The “Easy Yoke” & “Light Burden” of Discipleship – Part I
“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…” -Matt. 11:28-30
The Western Church largely views Jesus’ “easy yoke” and “light burden” through the vague philosophy that states: If I believe in Jesus and do my best to pray and read His Word, then He will bless me and never give me more than I can handle. Some will be disheartened to know that this mantra is not even biblical! Nowhere in Scripture does God promise He will never give us more than we can handle, for then we would not need Him. Regrettably, this false teaching has emerged from the church’s indifference toward true discipleship which has been replaced with the idolatrous American dream, prosperity gospels, and kumbaya churchianity.
Postmodern mainstream Christianity has tossed aside the discipline and travail of taking up one’s cross and laboring in love to personally “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 16:24; 28:19). Such has been exchanged for a convenient do-it-yourself religion that is best described as a recreational hobby than a commitment to follow Jesus Christ. “Mission trips” become more about experiencing exotic locations and checking off a spiritual bucket list than about experiencing a loving burden for those in other cultures. Why not divert the prayer, time, and/or financial cost of a “vanity” mission trip toward caring for the hurting souls in one’s own culture? The poor, the homeless, widows, and orphans are everywhere (James 1:27).
The truly Christian life begins to unfold when one views their own spheres of influence as personal “mission fields,” and resists the temptation to escape into one over the others. For example, the workaholic who neglects spouse and family in the name of providing for the same; the seminary graduate who would take a pastorate in China on the order of fleeing personal problems or boredom at home in America; the once vibrant disciple who forsakes friendships and life ministry for a perceived higher calling that isolates and consumes them. Far too often, weak disciples avoid God’s testing and teaching by believing the lie that God would never give them more than they can handle, therefore deciding for themselves what their “burdens” should be. Assuredly, without the perfect discernment of the Spirit we may take on burdens not meant for us and such would be more than we could handle because we are outside of His will. Also, without the perfect discernment of the Spirit many burdens meant specifically for us remain unknown. And without the perfect strength of the Spirit, even those specifically personal God-given burdens will be more than we can handle because we are walking disobediently in the flesh.
By the devil’s design, the busyness and cares of the world dictate a streamlined counterfeit discipleship of self-deceit (Matt. 13:20-22), allowing for a self-determined “call of God” on one’s life wherein one chooses for themselves how they will serve God and to what capacity, instead of surrendering the entirety of their life to Him. Faith-based escapism is on the rise as time-strapped individuals claim default life-responsibilities as their sole calling or burden, acquitting themselves of actually seeking God’s counsel and often finding a surrogate “god” from whom to ply wisdom. This is the result of a weak or non-existent discipleship wherein fear of what God has called one into or may call one into prevents relational intimacy with Him, further resulting in the adoption of a current life circumstance as a godly pursuit due to its becoming overly burdensome for lack of the Spirit’s power. Herein the flesh governs and a vibrant faith fails.
It is in this self-fashioned prison that one will perpetually chase God rather than follow Him. Note that chasing serves to secure control over something sought or caught. Following serves to accompany restfully, to cleave to and conform to wholly.
The Burden of Christ is Also Our Own
In taking up Jesus’ yoke and burden, He insists that we learn from Him, for His example teaches us how to bear and cherish the burdens He gives us (1 John 5:3-4), while overcoming the perilous fleshly yokes assumed by ourselves and others (Matt. 23:4). Even in bearing one another’s burdens, in-step with the Spirit, we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). This does not include sentimental wallowing or the mere sympathetic solidarity of a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. Instead, intercessory prayer is required; and prayer for the burdened is always a group endeavor, even if the group only consists of you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we are not to always pray to God, but with Him. We may invite Him to pray with us, or He may invite us to pray with Him. Unfortunately, too few disciples in the West experience this level of relationship with the LORD. The Art of Prayer must be rediscovered for one to truly know Him.
The Greek word for “burden” in the context of Matthew 11:28-30 is phortion, meaning “a task or service,” specifically as directed by Jesus Himself.(1) The Old Testament rendering of Matthew 11:28-30 affirms this:
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved (or shaken)…” -Ps 55:22
Notice that in casting our burden on the Lord, He sustains us. He does not free us by removing the burden and sending us on our comfortable way. And “the righteous not being moved/shaken” is not to be understood as “unburdened.” The Hebrew word for burden here is yehab, meaning “what is given by Providence/God.”(2) This is the exact opposite of what Western church culture portrays, showing “the righteous” in this passage to be obedient souls who lovingly share in those specific burdens that God Himself would entrust to them. For He is faithful to give strength and peace and revelation through the bearing of burdens, teaching us within the storm to trust Him ever more deeply. Anyone familiar with the apostle Paul’s letters would understand this; and only a tradition of man or doctrine of demon would suggest that we should seek to escape our “suffering with Christ.”
Consider Christ’s own prayer in Gethsemane for His Father to remove the burden of the Cup of Wrath to be poured upon Him: “Not My will, Father, but Yours!” Though His flesh recoiled at the weight and total devastation of His cross, Jesus embraced it willingly through love (John 10:17-18). How often do we cry out, “Not Your will, God, but mine!”?