I’m becoming aware of a lie that I tell myself over and over, and a lie that most of us probably believe, whether we fully realize it or not.
The lie is this: There will come a time where the seemingly permanent busy-ness of this earthly life will permanently end. The truth is this: It never ends.
Now, I know that sounds like an incredible downer, but this revelation was a literal God-send for me in the past few months. Because while it is a difficult truth to swallow, it also takes knowing that truth to start fighting against the lie.
For years, I’ve convinced myself that all the craziness, all the tasks, all the goals, all the deadlines, all the pieces to juggle, all the budgets to balance, and all the hats to wear will surely end soon, perhaps even “once this project is over.” Once I can just make it through this busy season—be it a new record, the fall push of new visitors at our church, Advent season, or any of the other myriad of things we find ourselves undertaking—then it will all slow down.
While it is a real and gracious gift to get a break after running hard for a season, it is simply never more than a few short days of momentary reprieve. And I’m beginning to realize that, in many ways, I was counting on those seldom, slow days to save me. To revive me. I replaced Jesus as my savior with a day off.
Tell me if this looks familiar: you run hard, working long days and even longer nights, striving to reach a goal, and when the project is finally finished, you drop off the face of the earth, going into near seclusion and getting cranky in social situations. This is my method, and it’s a bad one. My heart suffers, my time with the Lord suffers, and my family suffers in my absence, whether physical or emotional. In an effort to “rest,” I eject from my community and burn more bridges than I did when I was striving so hard!
So I struggle through a short season of relief before it starts up again. It’s a roller coaster that I’m surprised about every time. This can’t be the way to live!
And it’s not meant to be the way I am supposed to live. You see, the beauty of seeing the truth that “it never really ends” is that it forces me to actually depend on Jesus for my rest. When I buy the lie that I “just need to get through these few weeks and then everything will be good,” I think I can do it in my own power, because there’s an obvious finish line in sight. I don’t really “need” Jesus’s power when it feels like an achievable goal on my own. But alas, my own strength is fleeting, and I’m not truly renewed when the next busy season starts up. I’ve simply slept a little more and had a couple of lazy days.
The beauty of seeing the truth that “it never really ends” is that it forces me to actually depend on Jesus for my rest.
If you can see the shore on the other side, you know you can probably swim the channel by yourself. But once you jump into the middle of the deep, dark, vast ocean, away from any discernible land, you become aware you can’t tread water by yourself forever.
And this is the lie we tell ourselves: “If I just keep swimming, I’ll find land on my own.”
You won’t. It never ends. You’re in the middle of the ocean. You need help to keep going, because neither you nor I have enough strength to endure this pace forever. It simply never ends.
But before you despair, read these words that Jesus speaks to you, some of the most calming I’ve ever read. I hold onto them with a death grip in the middle of the ocean.
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 ESV)
A week off won’t bring you true rest. Nor does a month. Jesus says that He, and He alone, will give you rest. He longs for you to take on his mantle of peace and humility, and the result is like a drink of cold water on a hot day: “you will find rest for your souls.” How beautiful those words are!
The curious thing that we notice in this passage is that He doesn’t say He will remove your yoke. It’s not primarily intended as an exchange of labor—your yoke for His—but an addition. Regardless of what you carry, He says to also “take My yoke upon you.” He makes no mention here of removing your load, but simply adding His. It seems backwards, but His promise is that in taking His yoke upon you, on top of the load you already bear, the whole process becomes possible. His promise is that the unbearable, unending load will, in fact, be bearable to the end if we depend on Him.
And while this is a good abstract lesson, what does it practically mean? And how is it even possible? How does depending upon Jesus make the unending onslaught of life’s busy-ness better? Not only better, but, indeed, restful? Imagine, not just a day off, but actual rest! True, honest, soul-quenching rest.
I think it begins with three often-overlooked words in these verses: “learn from me”. Jesus knows that you are not meant to know how to do this on your own. It doesn’t come naturally. Because, if you’re like me, the thought of taking on an additional yoke, on top of what we already bear, is miserable. The seeming impossibility of that prospect creates a groan deep in my soul. Initially, it feels like throwing a drowning man a heavy weight. This phrase, “learn from me”, reminds us that we don’t know how to do this. It shouldn’t feel natural for fallen, sinful men; we must learn it.
And the unbelievable, unending grace of Jesus is that He comes to show us. He’s the perfect example. “Learn from me,” He encourages us, “and you’ll find the rest that you’ve foolishly sought in vacation and days off.” Pondering on Him enables us to endure.
We ponder things like the following:
- Jesus knows the pressure of having people watch your work ; He was watched and judged at every turn.
- Jesus knows the pressure of reaching a deadline ; His entire ministry was condensed into three short years.
- Jesus knows the weight of leading others ; He was entrusting twelve broken men to change the world.
- Jesus knows the fleeting nature of temporary rest ; every time He pulled away, the crowds found Him and clamored around Him, demanding more and more.
The author of Hebrews beautifully expresses it like this: “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:14-15 ESV)
Believer, Jesus Himself knows firsthand the feeling that this earthly life will never bring rest. He is not a High Priest that hasn’t experienced this truth. He’s walked it. He’s lived it. And we place our trust in Him because He knows that though it never seems to end, true rest is still possible. Jesus felt the exhaustion that the busy-ness of this life brings, and yet He didn’t give in to the sin of going to lesser things to bring Him rest.
Learn from Him. Study the character of Jesus and see His utter dependence on His Father when the endless weight of the world crushed Him. See Him lay down His comforts for your good. See Him continually entrust Himself to the Judge who judges justly even when He was wronged. And above all, witness the lashes that He willingly bore so that you could have access to Him in the first place.
On this earth, it will not end. There will always be the next big, time-consuming, exhausting thing around the corner. Count on it. But on the same hand, you can also count on Jesus to willingly and sacrificially give you His yoke, one of gentleness and meekness. And His yoke is easy, and with His yoke, true rest is possible.