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Sunday, January 03, 2021

For the World-Weary and Heavily Burdened...

 28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I don't know if there are any verses in scripture more comforting than these. And, at least for me personally, I'm not sure if there are any verses in scripture that I've ignored more than these. 

True Confession: I am a card-carrying, senior member of the Burden Builders Club, no affiliation with the BBC, makers of fine British entertainment. (Have you seen Sherlock? Holy cow!) But, I digress. 

These verses from Matthew 11 are in red as a reminder that JESUS SAID THIS. And yet, how many times have we said, "Nah, no thanks, Lord. I think these burdens look great on my shoulders. In fact, there are a few more heavy ones over there I'm going to go pick up."???

Part of my problem is that I'm a control freak. Yes, there's horrendous crap going on in my life, but if I've got hold of the steering wheel, I'm certain I can fix it. And part of that problem is a lack of faith. "Lord, I don't really believe you will fix this, so I guess I'll jump in." And part of THAT problem is me thinking I'm smarter than God. "Lord, there's this problem in life, and well, it's been going on for a while. I'm not sure why, but you don't seem inclined to fix it. Clearly, an error on your part. So, I guess I'll take up the slack and attempt to do what you ought to be doing."

Do you see the chain of errors there? Do you have any idea how HEAVY that chain is to bear? I can hear Jacob Marley screaming at me right now, 

Bearing the burdens in life that are beyond our control, beyond our ability to fix—or even change—is indeed a ponderous chain. Bearing these burdens makes us weary. It's exhausting.'s pointless. 

There's a reason the "Serenity Prayer" is so popular. 

When we hear the Serenity Prayer, we are suddenly confronted with our lunacy. How insane it is to allow ourselves to dwell upon, to mentally and emotionally toil over, things in life that we cannot change? Coronavirus, Racism, Corruption in Politics, Cultural Depravity, Getting Old, Changing the Behaviors of other people (Got you with that last one, didn't I? I am so guilty of that)...these burdens, and an infinitely long list of other concerns, are far bigger than us, far deeper than us, and far beyond our ability to change.

Please don't misunderstand me. We can wear our masks. We can each do our part to love others regardless of our differences. We can do our homework, vote faithfully and intelligently. We can support redeeming behaviors. We can take our vitamins and go to the gym. We most definitely can do our best to change the things we can change, but bearing the weight of any those things categorically is madness. 

Start at the micro level, the personal level. There's someone in your life, probably someone very dear to you. You can see that there's something very harmful in that person or in that person's life. What can you do? You can love, support, offer a good example, offer advice, etc. But you can NEVER take responsibility for someone else's change. There's the whole free will thing, remember? With parents this can be particularly burdensome. We raise our children the best we can, but ultimately, they are going to make their own decisions. As my good friend Christopher Hopper is fond of saying, "You are responsible TO your children, not FOR them." You do your best and then let go. {Cue Frozen song, preferably the heavy metal version.}

Here's a link: HEAVY METAL VERSION of "LET IT GO."

Intellectually, on some level, I think we all know this, but we don't want to acknowledge it. We are stubborn and foolish. And the result? We are so bone-weary it can be hard to get out of bed. 

Jesus says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."  

Here's where a lot of messages would end, saying, "Amen. May it ever be so."

[Side note: does it drive anyone else CRAZY when sermons, devotions, or even whole books spend 90% of the content harping on the problem, only to gloss over the solutions? We already know about the problem. We need some help here. Throw us a fricken' bone!] Rant over.

How? How do we release the burdens? How do we stop picking up new burdens? How do we stop exhausting ourselves with heavy weights we were: Never. Meant. To. Bear?

Fortunately, Jesus tells us how. He says, "Come to Me." Recognize that you are carrying stuff that you cannot possibly handle, and go to Jesus. That might mean go to Him in prayer. That might mean take a walk on the beach and go to Him. That might mean listen to music that takes you to Him. This might even mean, locking yourself in a (hopefully, sort of soundproof) room and screaming, "LORD, I can't take this anymore. You take this GIANT BALL OF CRAP off of my shoulders, please!"

Note that this is not a passive step. This is an imperative, active movement of our will and possibly physical action, as well. "Come to me." If you're carrying the weight of the world, go directly to Jesus, any way that you can. Maybe it sounds too easy, but be honest, how often in the midst of being burdened, do you actually, actively, and repeatedly, go to Jesus? And when you're with Jesus, how often do you actually cast off all that junk with the full recognition that you cannot possibly fix it yourself? Not just lip service either. There's a Polish proverb that I've come to love, and it surges to mind here: "Not my circus. Not my monkeys." 

