“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matt. 11:28-30
“Go to bed with the birdies, the grown-ups say.
For dear little children, it is the best way.
But I don’t see, when I’m so big and sturdy,
How I can get into the nest of a birdie.”
This delightful poem from my childhood came to me today as I meditated upon a commonly presented teaching on the “easy yoke”. The idea is that we are yoked with Jesus, and because we are then our burden becomes light because he bears it for us. The illustration in words is usually that he carries the heavy part of the yoke, and the heavy part of our burden, and yet my understanding of the science of yokes is that each side has to be equally balanced. The common logic seems to be that we would be like an ox in one side of a yoke, and Jesus would be like the other ox, only by some magical occurrence his side of the yoke would be heavy, and our side would be light. The absurd logic reminds me of that picture of getting into the nest of a birdie. And, like the poet, even the child in us can think with true logic and say the words don’t make sense. Furthermore, yoked oxen don’t carry burdens, they pull loads. (I’ll reserve meditations on loads and burdens for another blog)
However, if we take the other dictionary definition of yoke as a “frame designed to fit across somebody’s shoulders with balanced loads suspended at each end” then we imagine ourselves fitted with a yoke that suits us and enables us to carry the loads that we would not be able to carry without the yoke. This kind of yoke could be made for us by God, and the burdens thus carried would not be too heavy. There is a combination of the yoke of His making and choosing, and the burdens He asks us to carry with the yoke He has fashioned for us. Now that logic makes a lot of sense to me.
Next, let’s look at the word for “easy”. Chrestos, the Greek word usually translated as easy, “primarily signifies ‘fit for use, able to be used’ and ‘good, virtuous, mild, pleasant’ (in contrast to what is hard, harsh, sharp, bitter). “Kindly” is considered the best rendering of the word, instead of easy. The word kindly suggests the personal care and understanding of our Heavenly Father as He assesses our capacities and situations, and puts the combination together that is comfortable enough for us to bear. Nobody can think of wearing a yoke as being “easy”; there is no doubt that this is work, but He helps us manage the work, making it “bearable”. God, our great stress-buster.
For us that work might involve much more than ministry or career. It could be a relationship that is work, or even many of them. Whatever the stress, the load, the burden, we can trust that if we approach it with His yoke then He will show us what part of it we have to “carry” on our own.
And what then of our Saviour who bears our burdens? We are told to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us. ( Psalm 55: 22) I like the image from a wonderful old hymn. Rather than thinking of my Lord as a plodding ox shouldering my load in a lumbering impersonal sort of way, I see His kindliness in these words:
“Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness;
High on his heart he will bear it for thee,
Comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.”
John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811 – 1875)
“Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”
So, instead of God our friendly neighbourhood ox, we have our Almighty Father, Lord of all creation, who bears our burdens HIGH ON HIS HEART. Imagine - God Almighty enthroned on high, carrying our intolerable burdens HIGH on His heart, while we, individually fitted and suited with HIS yoke, carry the parts of our loads we are supposed to carry in a way that is manageable, because of His kindly care and provision for us.
Still, there’s something to be said for having that friendly ox around. Seems to me that maybe we can look at it both ways. After all, isn’t it nice to think we could get into the nest of a birdie?