By Gena Anderson
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, Matthew 11:28-30.
Saturday is my Sabbath, the one day per week I attempt to focus away from this world and fully on God. On this particular Saturday I was awoken by strong winds outside my window. I find irony in being woken from sleep so I can start resting, but life is often that way.
I started the day with this verse, the classic and probably most quoted passage on rest. My intent was to read it and pray my way into this day of spending time with Jesus. But irony struck again when I found myself drawn to a particular phrase in those familiar verses, as God began to peel back another layer from his Word and reveal something new.
The words that jumped out at me were not the often emphasized Come to me, or I will give you rest, though those are beautiful and soothing. It wasn’t the part about being weary and burdened and how his yoke is easy and his burden is light, though those words are reassuring. What suddenly stood out to me were the three words that represent the fullness of the gift of rest: learn from me.
Jesus spoke those words proclaiming he is the one who gives rest for our souls and inviting us into that rest, and he used an example. Made to fit over the shoulders of a pair of oxen, a yoke was a harness farmers used to lead the animals in their work. Since they were in full submission to the farmer, he would be able to direct them in where to go and when to stop. And to make the work easier and more efficient, an older oxen was often paired with a younger one, forming a team that possessed both wisdom from experience and exuberant strength of youth.
Take a minute to picture this. When I think of Jesus, I often picture him leading, calling people to follow him, which he did. In this instance he tells us something different. When the oxen are yoked, they are positioned ahead of the farmer. They see what is before them with no one out front giving directions. They see the hills they will be climbing, obstacles in their path, and things that may harm them. They feel the wind and rain, and they no doubt feel their aching muscles. It probably looks daunting at times, and at other times the view of sunny skies and green grass is reassuring.
But in all of that, they are not alone, because they have each other, and more importantly they have the yoke. The harness, tailor made for them, that tethers them to the driver is ever present. The farmer is responsible for steering them from behind. They obediently step forward where he directs because they are in full submission to him, and he keeps them safe while making use of each one’s skills to accomplish his work. He directs them around obstacles and through rough terrain to get the farming done. He knows when they need rest and he tells them to stop, not allowing them to do more than they should. The animals know their role and want to do what they were designed for, and with every step they carry their master with them. And in all this they learn. They learn through submission to him how to work and rest, as a team, and most of all to trust in him.
Rest is not only salve for our souls, but it teaches us. We learn not to trust the seen circumstances, but the known master. We learn to work with those he puts next to us. We learn to feel the soft and peaceful burden of his harness and put off the shackles of this world. He teaches us the way to go and we learn to heed his direction. We learn that restoration comes from rest and we stop when he tells us. And we learn to trust him fully, because unlike anyone else in this world, he never, ever lets us down.
I don’t know about you but I learn best from experience, and that is what makes the yoke a true gift. We get to learn to rest easy, with Jesus as our teacher.