New series: Texts that changed my life.

If I were to make a mini-series of our society, I would call it “The Weary and the Restless.” Many of us  are staggering under demanding burdens that are far too heavy to bear. Exhausted, stressed, overworked, or worried about not having work, South Africans live with nagging fears about the future, crime and the shaky economy. Many are frantically eyeing secure havens for their families while others feverishly tick off their bucket lists of exotic destinations and physical challenges. Perhaps it’s because I’m turning fifty this week and my generation is clawing at the last vestiges of youth! But even if you haven’t succumbed to the crazy restlessness of mid-life crisis, it is rare to find a soul that isn’t burdened by the ever-increasing pace of the year, runaway technology, and relentless expenses. Added to this basic burden of weariness, is the weight of economic and political upheaval which presses down on the world like a giant blanket, squeezing more from us than we are able to give. The truth is that humanity has been profoundly weary since sin came into the world and paradise was lost in Genesis 3. Jesus Christ makes a simple offer of HIMSELF– the eternal God made flesh. He invites us to give up our burdens and willingly take on his yoke of life and freedom. In a world that is staggering under heavy burdens of sin, fear and brokenness, Jesus alone has the power to give us soul rest.

Matthew 11:28-30:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”

Our work, and Christ’s

In the context of Matthew’s gospel, Christ makes it plain that true soul rest can only be achieved through his death on the cross. He is not offering us a day at the spa!

On the cross, Jesus finished the “work” needed to bring us peace with God and end our restless wandering. Only the perfect God-man could bear our burden of sin. The empty tomb and his risen body proved that Christ’s “work” was acceptable and perfect. Nothing more could be added to it. That’s why Jesus “rested” when He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Heb 10:12). In return for his work on the cross, Jesus offers us rest from our own efforts to be acceptable to God. He invites us to stop and listen, to cease our restless striving, and to find our rest in His perfect work. We bear the easy yoke of believing and obeying Him.

The easy yoke of work and rest

It’s easy to divide our lives into work and rest as if they are a divorced couple that cannot live in the same house. But Jesus sees no incompatibility or contradiction between them. Instead, he lays yoke and rest side by side as a paradox.  A “yoke” is a board that is placed over two cattle pulling a plough. The image implies labour, as the oxen pull together to plough row after row of hard soil. At the same time that the oxen are working, the yoke eases the weight of the load. The yoke makes the burden lighter. Jesus offers his disciples rest and an easy yoke in the same breath.

Yoked oxen resized

Obeying the gospel of Christ is not a heavy burden but a blessed yoke, because when we attach ourselves to Jesus, we are free to live and work and flourish as human beings were designed to.  When the crowds asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus replied that our work is believing in Him whom God has sent (John 6:29). Later Jesus gave his disciples a strange job description: Their work was simply to remain attached to Jesus (the true vine) and allow God (the vinedresser) to do his work of pruning to make them fruitful (John 15:1-4).

 

Our work is simply to believe, abide and obey Christ! He has done the rest on our behalf. That is why Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light.

Soul rest

For those who accept his invitation to come, the Lord Jesus replaces our burden of guilt and restlessness with deep soul rest. It is the true rest to which the Sabbath points: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb 4:9-10).

Entering into God’s rest is not a once-off event that happens the day we place our trust in Jesus. It is a moment-by-moment faith journey in which we must stop our striving and rest in God’s promises fulfilled by Jesus. We look forward to our ultimate rest in God’s eternal kingdom when we will rest from the hard labours of service in this age. “Yes”, says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labour, for their deeds will follow them” (Rev 14:13). In contrast, those who do not accept Christ’s invitation to come to Him will have no rest, day or night (Rev 14:11).

If the stakes of Christ’s invitation are this high, we must ask ourselves some honest questions–

Have we accepted Christ’s offer of rest and submitted to his yoke by believing, obeying and abiding in Him?

Are we living our lives as restful disciples of Christ? Or are we as weary and restless as the world around us?

Rest is…

Rest is not about working less, doing more, or existing in a peace bubble. Rest is about the posture of our hearts as we go about the labours of life.

