"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: 28-30
I've read the book of Matthew a number of times, but for some reason, at this last reading I paused at these verses. I stopped and I read them over a number of times. Then, they replayed in my mind for literally weeks. I knew there was more going on and I had to explore further. Here's what I discovered when I asked for guidance from the Holy Spirit.
This incident from my youth came to mind. We had cows growing up. Generally, they were big, gentle giants. That is, unless you wanted them to go a specific way and they didn't agree. One time, we were moving them from a pasture into the barn and one cow decided she didn't want to go in. Now, if a horse had turned and run at me, I would wave my arms and they would run past me. I could grab their halter and, after being dragged around for a while, they'd give up and stop. A cow is much different. They don't care and will run you right over. I like to think the best of them, so perhaps it's because they're like freight trains that once they start going, find it hard to turn or stop quickly. At any rate, this cow didn't want to go into the barn. She turned, gave me the stink eye and started running towards me. Despite my waving arms and yelling, she ran into me and I was thrown to the ground. [Hah - 44 years ago when I could just hop up, completely uninjured, not even suffering a black & blue mark.] That was the day I concluded a cow wasn't a horse and I should have jumped out of the way.
Oxen are basically cows trained to work, and if pulling something like a plow, would be outfitted with a yoke on the back of the neck. It would be easy to feel sorry for the ox and think the yoke was super heavy. Most double yokes weigh maybe 30 - 45 pounds. When considering the strength and size of the animal and the fact that the weight is shared, it's not so heavy to them. You can look at pictures of ox on the internet and you can take it from me that they are: thick of body, have chunky, sturdy legs, strong necks and backs and prefer to move forward. When asked to pull, they lean their huge bodies forward into the yoke and, using their strength and weight (1,500 lbs on average but depends on the breed), move whatever they are tethered to.
After careful study, I realized there's a real give and take in these verses. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." That's what he says he'll do. In turn, we are to, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." Uh, Oh - we have to do something too. But, of all things, why a yoke?
Jesus was speaking to a society that was largely agrarian, meaning farmers, so they would understand this analogy. As I was picturing what this looked like, I realized that I couldn't take his yoke on until I took mine off. What burdens was I carrying that I had to take off first? I had to volunteer to give up worry about the future of this country, doubt about my abilities, fear for my son's future, health concerns...sounds like I could have a lot of 'yokes'!
Whether it's a team of horses, oxen or the Budweiser Clydesdales, you always hook up an experienced animal with an inexperienced animal so they can learn how to do the job. The experienced ox will teach the other to turn right or left by pulling right or left on the yoke. When know-it-all ox stops, pressure on the yoke eases and student ox stops because he can't pull the load by himself. Jesus is asking us to "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..." I can't be in a yoke by myself; I can't pull that load. No worries because Jesus wants me to be in a yoke with him! There is NOONE I'd rather be yoked to then with Jesus. Two oxen yoked together share the workload and, a huge and important key point that is often overlooked, they can only go forward. When you are yoked with Jesus, there's no going backward, no looking back, no bringing up past mistakes and also no standing still not doing what you're called to do.
We need to go to him, take our old 'yokes' off, put on his yoke,
learn from him and trust that he will help with the burden.
Jesus also promises to be "gentle and humble in heart..." In other words, not overbearing, critical or haughty. Can you remember being asked to do something as a child that you've never done before? If the teacher was kind and generous with direction, the lesson was learned and remembered. If the teacher was nasty and disgusted that you couldn't figure it out, all you learned was to resent the teacher. While that teacher knew the answer, they weren't 'humble in heart' to help you to discover and learn it. Thankfully, that is not Jesus.
In two places, "rest" is mentioned. Jesus says, "Come...I will give you rest" and if we take the yoke and learn, we "will find rest" for our souls. Again with the give and take. We are called to act and we can find rest. Is that easy to do when you're "weary and burdened"? Actually, YES, if you chose to ask Jesus into your life! We're giving up our yokes, the ones where the burdens keep us awake at night, unrested, worried, tired of carrying them, weary and ready to give up. And exchanging that yoke that we can't seem to get away from or solve for the one that Jesus offers. The one where he promises, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Who wouldn't want an easier, lighter yoke and, remember, you're in there with Jesus who is helping to carry the burden and move forward with you. Here's the other thing: there's a yoke no matter what. It is either the worldly, heavy one or the easy, light Jesus yoke. As always, we have freedom of choice.
Without Jesus, you are 'yoked' to worldly troubles and heartaches. Untethered to do your own thing, your own unsaved, sinful way. With Jesus, metaphorically speaking, he is 'yoked' with us, directing us in his gentle way, walking forward with us, carrying the heaviest of the burden and helping us to work the 'field' of life. He invites us to take his spiritual yoke on by confessing him as your saviour and letting him be first in your life.
So, getting back to where he promises to give rest for the soul. Here's what I know without a shadow of a doubt, in other words, I can testify to this. In my early years of walking with Jesus, there were some ebbs and flows. I wasn't fully committed, so as a young believer there were times that I wandered over to places I didn't belong or hungout with people I shouldn't have or made decisions that were not God-driven. I wasn't strongly yoked up with Jesus...I didn't fully trust God or his promises and I still wanted to do things my way. Those were times where I ended up weary and burdened. Why? Because inevitably, I ended up worrying, trying to be someone I wasn't meant to be, or doing things I shouldn't have been doing.
I said earlier "I could have a lot of yokes!" I used the word 'could' because those worries I listed will not become burdens because I've turned them over to God. I choose to be spiritually yoked with Jesus and actively work on a stronger faith walk. I choose to trust God and his promises and, therefore, I'm not weary and burdened. He is in control, teaching and directing, walking right next to me and helping me through this life. Jesus absolutely understands what it feels like to be weary and burdened and he is offering in these verses a way to peace, understanding and rest for our souls. Hallelujah!