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The Yoke Is On Me.


These days I have more time to reflect on my life and ministry. I also have more time to observe what is happening in the lives of my fellow Christians; especially in the lives of my fellow Pastors.   What words would best describe what I see in their lives? Peace? Occasionally. Busy? Mostly. Fulfilled? Sometimes. Fragmented? Usually. Restful? Hardly ever.


Pastoral ministry is very demanding. In fact, it can even become all-consuming if not reviewed and revised often. Yet, if Jesus is our model or example of pastoral ministry, then what words best describe His life and service to His Father? Focused? Yes. Resolute? Absolutely. Weary? Rarely. Disappointed? Maybe once (perhaps twice?). Fragmented? Never.  


It is this Jesus who says to me,


"Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you….you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light" (Matt.11/28-30 NLT).  


What a beautiful invitation! What a marvellous exchange! Weariness for rest!   The concept or imagery of being yoked to another is very powerful. I picture two oxen yoked or harnessed together, side by side. One is the 'senior' or experienced partner and the other is the 'learner'. The experienced animal takes the initiative, sets the direction and the pace and carries most of the weight of the yoke. The learner takes some of the burden but, in reality, the yoke for the learner is easy to bear and the burden is light.  


However, if the 'junior partner' of the team tries to change the pace and direction, it will soon discover that the yoke becomes hard and the burden becomes heavy.  


But the invitation gets better; "… will find rest for your souls". This is the rest that Moses was promised when God said to him, "I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest" (Exodus 33/14 NLT). This is the rest which is promised and explained in Hebrews 4 (esp. v.9), "So there is a special rest still waiting the people of God". (NLT).  


Now it needs to be noted that there is a weariness that is OK and to be expected in ministry. It's the weariness that Jesus felt as He paused at the well near Sychar (John 4). But there is a weariness of soul – an inner weariness – that is anything but OK. It is a disempowering weariness that robs one of vision, motivation and fufillment.  


But I think I'm hearing in these words of Jesus not only the way into His rest but the reason why I was so often weary in ministry. When I experienced that inner weariness in ministry it was almost always because I was trying to work with the wrong yoke (i.e. a yoke other than the one Jesus invited me to wear with Him) or working with the right yoke but presuming to do all the work myself as though Jesus was not the 'team leader'.  


Jesus described His yoke as easy to bear and the burden He gives is light. Then why did I so often feel the yoke I was carrying to be hard and the burden heavy?  I see now it was because there was more than one voice that said to me, "Take my yoke upon you". 


There were many people in the churches where I served as a Pastor who tried to make me their yoke-bearer. "Take my yoke upon you" they would say. " I am yoked to an unsaved husband". "My yoke is an unfulfilling job". "My yoke is a stale marriage". "My yoke is a rebellious child". "My yoke is a debilitating disease". In effect these folk were saying, "I can't cope. Please take my yoke upon you so I don't have to carry it".  


Of course, I realise that we are called to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6/2). However, I don't believe this means that we are to take upon ourselves the responsibility of the burdens of others; rather we are to come alongside and be supportive of others as they learn how to cast their burden upon the Lord, not upon us.  


Then, as if to complicate the situation, there was yet another voice that demanded my attention; my own inner voice that tried (often successfully) to place upon my life and ministry the yoke of my own expectations. This was the heaviest yoke of all.   The only way through that demanding, verbal maze of voices – all saying "Take my yoke upon you" - is to listen for the one voice that counts. The voice that says that His burden is easy and the burden He places upon us is light.  


But now the invitation of Jesus becomes even richer.   The idea of me being the learner in this relationship is further strengthened when I hear Jesus say, "Let me teach you…" (Matt.11/29 NLT). The imagery of being yoked to Jesus becomes even more attractive when I realise that He wants to be my teacher. Given that the word 'disciple' means 'learner', this commitment of Jesus to teach me should come as no surprise.  


Jesus' invitation to let Him be our teacher includes His understanding of the qualifications of a teacher; "…for I am humble and gentle at heart…" (v.29 NLT). Humility. Gentleness. How different from so many others who claimed to be the 'official teachers' of their day. The Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were exposed for their pride rather than their humility. For their critical, judgmental spirit rather than their gentleness of heart.  


Could this humility and gentleness be the reason why Jesus was so 'successful' as a teacher among the people of His day? Certainly He taught with greatauthority and power (Mark 4/36). Have we mistakenly assumed that authority has to do with volume, doctrinal rigidity and pulpit-pounding confrontation? Have we wrongly equated humility with weakness and confused gentleness with feebleness?  


Jesus knew how to confront evil. He knew how to expose pride and hypocrisy. Weak He was not. Feeble He was not. There is enormous strength, authority, power and clarity in His humility and gentleness. And He says to us, "Let me teach you…"  


Here, then, is a touchstone for those of us who are called to be teachers of the Word of God. We are to learn from Jesus within the relationship of being yoked to Him and we are to teach others in an attitude of humility and gentleness.  


So there is a threefold invitation   * Come to me * Take my yoke upon you * Let Me teach you


And the results of such a relationship?   * Rest for your souls   * A yoke that is easy * A burden that is light    

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