Have you ever been tired? Now before you answer, I’m not talking about the kind of fatigue that comes from working all day, mowing the yard, or working out at the gym.
The kind of weariness I’m referring to is the kind that exhausts your mind. It’s the restlessness that does not respond well to physical rest. It’s the exhaustion that resists your every effort to sleep. You know what I mean, don’t you? Have you ever gone to bed – you’re beyond the point of exhaustion — and yet you just can’t seem to turn off your weary mind?
That’s the kind of fatigue I’m talking about. It’s the weariness of heart and mind that produces late nights, floor-walking, anxious thoughts, episodes of stress all accompanied by that seemingly ever-present companion, worry. Is there any kind of rest that will address these conditions?
Fortunately, there is.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus offered a sweeping invitation that is all-inclusive. And before we see it, a thorough examination reveals there are no exclusions and no exceptions to the invitation. Here it is: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). The conditions Jesus addressed go right to the heart of our restlessness. The invitation speaks to those who "labor" (to be worn out, faint), and are "heavy laden" (a word used in the nautical world meaning to overload a ship with freight). While this may possibly be a little too much information for you, complete candidness demands that I tell you that "labor" and "heavy laden" have been frequent companions of mine. We have been, unfortunately, on a first-name basis. I know these emotions far too well.
I don’t think I am alone. It seems that many of us are familiar with the havoc that stuff like worry, anxiety, and the seemingly ever-present tyrant called stress can create in our lives. High blood pressure, ulcers, sleeplessness, well, you get the idea. While I would never pretend to be a physician, I sometimes wonder if some of these conditions stem from "labor" and being "heavy laden." The doubt, worry, anxiety, stress, and seemingly irrational fears that resist rest. While identifying them is helpful, what do we do about them? How do we get rid of the "labor, heavy laden" weight in our lives?
For both saved and unsaved, the solution is the same. The invitation from Jesus was clear: "Come to Me" (Matthew 11:28). This means we must move from where we are to where He is. The word "come" refers to the location of any action. That location is Jesus ("Me"). This is great news because we are assured Jesus will take us just as we are, no matter the condition we are in.
Notice that right next to the "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden" (Matthew 11:28) is the "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me" (Matthew 11:28-29). The word "yoke" refers to coupling two things together, such as cattle. Here, Jesus used it as a metaphor and so invites us to join ourselves with Him and His precepts (teachings). This was a kind of illustration to help people understand His offer. During the time of Jesus, the religious teachers placed heavy burdens on their people. They demanded the people follow rules and regulations, and more often than not, it was "do as I say, not as I do." To their rigid lifestyle, Jesus countered with "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30).
Here’s where it gets challenging.
I think we can all agree that we often find ourselves in need of "rest." Used here, the word means "to quiet, recreate, refresh" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament). But the challenging part happens when we discover that it can only be found in the Person and Principles of Jesus. If we are to receive His rest – we become His followers, and that means change. Yes, Christ loves us just as we are. However, He loves us far too much to let us stay that way. Sin has marred us all. No one is excluded from the sinner group. When we come to Jesus, He takes us as we are (which is called redemption) and shapes us in to what He wants us to be (which is called sanctification). The Bible is quite clear on this issue. The goal of God in the life of every believer is to make us in to the image of Christ. Remember when Paul wrote: "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28)? Have you ever read the next verse? It states, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
That’s right. God is in the process of making His children into the image of Christ. It is in this shaping process that folks tend to get hazy on. "Well, I have been redeemed and that means I can do whatever I want to do." I can still hear my childhood friend, Bobby, saying that. But I can also hear this: "When God saves you – He changes your ‘want-to-dos’" (Dr. Adrian Rogers – former Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN)
Here’s the thing. I believe rest – I mean real, heart-easing, burden-lifting, mind-soothing rest is something we all can use. But we need to be clear. The only way that kind of rest becomes ours is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Once more from the top: "Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). The road to rest is paved with the invitation to redemption (salvation) and transformation (sanctification).
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you" (St. Augustine 354-430).
John Burleson is the Pastor of Calvary Church of Conway. Email him with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.