The Restful Work of Coming to Jesus
“Come to me, all 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
Let me begin with a confession: I often find it hard to read my bible and pray for extended periods of time. I know, like most Christians do, that we need to read our bibles and pray, and yet, I seem to find it hard on a daily basis. Sometimes I find it burdensome. Sometimes I find that it's one more job for me to do that I just can't handle. I don't have time or energy. I'm sometimes anxious about what I will read, how I'm wrong, what else needs to change in my life and I feel like I just can't handle that pressure. I know that I'm wrong about that, but I've often wondered how and why.
Anyone else ever felt like that?
I was reading the above scripture today, and felt something shift in my heart with regard to how I understand bible study and prayer, and my relationship with Jesus. I wanted to share in hopes that it helps your soul
Coming to Jesus means doing things; we are active.
Jesus tells us to do things. 'Coming' to Jesus is active. 'Taking' his yoke upon us is something we do. Jesus is not saying 'don't come to me', and he is definitely asking us to do something. But how we do those things is very important. We must do them in faith, or else they are not helpful, and actually a hinderance to our relationship with Jesus.
The Christian life is, at its deepest core, union with Jesus Christ through faith. To be a disciple is to be a student of and follower of Jesus. The Christian faith is a constant coming to Jesus in faith. But how do we do this? Jesus is not physically present with us in body, so that we can simply walk up to him. So is that what Jesus meant when he said 'Come to me'? No, he didn't. He meant come to me in faith. Follow me (Matthew 4:19). Believe in me (John 14:1). Jesus is, in all of these cases, saying the same thing in different ways, showing us what it means to follow him. He is asking us to trust him; to put our faith in him. The way we express that now, in large part, is through listening to his voice in his word, and talking to him in prayer. Jesus said his sheep hear his voice, and follow him (john 10:27). In short, coming to Jesus in faith includes what Christians have called devotions.
Why we resist coming to Jesus
But here is the hard thing: when we most need to come to Jesus, we often don't feel like coming to him. When we are most burdened, through our own sin or the brokenness of a fallen creation, we find it most difficult to read our bible. When we are tired from our labours, we find prayer to be most laborious. We find that the acts of faith, which keep us connected to Jesus, are just added weight that we just can't handle. We say things like:
I can't come to Jesus because I am too burdened.
I can't come to Jesus because I haven't worked hard enough.
I can't come to Jesus because my soul is anxious.
It's like saying I can't come to the doctor because I'm sick. It's like saying I can't come to the Saviour because I'm a sinner.
I think a big reason we resist reading our bibles and praying is because we don't have a full picture of Jesus, and what it means to come to him.
Wrong way to come
There is a way to labor in our coming to Christ that is not really coming to Christ, but moving away from him.
The wrong way to come to Jesus is to take on a burden of soul. The wrong way to come to Jesus is to work to deserve Jesus. And if this is how we understand coming to Jesus, we will eventually just stop coming to him altogether. Does that mean we don't labor in any way, and that we don't feel, in a way, burdened, by coming to Jesus? No. It means we do take on a yoke, but it is Jesus' yoke and it is easy and light, and leads to rest. We come to Jesus by grace alone.
So how do we 'do' things in faith?
So how do we come to Jesus in faith, through his word and prayer? How does taking on his burden lighten our load? Our burdens shouldn't be keeping us from Jesus; they should be driving us to him. Our labor shouldn't be keeping us from Jesus, they should be driving us to him for rest.
Do we feel like reading our bible is a burden? Or is it a way of giving our burdens to Jesus? Is the thought of reading my bible today simply a burden? Or, in faith, do I understand that reading my bible is taking on Christ, and lightening my load?
Am I staying away from Jesus in prayer and reading because I am worn out? Do I say, 'I just don't have the energy, or the desire'? Or do I come to Jesus in prayer to confess my burden, to confess my weariness? Is coming to Jesus merely an expression of my spiritual health? Or it a confession of my Spiritual need? Bible reading and prayer aren't just exercises of our strength and spiritual health, but a confession of our weakness and dependency on him. Reading our bible when our hearts are hard isn't futile, it is grabbing a lifeline when we are drowning. it isn't a legalistic earning through our labor; it is the ending of our labours in exchange for rest. The devil and our deceptive hearts want to twist the truth so we stay far from God. Prayer and the word are confessions of sin, brokenness, weakness. They are a confession that, apart from Christ we can do nothing.We avoid them when we are depressed or hard hearted because we wrongly think they are just expressions of our spiritual health, and feel hypocritical or legalistic if we aren't healthy. But they are more than that; they are actually an exercise of faith, a way of saying, “I am not healthy. I am weak. I am sinful. Apart from You, I am wandering. My heart is hard. Help me Jesus.”
Come to Jesus today, brothers and sisters, through the word and prayer. Come weary, come burdened, to the Lord of rest. He is not waiting for your perfection, for your pure motives, or for your spiritual health. He is simply waiting for you.