How can we rest from our labor?

Faster! Faster!

Faster! Faster!

Lewis Carroll wrote, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Through the Looking Glass, 1871). Wouldn’t he be amazed at now much faster we have made the world in the nearly century and a half since he published his observation?

No one literally has to run any more. We have fast cars and superhighways. Communication must be instant. We have made computers that can multitask and expect that we can and should as well.

Excessive speed kills. Highway statistics prove that. But what about the general speed of life? In all our rushing around, everyone is tired. So of course we have pills to make us go to sleep faster, too.

God’s rest

I once saw a tract that had a very welcome invitation from Jesus on the front: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:33). I can’t possibly convey the crushing disappointment I felt when I went to study the verse in context. By the time they got to what should have been the quiet place, a large crowd had beat them to it. Next comes the feeding of the 5000, then the storm on the lake.

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus expressed the same thought this way: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” But that passage goes on to say, “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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Somehow it’s clear that Jesus’ idea of rest is not extended time vegging out. It certainly doesn’t mean to stop working. After all, the same commandment that instituted the Sabbath mandated six days of labor.

In the same breath that Jesus promised rest, he said to take his yoke. What is a yoke? It is two wooden frames connected by a bar. The frames fit over the necks of beasts of burden, oxen, say, to enable them together to pull a heavy burden.

At the very least, being yoked means that one ox is not expected to pull the burden alone. And notice that Jesus said, “take my yoke.” What is Jesus’ role? Is he the owner of the cart and burden that the yoked oxen pull? I think not. Or if so, that’s not all. I think he means that he is wearing the other half of the yoke that he offers.

Not an ox and a donkey, but clearly unequal.

Not an ox and a donkey, but clearly unequal.

I read once about a poor farmer who had only one ox and one donkey. They had to pull his carts for him. Donkeys are not as strong as oxen. A yoke that distributed the load equally would have meant an unreasonable burden on the donkey. The farmer had to design a yoke that would cause the ox to bear more of the burden so that the donkey would bear no more than he was able.

I hate to put it this way, but Jesus is the ox and each of us is the donkey.

By the blessing on Adam in Eden, we have received the gift of the dignity of labor. By the curse on Adam after the fall, human labor became painful toil. When we accept Jesus’ gracious offer of his yoke, he bears most of the burden.

That thought is not entirely new with Jesus, by the way. According to Psalm 127:1a, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” If the Lord (Jesus) builds the house and we build with him . . .

Reference to the yoke would be a mixed metaphor, wouldn’t it? But the point is that as long as we labor with him on a project of his choosing, he accomplishes most of the work. If we labor ourselves on a project he’s not involved in, we’ll have nothing to show for our painful toil.

Some practical questions

  • When I’m working hard with no progress toward my goal in sight, am I working on Jesus’ project, or my own?
  • If I’m working with Jesus, is the task I’m struggling with a part of it? That is, is what I’m working on really necessary?
  • If it is, am I the person who is supposed to be doing it? Or is it something I can and ought to delegate?
  • If I’m supposed to do it, do I have a good plan for accomplishing it? Or am I working without having thought it out adequately?

There are probably many other similar questions that these scriptures raise for various readers. Taking time to raise them and think about them is one very legitimate way to rest from our burdens.

Taking time to pray and to listen for Jesus’ answer turns out to be the answer to my frustration with Mark 6:33. In the midst of my labor, my struggles, the turmoil that surrounds me, I come away by myself with Jesus.

Or another way to look at it, I need to wait patiently for him to come to me in the midst of the storm, and that expectation is a kind of rest. The kind the disciples could have had that night on the lake if they had noticed that Jesus had been at rest as he fed the 5000.

Christ Asleep on His Boat / Jules-Joseph Meynier (ca. 1900)

Christ Asleep on His Boat / Jules-Joseph Meynier (ca. 1900)


How can we rest from our labor? — 2 Comments

  1. Amen my friend. While the sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments not reinforced in the New Testament, it is based on the creation account and so the principle is for all of us today. Under grace we have more liberty (and perhaps more challenge) to keep it…but rest is so important.

    Now I have to go shovel my walk 🙂

    • Here in North Carolina, snow usually melts before I’d have to shovel the driveway. Oh well, I’ve got plenty of other labor to practice being at rest in. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad I could give you an excuse to put off shoveling for at least a little while!

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