The phrasing of this proverb makes me smile, but the truth within is a holy 2 X 4 that we need to get smacked with repeatedly. Say it with me, "Not my circus. Not my monkeys." We need to recognize that we've done what we CAN do, but the rest is in YOUR hands, Lord."

I'm not belittling physiological anxiety in the least. I understand that burden from personal experience. Some of us have predilections to anxiety and have compounded such physiological chemical problems by wearing a deep rut in our minds. The needle on our spinning record keeps finding that rut and falling into it. And we fret and we worry and we consume ourselves with the impossibility of the task without recognizing the impossibility of the task. We need to ask God to create a new rut. Better? Ask God to create a New Groove. The Lord's New Groove.

{I'm hearing Kronk saying, "Riiii-iiiight."}

That "new groove" is the second and third imperative in this pivotal scripture passage: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me..." This is also part of the HOW. Many of us have been bearing burdens for so long that it has become a daily habit like putting on shoes, brushing teeth, or...breathing. We cannot just chuck our burdens on Jesus because our sinful flesh shoulders are burden magnets. No sooner will we dump "the future" on Jesus than "the past" will hop right onto our backs. We have to replace the burden with something else. Jesus's yoke.  

See that wooden harness-thingy in the drawing above? That's a yoke. Brannon Diebert of defines a yoke in this way: "Essentially, a yoke was a harness used by oxen and other animals to ease the work of hauling a load. It was also meant as a designation of servitude and carrying the burden of a task or mission." Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon us, and yes, IMHO, in the metaphor, we are the dumb steer who, steering.

How do we take that yoke, His yoke, upon us? There are certain elements that are common to all of us: learn Jesus's way. Watch the Master work in scripture and in life. And submit. Part of giving up the burden is submission. We need to realize that God is the only one who has the power to change things that are impossible for us to change. Likewise, {and this stings a little} He is the only one smart enough to know how and when, or even if, something needs to be changed. Who among us have known the mind of the Lord that we should be His tutor? Ehrm...not me, but that hasn't kept me in my vanity from functionally presuming that role. 

Just as I wasn't there when God tossed all the stars into their places, I don't really know which evils of the world need changing or what my "perceived" solution would cause in the world. Why did God allow a certain tragedy to occur? That is way WAY above my pay grade. I don't want it to be. I want to point fingers. I want to blame God. But that is utter insanity. I am finite. He is not. I cannot see with an eternal perspective. He can. As Gandalf says, "Not even the very wise can see all ends," but God can. So we must submit to the Lord.

"Jesus, please let me wear Your yoke." Whatever that looks like, I want it. Similar to defining "coming to Him," I think that "wearing His yoke" can be a highly customizable act. What has God called you to do? Teach? Write? Cook? Plant? Paint? Code? Run? Build? The list is endless. Whatever you do, do unto the glory of the Lord. The thing is, you've got to own it. I am doing X for God's glory. Lord, please put Your yoke on my shoulders and steer me wherever you like. 

Jesus says His burden is light. His yoke is light. But isn't it an incredibly heavy burden to be God's ambassadors on Earth? Is it really? Think it through. Why is that such a burden? Could it be that we are (once again) weighing ourselves down with faulty expectations? Can a human being convert another human being? Are we responsible for generations believing in Jesus? No. No, we cannot and no, we are not. God saves. God recreates. God wields the power over life, death, time, salvation, and everything else! Imagine doing some gardening with a young child. You might give the little one a spade to dig a crude hole. Or maybe you sprinkle a few seeds in that tiny hand so that he can push them into the loose soil. As the adult in the scenario, you give the child what he/she can handle and you do the rest. Even more so is this true of God. He gives us all kinds of things to go out and do, but He doesn't expect us to do what only He can do. 

At this point, we may sheepishly look at our burdens and our foolishness and feel too ashamed to bring all this junk to Jesus, but He tells us He is gentle and humble in heart. He's not glowering at us scornfully as we carry our sacks of filth into His sterile throne room. He comes leaping from the throne to take hold of those sacks, to gently relieve us of the crushing weight they represent. Why should we ever doubt this? He's already humbled Himself by putting on human flesh and living in our conditions. He's already humbled Himself by taking on the most hideous, weighty burdens of all: our sin. He already carried all that evil junk off and buried it. How much more then would He now be willing to take on our worldly burdens? 

And what does Jesus offer in exchange for tons of exhausting, anxiety-producing crap? Rest. "Here, let Me take that for you. There, there, that's better now, isn't it? Of course, you're spent. Time for a nap. Rest."