button—a closing zinger—to pep it up. When we read chapter 11 with wide eyes, however, there’s no mistaking why it’s there. By the time we reach verse 38, it’s obvious Jesus is weary. The chapter starts with bad news. A big crowd has turned out to hear Him preach. Just before He speaks, disciples of John the Baptist arrive to inform Him their imprisoned leader now has second doubts about Jesus. “Go back and tell him what you see,” He replies. “People are being healed. I’m preaching the truth. John needs to settle down.” After they leave, Jesus realizes the crowd overheard His discussion. Some damage control needs doing, because it’s commonly known Jesus began His career as John’s disciple and launched His ministry at the Baptist’s urging. This little dust-up could easily be misinterpreted as rank ingratitude on Jesus’s part or, worse yet, set fire to new questions about His legitimacy. Now He has to scuttle what He intended to tell the people and assure them He holds John in highest regard.

It clearly enervates Jesus that John, his followers, or the crowd would entertain the notion He’s not authentic. “What do you people want?” He asks. “John lives in the desert like a recluse and you say he’s possessed. I minister in the towns and because you’re not thrilled with the company I keep, you say I’m a glutton and drunkard. You’re like a bunch of kids trying to run the show.” Then, catching Himself, Jesus finishes this part of the sermon by saying, “Wisdom is proved right by her actions” (v19)—the same message He sent to John. Usually, He’d change gears here, maybe tell a story with an uplifting moral, or point to something—a tree or field or coin—and extract life-giving wisdom from it. But He can’t seem to escape the weariness and pressure brought on by relentless questions about Him no matter how much good He does. Jesus unleashes a barrage of woes aimed at cities that doubt Him despite the miracles He performed in their streets. It’s not pretty. Once more, He catches Himself, only now He stops preaching and starts praying. The prayer reveals what’s actually going on and why He’s so tired of it. It’s in the prayer that He finds—and we learn how to find—rest and relief.

A Child Can Do It

“I praise you, Father,” Jesus says, “because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (v25) The challenges that weary Christ come from clever people driven by insatiable craving for difficulty. They make things more taxing than they are because simplicity strips their audacity and pride. When the answer is so obvious a child can see and understand it, the smart crowd loses its edge. They flood the squares and pulpits, declaring, “It’s not as simple as it looks.” Yet in Christ’s case, looking proves how simple it is. As He prays, Jesus comes to grips with the fact He’s made Himself tired by trying to get the smart set—whether people of faith, like John and his followers, or doubters, like the cities He condemns—to see what they won’t believe. He’s got sucked into their madness, which He doesn’t relate to, because He’s not like them. They’re harsh; He’s gentle. They’re haughty; He’s humble. They love difficulty; it’s their weapon. He loves simplicity; it’s His gift.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father,” Jesus confesses in prayer. (v27) He has no use for grueling debates and cumbersome issues. Faith in His Father and His purpose removes any reason to be combative and haughty. After this coalesces while He prays, He tells us: “Learn from me. Don’t get sucked into the madness. It’s not as difficult as they claim. It’s just looking and believing—so simple, a child can do it. Don’t let non-essentials exhaust and burden you. Be gentle. Be humble. Be like me. Take it easy on yourself and you will find rest.”

We exhaust and overload ourselves with non-essential complexity. Christ teaches His way is so simple a child can see it. Following His example is how we find rest.

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