As we consider God’s kindness in decreeing that we should take one days rest in seven, I believe that it is also worth noting that Jesus understands that finding rest involves more than taking a day off from work and making it a day of rest, recreation, reflection. Jesus knew that we can take a days rest from the external demands of life, but that we can still be working very hard on the inside. Even making that day off special ‘to the Lord’ doesn’t necessarily bring us into a deep place of rest in our inner world.
Jesus was speaking to Sabbath observing Jews when He said, “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28. He talks here of finding rest for our souls and not just our bodies. By ‘souls’ he meant, I believe, that part of us that our physical body carries, but is unseen – our mind, emotions and spirit.
We all know how tiring worrying about something can be, and also how active our minds can be when we are trying to relax our bodies. Our thoughts arouse our emotions, and while joyful thoughts can give us energy, chewing over something that is concerning us, or perplexing us, can be very draining. Even spending time on Christian things ‘taking delight in the Lord’ will not automatically bring us into a place of real rest. As we look at these words of Jesus we can find some wonderful keys to finding rest. These are keys for ‘Life’ and not just for our ‘Days Off’.
The picture is of course of the yoke that was put around a pair of oxen as they were working to pull a plough or a piece of farm equipment. It speaks of potentially hard work, albeit in partnership, alongside the Lord. It feels like it could be challenging keeping up with Him. Maybe He, as the stronger partner, would be going faster than us, or pulling us along a path we are not sure of. In this kind of scenario therefore, the ’yoke’, that was usually made of wood, could be harsh, even constraining and somewhat chaffing on the neck.
‘Taking His yoke’ symbolizes giving Jesus, as the stronger partner, the control of the direction and speed of our lives. It gives Him as the senior partner, the right to choose where we plough, i.e. where we are putting our energies in life. Then, as ever, it is as if the Lord pre-empts all our objections, and He reassures us with the words, ‘I am gentle and humble in heart, i.e I am not going to be driving too fast making you keep up, showing you up, or making you go faster than you can. I am the strongest in this partnership but I am also gentle and humble and I will therefore pace our partnership for you.
Secondly, in case that wasn’t enough reassurance He says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. The translators of the Amplified Bible have expanded that for us to read “My yoke is good – not harsh, hard, sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious and pleasant, it is light and easy to be borne.“ The word ‘easy’ is also variously translated ‘gentle’ or ‘kind’. What a beautiful invitation this is, one that we really shouldn’t turn down, but let us look at how this helps us to find that illusive ‘rest for our souls’.
There are three things that I want to share about this wonderful invitation. First and foremost it’s an invitation to come close to Him. He says “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Then it’s “take My yoke upon you”, the yoke thing is secondary. This is not primarily a call to yoke up for work, it is a call to closeness, the kind of close walking together that only a pair of oxen can demonstrate.
Secondly this is a place of ‘sabbath rest’ for the whole of life and not just for one day a week. This is an invitation for everyday, because everyday life brings its challenges and weariness, and so walking close to Jesus has got to be the most refreshing place to be, ever known to man. He is offering to take the strain of our everyday lives, as we yoke ourselves up to His pace and direction.
Thirdly I believe that the yoke is not a wooden thing put over our neck, but it is the Lords arm around us guiding us forwards in a partnership where He takes the strain. I will leave you with that lovely picture of yourself walking through life with Jesus, His arm around your shoulder, His head close to yours. You can feel His care for you, the squeeze of His hand on your arm when you’re wavering, and you can hear His whispers of love and encouragement in your ear…“come on we can do this”. Now that is restful.
So Lord today we thank you that you understand us and our need to be led and supported through every day of our lives. Will you teach us daily how to come and walk closely beside you? We do want to ‘learn of you’. We want to learn how you would have us ‘do life’, so that everyday we can find more and more rest for our souls. Amen.