REST IS… believing that Jesus is who He claims to be—our Messiah who has freed us from sin’s tyranny and bought us peace with God. Rest is dropping our burden of sin, shame and striving at the foot of his cross and living as his disciple.

REST IS… trusting that Jesus will do what He says He will do. Rest is casting all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Rest is depending on Jesus to supply every need (Phil 4:19), to give us peace in tribulation and life in death (John 16:33John 11:25).

REST IS…coming to Jesus with every question, feeling and fear that burdens us, allowing Him to quench our soul thirst for approval, belonging, fulfilment, purpose and identity.

REST IS…abiding in Jesus as the vine, offering ourselves to be useful in His kingdom work and drawing from his grace to become fruitful branches.

REST IS…being contented and thankful, resting in God’s perfect purposes for our lives.

REST IS…yoking ourselves to Jesus as we move in the same direction and at the right speed in our work. It is labouring alongside the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2).

In moments when I find myself becoming restless and weary in my soul, I love to read this quote on my fridge. It was written by Elizabeth Elliot, whose missionary husband was killed by the people he came to serve:

“Restlessness and impatience change nothing except our peace and joy. Peace does not dwell in outward things, but in the heart prepared to wait trustfully and quietly on Him who has all things safely in His hands.”

A poem about Rest

Soul rest lies at the heart of the gospel. My son, Stuart, gave me permission to end with a heartfelt poem he wrote in response to Matthew 11:28-30.  My prayer is that every person who reads it will experience the deep rest that only Jesus has the power to give:

I live in a bubble
Of logic
Desperately clawing
At matter
That doesn’t
Reasoning how I
A Good Man
Can work
Myself so hard
That my muscles become scars
That my bones become dead branches
So He cannot
Say no

But I am always
Clawing
Never attaining
A handhold
That I can cling to
And I don’t know why

I make sense
If I receive
I must give
And I have received
A gift so precious
That no man could comprehend
The magnitude of its value
But out of habit
I work
To repay the incalculable debt

I am in the trenches
Shovel in hand
Sweat soaked brow
Dust plated lungs
Milky white eyes
Peeking through
A cesspool of muck
I look around
Others like me
As far as my tired eyes can see
Furiously chiseling
With blunt tools
At stubborn ground
Dust is the only reward

My muscles are like
My gran’s mushy peas
But I keep digging
Deeper and deeper
Further coating my face
With grit
Which clings
Like iron shavings to a magnet

A man
In dazzling white
Strides through
The dismal mire
Not a speck of grit
Dares get close to him
I look up to him
He has figured out
How not to work
How?
A voice
As harsh as thunder
On the Highveld
But soft
As a well groomed Labrador’s fur
Emanates across the trenches

I lift my broken face
To look at the dazzling face
From where the voice came
I see a few forlorn faces lift
But almost everyone continues
As if they had simply heard
An ibis’s morning cry

There is no sign of strain in the voice
It is as clear
As a fresh sea breeze
On a crisp autumn morning
“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.”

I fall to my knees
With hands raised
In awe of his presence
I see His hand
Dark and calloused
From years of manual labour
Extended to my forlorn state
Tears run down my face
Like a stream running down the contour
Of a sparse mountain
I dare not touch this spotless hand
With my foul excuse for an appendage

He steps in to my trench
With grace abounding
And picks up the scarred mess
That is my body
And carries me out
In able arms
I am home
For years I have toiled
To earn the right
To be free
But here I am
In my Abba’s arms
Dirty
But covered by his perfection

I look out to the other trenches
I call out to them
With tear-stained cheeks
That we don’t have to break ourselves
Any longer
We have been made enough
Not by our labours
But by His
No eyes move away from the ground
Not so much as an eyebrow is raised
I scream more earnestly
But nothing changes

I am free
All I want to do is to show others
The joy I have found
He looks at me
With a kind expression
As if having gone through this
A thousand times or more
“For the message of the cross
Is foolishness to the perishing,
But to us who are being saved
It is the power of God.”

Worship and pray

Thank Jesus for his finished work on the cross, and ask him to fill you afresh with deep soul rest, as you listen to this song by Andrew Peterson, “God Rested”.

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