“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, N.K.J.V.)
To rightly understand what Jesus is saying here, you have to know what a yoke is. For starters, it has nothing to do with the inside of an egg. That is a yolk (y-o-l-k); this is a yoke (y-o-k-e). A yoke is a harness device that binds two animals (usually two oxen) together for the purpose of working. Basically, it’s a wooden board that sits across the necks of the two animals. The board has two u-shaped harnesses that hang down from each side of its bottom. One animal’s head goes into one of the harnesses, and the other animal’s head goes into the other. The amazing thing about this illustration is that Jesus speaks of Himself as being one of the oxen in the yoke. He is saying, “I have My head in one of the harnesses and am ready to do My part of the work.”
Obviously, being in a yoke is a very humble and lowly position because a yoke certainly isn’t a device for showcasing an animal. To see an animal in a yoke is almost to hear that animal say, “I am submitted to another. I am broken. I don’t do my own bidding. I do the bidding of another.” This causes us to ask, “Who is Jesus submitted to? Whose bidding does He do? Who owns the yoke in which He has placed Himself?” The answer to all of these questions is: God the Father.
So, the players involved in the symbolism of Jesus’ illustration aren’t hard to identify. First, God the Father is the farmer who has work that He wants done, work that requires that two be yoked together. Second, Jesus, God the Son, has already taken His place inside God the Father’s yoke, which means that He has already submitted to do the work of God the Father. Third, Jesus extends the invitation to each of us to join Him inside that yoke.
Any individual who voluntarily becomes the other half of that yoke is saying, “I am now dead to my own work, goals, aspirations, ideas, plans, schemes, and priorities, and I am now going to do God the Father’s will and work.” And, amazingly, Jesus promises that doing God the Father’s will and work will actually allow the individual to find rest for the soul and a burden that is light. Admittedly, this whole deal seems paradoxical, but if Jesus said it, we ought to believe it.
But can we just admit something? Can we admit that understanding this illustration raises a certain question in the minds of a lot of church workers? That question is: “If I am in yoke with Jesus, and if that yoke is supposed to bring rest to my soul and make my burden light, why do I feel like I’m about to either fly apart from stress or just drop to the floor from exhaustion?”
This disconnect between what Jesus promised and what many church workers experience is the result of too much “busyness” in regards to church work. I know this for a fact because this “busyness” is part and parcel to my job. I’ve been a pastor for 28 years now, and that means that I’ve been there for all the Sunday morning services, the Sunday night services, and the Wednesday night services. I’ve taught my share of Sunday School classes. I’ve sat in on the meetings of: the deacon board, the youth committee, the budget and finance committee, the building and grounds committee, the kitchen committee, the nominating committee, etc.
I’ve stayed for choir practice at the close of many a Sunday night service or a Wednesday night service. I’ve gone with youth groups on youth trips and senior citizens on senior-citizen trips. I’ve been there for the youth pizza parties, the Fall Festival/Halleluiah (Halloween) parties, and the youth lock-ins. I’ve worked in helping decorate the church for Bible school. I’ve gotten up between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. every Easter Sunday morning so that I could not only lead the Sunrise Service but also help with the fellowship breakfast that followed the service.
I’ve attended the Thanksgiving and Christmas fellowship meals. I’ve attended the Christmas Eve services. I’ve attended the Valentine’s Day spaghetti suppers, the “poor-man’s supper” fundraising meals, and the potluck fellowship meals. I’ve not only attended but also scheduled the singings and the revival services. I’ve worked in the Brotherhood work days. I’ve written the bulletin and had my wife Tonya run off the copies of it. I’ve decorated the Christmas trees in the sanctuary, and I’ve taken the decorations off the Christmas trees in the sanctuary.
With all this in mind, I trust that you will understand when I say that there have been times when I have actually dreaded going to church. I will never forget one Sunday afternoon, some 15 or so years ago now. Royce, my son who didn’t come with a built-in filter for his mouth, was around 5 years old, and he was having a grand old time playing in his bedroom floor. He had some of his toys out and was in his own little world playing with them. As I stood in the doorway to his room, about to tell him it was time to get ready for Sunday night service, I couldn’t help but feel sad that I had to interrupt that perfect little scene of a five-year-old playing in his bedroom. But I had to do my job as a daddy/pastor, and so I looked at the little fellow and said, “Royce, you are going to have to start getting ready for church tonight.” And how did he respond to that? With all the perfectly innocent and blameless honesty that a little boy could muster, he said, “Oh, NOT AGAIN!!!” As for how I responded to his response, I couldn’t help but laugh and think, “I’m with you, son. I’m with you.”
Yes, I really do understand why I’ve had some faithful church workers come up to me over the years and say, “I’m fried. I’ve got to have a break. I’m going to step down from church work for a while.” In most of those instances, rather than get upset at those people, what I wanted to say to them was, “Can I go with you? I need a break too.”
So, as the close to this post, let me offer at least one answer to the question, “If Christ’s yoke being easy and His burden being light doesn’t mean that you (as a church worker) will never experience any fatigue or frustrations in doing the work, what exactly does it mean?” Well, among other things, it means that you don’t have to come up with all the answers. You see, when you are genuinely dead to self and seeking only to do God the Father’s will and work, that takes the pressure off of you because all you have to do is listen to the Lord and do whatever He tells you to do.
In this way, you making that one decision to fully surrender and get in yoke with Jesus takes care of all your other decisions. You can rest in the fact that God is incapable of making a mistake. You can rest in the fact that He knows the future. You can rest in the fact that He knows more about you and your situation than you do. You can rest in the fact that He knows what He wants to do in you, for you, and through you. And you can rest in the fact that He knows your needs before you even realize they are needs. Even if one of those needs involves you stepping down from some church work, He will not only burden you to do that but give you an undeniable peace about doing it. Just don’t expect your pastor to be thrilled when you inform him of your decision. Remember, no church has an ample supply of willing workers, and he probably needs a break himself.