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.
A sluggard’s appetite is never filled,
but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
In the whole of the American calendar, there aren’t many holidays that we fail to understand the meaning of quite like Labor Day. We have our religious holidays in Christmas and Easter; our patriotic days in Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and Thanksgiving; and our fun holidays like New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day. And then there’s Labor Day, sitting there at the beginning of September. We’re glad to take the day off, but do we really understand why the day is on the calendar at all?
The US Department of Labor defines Labor Day as “a creation of the labor movement that is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
I want to take this opportunity to focus on what God wants from us in our work, and in our rest.
In Matthew 11, the Lord tells us to come to Him if we are “weary and burdened,” and to “take my yoke upon you.” There is, within this passage, an assumption of hard work done. We are already “weary” when we seek God. We have already pulled the yoke a long way. When God beckons us to join Him, He doesn’t say, “drop the yoke and relax for a bit,” He says, “take my yoke upon you.”
Now, why would He say that? Why doesn’t His rest include a bed and some breakfast instead of a different yoke from the one we’re used to? Isn’t that just trading masters?
The truth is, God does want work from us, but He tells us not to worry. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The point is clear, then. When we work for God, our work is easy, and we in fact rest as we work. Our souls are eased, our labor feels light. It is only when we work for ourselves that we grow tired, that we grow weary and are burdened.
This is the same sentiment echoed in Proverbs 13. Here, we see why God wants us to continue to work hard even as we rest. “A sluggard’s appetite,” we learn, “is never filled.” God knows our human nature, and He knows that if we get things for cheap, we don’t tend to respect them. Think of the last thing you worked hard to buy: that car, that house, that PS4. I bet even today you look at it, and you feel some pride over what you’ve accomplished. You look at it, and you see all the hours you sweated away.
But if that same object had been given to you, no matter how precious, you would come to disdain it after a while. You’d want something new, you’d get frustrated with its little failures. You’d want the sports car not the sedan. You’d want the mansion not the two-story. You’d want an Xbox One and a new PC to go with the PS4.
That’s why we have to continue to work hard for God, even as we take a break from our other labors. We don’t want a “sluggard’s appetite” that can never be satisfied no matter how much it is fed by grace. We want to be “fully satisfied” in the Lord, in all of His incredible gifts. And, once we accept this spiritual labor, we will find that the “yoke is easy.”
Once we have done the hard work of taking the Lord into our hearts, we will find the hill is not as steep as we thought, and carrying that burden up is no longer a chore, it is a blessing.
On a day that is little more than an excuse for a well-earned barbecue, it’s worth a little time to consider the way we work when we search for God. We stand at the end of a long line of conquerors who have fought for an extra day off at the end of summer so they, like us, could get down to the real work of life—worship and family.
That line doesn’t end with us. It is our burden to push that little bit harder for respect for our work and to pull our cart a little farther to get closer to God.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We’ve all had our setbacks in life. We’ve all had times when it seemed, no matter which way we turned, God was saying “no.” “No,” at such times, can be the scariest word in the world. When we have our hearts set on something, the possibility it might not come—or might not come right when we want or need it—is terrifying and disheartening. We begin to think that God has turned away from us, that somehow, this one defeat ensures our lives will be failures, lived away from grace and success.
But defeat is not the end of a road, and God hasn’t gone anywhere. Christ is still right there with you, waiting for you to rely upon Him. This is the Christ who delights “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” This is the Christ who knows you, knows what you want, and more importantly, knows what He wants for you. If He puts defeat in your way, He means it to be a sign, not a condemnation. He might say take a right, take a left, or take a U-turn, but He is certainly not saying “stop.” If we take just a rudimentary look through history, we’ll find that God often uses failure in this way: not to break us but to redirect us to the place where our true conquest can take place.
Just consider some of the greatest figures in the Bible. Peter fell short in his faith but still founded the church. David suffered setbacks, even as he continued to make progress towards his purpose. He was exiled and on the run for years, hunted simply for being favored by God, but it all ended with him as king.
And what about Jonah, who constantly ran from responsibility, who seemed constantly to be running towards defeat? When he finally gave in to the will of the Lord, when he finally stopped to listen to what he was being told, he found himself a profound prophet to Nineveh.
This is the key to finding the power in defeat, to rising higher than ever before just when we are knocked down. If, in our low moments, we turn to God, He will raise us up. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” He tells us. His healing is at its best when we are broken, His ability to lift us is more perfect when we have fallen.
That’s why God has created defeat in this life. Not only is it inevitable because of free will, it also serves the purpose of turning us back towards Him. What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you run across a setback in life? That first thought is always toward God, a calling out for help.
“In my distress I called to the LORD,” says Psalm 18 in verse 6, “I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
If we give in to this impulse and return to God in our lowest moments, we set ourselves up to conquer any defeat we suffer. I’m not saying it will always be how we imagined it. Jonah wanted his life to go a different direction, but God had His heart set on making a prophet of this fearful man. David did not want to see the end of Saul and Jonathan, but that course was required to make David king. Peter did not want to see Christ die, but He had to so that Peter, and all of us, could be saved.
Defeat shows us that the path we were taking up the mountain wasn’t quite right, that we needed more help from God to get up the steepest climbs. Defeat makes us prove we want the goal enough, and that we are humble enough to know Who is really allowing us to become conquerors.
