Do you ever feel like being a Christian is hard, that doing what you think God wants you to do is a burden? When you hear the commands to not only love your neighbor but your enemies as well, to be holy as God is holy, to meditate on scripture, to go and serve others, to give of your tithes and offerings, does it ever weigh on you? If not, praise God because these are all important things for us to do, given the right attitude! But for some of us, I think hearing these things may make us feel a bit weary and tired. Sometimes in my mind, probably because of the work-oriented, productivity-driven society we live in, I take Jesus' commands and simply turn them into a list of things I need to do, like tasks or duties the boss or the company has assigned me. If you know the feeling, then you know over time the list just grows longer and more heavy. Scripture or bible study can become a constant reminder of all the things we're not doing, and our Christian faith can become a joyless chore or obligation.
Now as you probably know, this is not the way of God's kingdom. Is Jesus our God and King? Is He our boss so to speak? Does His word lay out challenging commands or instructions which require our obedience? Hopefully you can agree with me that the answer to all of these questions is yes, absolutely! But Christ's kingdom is not like the working world we live in. God is infinitely more wise, compassionate, and relational. Perceiving God simply as boss and treating His word as a list of things to do misses the whole covenant relationship we have with Him. One of the more beloved passages in scripture is Matthew 11:28-30 in which Jesus says “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.” While this passage is often cited concerning physical and emotional suffering and fatigue, Jesus has a broader message of discipleship for those who feel weary and burdened by the obligations of man-made religion. Even the word "discipleship" sometimes has a heavy connotation to it. Doesn't it? But what Jesus is saying is that following Him should not be like that. Here in Matthew, He's inviting the people who feel weary and burdened because of the Pharisees' legalistic approach to following an endless list of religious rules and rituals to come to Him for rest and refreshment. See the Pharisees made life miserable for those who wanted to follow God. They weighed them down with duties and obligations, and extracted the joy and mercy that God intended from being with Him. And Jesus says come to me, commune with me. And then He describes how His yoke (yoke being the farming tool fastened over the neck of two animals to help them pull the cart or plow together) is one of love and freedom as opposed to weight and oppression.
We are yoked to Christ and because of what He has done on the cross, we should feel the weight or burden of religious duty lifted off of us. We are to lean on Him. Even the corporate world is beginning to understand this biblical principle as they find that their best leaders are those that build trust, support others, and don't just dole out instructions. As Jesus' followers, we are at times called to difficult and challenging things but our relationship with Him is key. Do not allow yourself to become burdened by religious rules and expectations. Talk with Jesus about those things that weigh you down. Release them in prayer, in worship, and in fellowship with one another. In scripture and bible study, listen for who you are in Christ more than what you do. Finally, respond to Jesus' call to "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Thank God that Jesus carries the load. You and I are simply called to attach ourselves to Him in faith and receive rest for our souls.