This life is hard. And heavy. Of course, we have moments and seasons when it’s not. But for the most part, life is full of burdens too heavy for us to carry without feeling the effects of them. Jesus never gave us the impression that it wouldn’t be. In fact, he told us we would encounter much trouble here. His disciples warned that we would face many trials and tribulations – hard things that would be hard to bear. But both Jesus and His disciples also told us how to live a heavy life without straining beneath the weight of it all.
I know many people who are straining right now. Life has landed some pretty intense blows, and they’re trying to manage it as best they can. It has added more stress to their already overwhelming loads. And they’re suffering greatly. More than they need to be, I daresay. As I face my own landmines, the unexpected crises that have hit my life, I am fighting hard to avoid straining, because I know God has invited me to know a better way of getting through the tough stuff.
I used to try and muscle my way through hard and heavy things. It’s a human tendency to look at something broken and want to fix it somehow. If we can’t fix it, we usually set our minds on getting through it. If it’s too big, too heavy, then we sometimes choose to run away from it, but sooner or later life catches up to us and we have to face what we didn’t before. Since I used to be a runner, I’ve learned this lesson (sadly, more than once), and so I choose now to face the tough stuff head-on rather than delay the inevitable.
It isn’t an easy route. Often, I feel like I’ve been thrown overboard a ship that was on its way to someplace wonderful, and now I’m fighting to stay above the waves that feel like they’ve come to crush me. When I find myself feeling this way, it’s a clear reminder that I’m straining beneath the weight of what life has brought. I know my human tendency, my earthly nature, has taken over in my struggle. And usually, fairly quickly, I find myself growing weary.
With that reminder comes another one: this is not how Jesus calls us to live. Despite the reality of hard things that hit heavy, He doesn’t just leave us with a shell of a promise that we can crawl into and hide ourselves beneath until the stormy season passes. He is more than just a “God-up-there” Who we can acknowledge is real, so we have the comfort of knowing that “everything happens for a reason” and one day maybe it will all make sense when we finally make it to Heaven.
A lot of people live like this. Suffering through painful and difficult things while confessing that they know God is in the mix somehow. I get it, because I believe in God, too. And because I used to believe that way, too. But if, or when, I take a step back and look at this kind of belief from the perspective of someone who may not believe in God, I can understand why they don’t. As we suffer through heavy things on our own, our God seems cruel and distant and detached from all our pain and suffering. And this kind of struggle brings no justice and no glory to the God Who actually entered into our pain and suffering, so that we could have not only hope, but strength and help in the midst of all of it.
Yesterday in worship, we sang a song that spoke of being pulled closer to God by the weight of Who He is (Crazy Love by Chris McClarney), like gravity drawing us unavoidably into His presence. It spoke deeply to me because I remembered a verse which has often reminded me to turn and lean into Jesus when life hits hard:
“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, 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.'” Matthew 11:28-29
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are pulling. It was designed to make hard or heavy loads/jobs easier because it pulled the strength of two animals together to accomplish one difficult task. If one animal was weaker than the other, the stronger animal’s strength would bear the greater weight, and lift a potentially crushing burden off of the weaker. It’s a pretty powerful picture, if you can accept the truth that you and I are the weaker ones in the story.
There was a time when I couldn’t accept that reality. I was raised to be strong. I had no other choice, really. Not if I wanted to survive. Most people think this way, even if only subconsciously. We believe that survival depends on us. We have to make it through the tough stuff. And we do, but not the way we’ve been conditioned to think we have to.
We make it through not by muscling up our own strength, but by becoming humble enough to admit our weakness. The apostle Paul said:
“That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
He said this after something painful, frustrating and debilitating had hit his life. He asked God to fix it, to take it away. Three times. And all three times, God did not answer his prayer for relief. At least not in the way that Paul had asked Him to. Instead, He gave Paul the yoke of His Saviour. He gave Paul a new way to get through the problem He didn’t take away. He told Paul:
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
The grace of God, given to us in the presence of Christ’s Spirit dwelling within us, turns hard and heavy things into bearable and even joyful (if you can believe it!) things. When we come in close to Jesus, admitting our weakness and inability to do life by ourselves – by our own strength – His strength pulls the heavy weight of life’s circumstances and responsibilities, and we find rest in the ability to simply journey with Him. He transforms the heavy and impossible into the possible and the manageable. There is nothing we cannot face or do with Him beside us (and, by implication, in us).
Under the yoke of Jesus, Whose presence is so weighty and strong, everything else pales in comparison. Heavy burdens are no longer heavy. The unbearable becomes bearable. The painful gives birth to the miraculous, because His presence transforms everything into an opportunity for God to be glorified. Giving and up and letting go actually empowers us to go on, because instead of sitting down, we are pulled gently along by His great strength. All of life looks and becomes different under His yoke.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I want to remind you today that – if you aren’t already – you will face heavy things this year. But you were not meant to bear them alone. Don’t muscle up under the weight of your burdens and cares. Don’t try to handle them on your own. And don’t fear that you will crumble beneath them. Just allow the incredible love of God to pull you, like gravity, closer and deeper to Him. There, you will find rest in His all-sufficient strength. He will help you through, and you will see a much different ending to the stories and challenges entrusted to you.
He has come to help us. He has come to do what we cannot and should not do on our own. And as we give Him that place in our lives, we find deeper delight in Him, and He gets to be the hero of our story. And the people all around us get to see a little more of Who He truly is. Stress becomes rest. Anxiety becomes trust. Fear becomes paralyzed instead of paralyzing in the presence of the One Who conquered those giants on the cross.
He is a wonderful and compassionate and strong and capable King! And He wants you and I to know this about Him personally. May this be the year in which you come under the yoke of Jesus and discover the gift of grace that frees you from the weight of the cares of this crazy world. His crazy love for us is greater than all of it!