It is by defeat that we show we can regroup and return ourselves to God’s hands, to fulfill not just our purpose and ambitions, but His. No one has ever said it better than Paul: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him. (NIV)
115 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt said one of his most famous lines, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” While that may seem an odd quote to consider here, the message has a definite Christian purpose if we are willing to see it.
The meaning, after all, is not to be boastful, no matter the power you have at your disposal. It’s hard to imagine a more Christian piece of advice. As Christians, after all, we know that pride is a sin, that God’s glory should speak for itself and shouldn’t be used to pad our egos. We know that “pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (Proverbs 29:23). We know that we are mighty, that we are conquerors (link to previous conqueror blog posts) in Christ, but that part of that might is in being humble.
Exodus 15:2 above reinforces the idea that we should carry with us God’s strength, while always remembering that we should speak softly of this strength, that it is not ours to wield. We do best to let others observe the power God puts in us instead of drawing attention to it. We have to always remember that God deserves praise and exaltation, not us. Who are we to pump ourselves up?
We might take this idea still further if we look more closely at what President Roosevelt meant by “big stick” in the context he used it. For him, the “big stick” was the U.S. military, a powerful force that everyone in the world recognized. He had no reason to shout and threaten, he thought, because the strength of the U.S. was so apparent. No one was going to come messing around here, because no one was in the mood to test that power, and his reminding everyone of that fact would only diminish it. It would make him and his country look petty and weaker than they actually were.
For us, as Christians in our own daily battles, the Lord is our “big stick,” and His infinite strength allows us to speak softly when we look to walk through all of the challenges we face. There can be a tendency to be overbearing when sharing our faith. God is so incredible, so abundant in mercy and beauty, that we can be overzealous in our efforts. But Roosevelt reminds us to let God speak for Himself. We don’t need to “beat someone over the head” with His love. We simply need to speak softly and let God show the way Himself through the grace He puts in our lives. Be the quiet example of godliness; that is what wins the argument against evil and apathy. And, always remember that our actions can speak much louder than our words.
When we speak to those who haven’t found God, speak politely. God doesn’t need a salesman; He needs a testimony of His love for people to see. People need to see your life as an example of the goodness of God, and see His grace working through you.
God doesn’t need you to throw a dozen pamphlets under someone’s door. Simply living the strength that God gives us and showing your praise and exaltation to Him will be enough.
As summer begins to wind down, kids not only have to begin thinking about towing the line during the day in class and preparing for the next day at school at night, they also have to prep for the challenges of their academic lives and the often monumental task of deciding their place in the world among friends, teachers, peers, and even bullies. Parents, too, feel the pressures of creating a solid and nurturing environment for their families and sometimes forget that, with each season of back-to-school, learning opportunities abound for them as well.
Beginnings bring a recurring sense of renewal and hope. Back-to-school is no different. For the adults packing the lunches and sending the kids off on the buses, the opportunity exists to remember and renew our own sense of learning.
We can take what Proverbs 15:5 (NIV) tells us about being open to teaching opportunities: “A fool spurns a parent’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.” In reflection, we should remember what we learned from our own parents and take some of those lessons to our own children and families.
As we send our young adults off to their first year of college and new kindergartners off to their first classroom experiences, we can take moments to remember when our own lives were being shaped by others and when our biggest goals in life were to absorb what we were learning in school and in church. We can ask ourselves if we are teaching what we learned and imparting our wisdom and experience to those who need it.
As a young man, I knew coaches who required that their players accomplish certain things over the summer break: eat right, exercise every day and show up for pre-season training ready to work hard. The ability to receive direction while setting goals and following through on these directives at a young age is imperative to success in all things. This brings me to the following verse that children and parents alike are familiar with. Colossians 3:20 says, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (NIV). We heard it so often in Sunday school and from grandparents and aunts and uncles who would scold us using this verse that we might not even actually truly hear it anymore for its true meaning. But, we must apply the positive lessons that we learned as children to teach the children that now depend on us for their growth and successful development.
This is a new year full of new opportunities. We should all go into this back-to-school season with open hearts and minds, understanding that we all play a role in the development of future generations.
A person’s steps are directed by the Lord.
How then can anyone understand their own way?
Last week, I wrote about how important it is for us to venture out of our comfortable lives and get to know the world.
This can be a very powerful experience if we open ourselves to it. Think of the sense of awe we get from going out to see some impressive natural sight like the Grand Canyon or a meteor shower or a starlit sky. Just witnessing such things can bring home, in an instant, the power of God. It’s God in that beautiful sunset we catch for the first time in months out of our car window as we sit in traffic. It’s God in the first big snow when the city goes all white and work is called off for a day. We can experience the awesomeness of God in so many ways when we take a moment to step away from our regular routines.
The point of adventure is not just to make God more apparent but to bring us closer to God. When we take on adventure, we are literally walking towards God with every new step.
Adventure isn’t just about getting away or relaxing or even acting as that unifying force I mentioned last week. It is about consciously turning ourselves towards God and seeking Him out in a new place.
As Proverbs tells us above, we don’t direct our steps, God does, and taking an opportunity to experience new things acknowledges that. It opens us up to allowing God to direct our steps, allowing us to further seek out God’s purpose for our lives.