Come to me, all ye that 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 shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Back in the days when I was much younger and attended a Pentecostal church (and it seems like a long time ago) I remember one of my favourite hymns we sung there. “I Give Thanks to Thee”, had a magnificent rousing chorus – “I Exalt Thee”. I don’t think we’ve done it at Holy Trinity, but even if we have, I’m afraid it just wasn’t as memorable as those days when that enormous throng would blast it out together (all voices blaring and all hands in the air) – “I Exalt Thee …”
Anyway, recently I read an account of a Pentecostal woman who was likewise getting into the song with her whole family, and who had her six-year-old by her side, hands in the air and blasting out the chorus with her, until she realised that the child was actually singing, “I’m Exhausted”, which I thought would be an excellent variation on the hymn for me at this stage of life!
I think many of us are exhausted! Perhaps most of us are exhausted most of the time?
And we might not want to sing a hymn about it, but I suspect that it is the sort of thing that we find ourselves bringing before God time and time again when we gather together for out time of worship: “I’m exhausted, I’m exhausted, I’m exhausted, O God” (all together on the chorus now …!)
Some of us are exhausted because we are getting old.
It always worries me when I hear one of our old girls say, “I’m very tired”, because I know what’s coming next: “I think it’s time the Lord took me!”, to which I always reply, “well, he hasn’t seen fit to take you just yet, sister, so I’m afraid you’d better get used to sticking around a bit longer!” (though sometimes I put it a bit more gently than that).
Some of us are tired because we are getting old. Some of us are tired because we are overworked.
I remember when I was in school the teachers used to tell us that by the time I was their age we’d all just be working part-time, with lots of time on our hands to go to the beach or to do with exactly as we pleased! Well … I am at least their age now, and it hasn’t worked like that, has it?
Mind you, my favourite example of being overworked is the true story of Tattoo the basset hound, who hadn’t intended to go for a walk on that particular evening when his owner accidentally got the dog’s lead caught in the door of his car before he took off. Apparently the driver got some km’s down the road before being pulled over by a policeman who noticed that the car seemed to be dragging something!
The dog was OK, but had apparently reached speeds of 50kph and had rolled over several times. The quote I thought worth remembering though was from the attending officer, Constable Terry Filbert, who said, “The little fella was just pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down as fast as he could”.
That has a familiar ring about it for many of us, doesn’t it? For a long time, a lot of us have been pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down as fast as we can, but we still find ourselves regularly hitting the ground hard and rolling about while we try desperately to keep up!
Some of us are feeling old. Some of us are feeling overworked. Some of us are just feeling spiritually and emotionally drained, and in many ways that is the toughest form of exhaustion to deal with.
When your body is tired, and you can get yourself a good night’s sleep, you generally wake up feeling a lot better. But when you are exhausted in your spirit, you go to bed tired and you wake up tired, and sometimes it can be hard to muster up enough energy to make it through the day.
Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience, but I also know that I am by no means on my own, even in our small church community, when it comes to having struggled with the old ‘black dog’ (as Winston Churchill used to term his depression).
Many great saints from Martin Luther to Mother Theresa have been well-known for their struggles with what we now term ‘clinical depression’, so why should I be immune?
Indeed, I read up a little on Luther’s thoughts on depression, and I took note of the strict instructions that he gave to his wife, Katie, on the matter. There were three:
Make sure things are never so quiet that I sink into my own thoughts.
Never leave me alone, even for a moment (he believed solitude was poisonous).
Leave nothing within my reach with which I might harm himself.
I don’t know how it is for others, of course, but for me it hits me like a wave sometimes, rolling over me and pulling me down. I find it hard to breathe or even lift up my head to see what is going on around me. It’s a sense of complete immersion, of feeling totally overwhelmed, and of being unable to really connect with anybody. And I find for myself that the leading edge of this wave is almost always my own sense of responsibility for things and people I care about – a sense that I just can’t shoulder those responsibilities any further!
