Sunday I preached on one of my most cherished and helpful passages of scripture – Matthew 11:28-30. I felt so inadequate to teach the power and depth of this passage. I’ve come to see it as Jesus’ great invitation. Here’s the passage:
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.
There are actually multiple invitations in what Jesus said. Jesus invites us to come to him and become a student of him. After we are tired and weary of carrying and managing the burdens of our lives, he invites us to lay them all down and come to him. This may be the simplest and most clear invitation Jesus ever gave – just come to him! We go to him and lay down the shame and guilt of our failures and sin. We are invited to stop striving to make life work and make ourselves right with God. We are invited to rest with Jesus.
Jesus invites us to learn from him. That’s what taking his yoke means. It means we link up with him, walk with him, live life with him, learn how he does life, and imitate him. And he’s the one we want to imitate, for he says he’s gentle and humble in heart. This passage in Matthew is the only place in scripture where Jesus describes his own heart.
Following Jesus is just that – walking with Jesus. It’s not about following the rules. It’s not about sacrifice. It’s not about any number of religious things we are told to do. The invitation is to focus on Jesus, watch him, know him, and learn from him.
How do you do that? That’s a critical question. Each of us will find our own unique ways, but we have to make this a priority and find ways to link up or be yoked with Jesus daily.
And Jesus’ yoke (what it means to follow Jesus) is easy and light. That doesn’t seem to fit my experience. I’ve never found it “easy” to follow Jesus. His way is hard… so it seems. But the fact that Jesus says it is easy and light means we might need to rethink how we follow and engage Jesus. Have we made it too hard?!
Maybe we make it hard because of our own selfish desires, and we tend to complicate things – even faith. Jesus’ way is easy and light when we surrender and are yoked with Jesus. As we walk side by side, he takes so much of our load, including our worry, anxiety, and fear. Jesus invites us to rest. In fact, twice he mentions rest. Jesus wants us to find rest for our souls. And this is an indicator of when we are following Jesus well – we find rest for our souls.
If you haven’t done so yet, may I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this passage? I created a Religion Recovery Guide that helps walk you through the words of Jesus. You can access the guide here.
You won’t see me for three weeks as I’m taking my annual break. I usually use vacation time to take off the entire month of June, but with resuming services last Sunday, my break will be a week shorter this year. So, if you don’t see me, it’s not because I have COVID-19 or I’m afraid to gather; I just need a break.
For the last 13 years, I’ve put the principle of Sabbath into practice as I take off the month of June. God taught us the principle of Sabbath; in fact, he modeled it. He created the world in six days and on the seventh, he rested. I think this shouts out to us that God himself rested! His rest wasn’t because he was tired or exhausted; it was to take time, reflect, and enjoy his amazing creation. We are not God, so we get tired. But we also need to pause regularly to reflect on and enjoy the life God has given us.
Sabbath is not so much about a particular day or a particular season; it’s less about when and more about what we do with that time. It’s about resting from work to reflect and refresh. We all need to practice this. I try to put a sabbath moment into each day (some call it quiet time), each week (some call it a day off) and each year (some call it a vacation). My yearly sabbath break is how I use my vacation time.
I love what I do as a Pastor. I feel called to what I do. I pour myself into being the Pastor of our amazing church, but it takes a toll on me (it would on anyone, for that matter). Leading has been especially difficult and demanding as we’ve had to pivot, adjust, and change just about everything through this pandemic. The pandemic and now the racial tensions have increased interpersonal conflict, which drains me even more than usual.
So, I block out time so I can really unplug and have a break from the daily stress of leadership and pastoring. I need the time to refresh myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I need this time to refresh my vision for the next season of our church. If I don’t, I end up leading and pastoring out of an empty soul, and that is not good for our church, our staff, my family, or myself.
What will I do? I’ll do projects around my house. I love hard physical work (like moving two tons of rock) and using my hands (like replacing fascia boards). I’ll go to the lake with my old boat that I’ve completely rebuilt over the years. I love to take families to the water and help them enjoy one of my favorite and refreshing places. I enjoy water skiing. I treasure being away from my work world for a while!
I’ll be back teaching on July 5th, Lord willing. I really look forward to seeing you all and leading us into our new normal!