And of course I’m not President of the United States, with responsibility for the lives and deaths of millions of people (thank God) but even the responsibilities I do have – for the church, for our bush property, for our staff, and most especially for my family – sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed in these areas, and I know I am not alone in feeling this way, though at the point where the wave is rolling over you, you do inevitably feel completely alone.
“Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
This is the promise that comes to us – to all of us who are weary – those who are feeling old, those of us who are depressed, and those who’ve just been pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down more ferociously than they are able to manage! “Come to me”, says Jesus, “and I will give you rest.”
These are the words of comfort and hope that come to us from Jesus, to all of us who have ever felt that we just can’t go on any further with life as it is.
“Come to me”, says Jesus. “Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you what you most need – rest.”
It’s a call to faith, isn’t it? It’s a call to cast our burdens upon Him. It‘s a call to hope too – a hope for the future that God is shaping. And for people like me, who struggle with their sense of responsibility, it’s a call to give over the ultimate responsibility for the future to God and to Jesus!
The future of the world, and certainly the future of the church is in His hands, and we have to trust Him with that. And even in the case of our own children we have to trust that Jesus loves them even more than we do, and that He will take final responsibility to see that they are looked after!
Every hair on their heads is numbered, we are told. Not a single sparrow falls to the ground that He does not know about, and are they not worth more to Him than many sparrows? We have to trust Him in that – as St Peter would lagter say, “casting all your anxieties on Him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
It has to be one of the most beautiful promises in all of scripture, this promise of rest and relief to the weary and over-burdened, but I note at the same time that this sword that cuts the rope that once tied those unnecessary burdens to our backs has another edge to it! The promise of rest from our burdens is coupled with an exhortation to take on another burden – namely, Jesus’ yoke:
“Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me … and you shall find rest for your souls. ”
Now, I’m not suggesting that Jesus was being sly by promising ‘rest for our souls’ while knowing full well that there would be no rest for the body, but Luther certainly didn’t miss the irony. “Only Jesus”, said Luther, “would invite the heavy-laden to take on another yoke”.
The key to making sense of this, I believe, is to recognise that Jesus isn’t asking the over-burdened to take on another burden, but rather to take on a different one – a burden that is more worth carrying.
It always depresses me when I read that statistics, that the number one reason why marriages fail in this country is not because of abuse or even because of infidelity but simply because of money! From the stats I’ve read, arguments over money and stresses over money continue to be the number one causative factor in marriages falling apart throughout the Western world!
Now, I’m not wanting to downplay the sickening feeling of being in a financial crisis, and I’ve been in a few of them myself, but I do believe that if the biggest thing you’ve got to worry about is money, you haven’t got too much to worry about!
There are more important things in life than money, and when we come to Jesus, He will relieve us of that unnecessary burden of believing that we need to accumulate great amounts of it, along with the burden of feeling we need to look like Brad Pitt (or Elle MacPherson), along with any number of other unnecessary and useless burdens our culture sees fit to lay upon us.
And yet He does not leave us burden-free!
In place of worrying about money, He gives us a burden for the poor.
In place of worrying about looking good, He gives us a burden for those who don’t have the clothes they need.
Instead of worrying about ourselves, our careers, our security and our future, He gives us a heart for the sick, the imprisoned, the lonely and the destitute.
“Come to me, all you that labour 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 shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, my burden light.”
I remember one day passing through Ashfield Shopping Centre and being confronted by a girl who made me an amazing offer: “how would you like to live a life completely free from pain?” She was promoting a chiropractic practice she worked for, and she was quite serious. She told me that since she had discovered this chiropractor, she had had no pain in her life at all!
I told her, of course, that as a follower of Jesus, a pain-free life was not an option for me, even if it was a possibility. Well … I didn’t say that really, but I could have, as it’s true. Certainly Jesus never promises us a pain free life. He promises us rather pain that is worth suffering, a cross that is worth carrying, and burdens that are worth bearing.
“Come to me, all you that labour 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 shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.