In this lifetime we are guaranteed to be busy, to labor, and even to get burdened with the things of this world. Man was created to work and we praise the Lord for this ability. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28 “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus was not talking about working hard and going to Him when we need rest. He was talking to people burdened by the requirements of the Law and by sin. Today He continues to encourage people to come to Him who are burdened, who labor through their efforts to remain holy, and are wearied by the guilt, fear, and pain caused by their sin. It is a terrible thing to labor under sin keeping us slaves to this world and fleshly desires.
It is interesting Jesus uses the phrase “heavy laden” because the definition of “laden” itself means to carry a heavy load. When we are “heavy, heavy laden” we are doubly laden with heaviness, weighed down by problems, unpleasant feelings, and sin. But we “get” to go to Him where He gives us rest and refreshment. This “rest” is where Jesus brings refreshment to our souls (minds, wills, and emotions). The key is we need to go to Him. We must admit we labor and are weighed down with sin, acknowledge our need, repent and seek forgiveness, and then take our rest in the Lord not in something else.
It seems we relegate this “Coming to Jesus” only to those times of exhaustion when we feel we cannot go on. I wonder what would happen if we went to Him “while” we labor and are heavily loaded with stress, pressure, anxiety, and sin. Actually, I “know” what would happen – what will happen – we find rest! And it is the finest rest we can experience.
This brings us to our fast paced society here in America. A pastor friend from Papua New Guinea stayed with us for three weeks and was overwhelmed with the whirlwind of activity. He repeatedly told us we needed to rest more because we were too busy. When we went to minister in Papua New Guinea I could better relate to what he had experienced in America. We had busy times of ministry but rest in the Lord was a priority. I had a difficult time acclimating to the amount of rest because I felt unproductive, wrestling with inactivity. I had developed a mindset which associated “rest” with “unproductiveness” therefore I experienced “stress in my rest”, making my rest unproductive as well.
Most Americans are busy from early morning until well into the evening hours. Families are busy with jobs, school, homework, scouting, sports, clubs and even volunteer opportunities. As Christians it can seem as though church and its myriad of activities is just one more thing to add to our busyness therefore it gets added to the list of “options”. People tell us they cannot come to bible study or church because of work, family/ friends visiting, or countless other reasons. We explain if church and bible study were not an “option” for them because of the importance of being in the presence of God, honoring Him in that time with His people, those “other” things would be optional rather than church being an option. People come right back with “Well, I would lose my job if I tell them I am not available at those times.” Friends, in every job I have had, retail or not, I have always been upfront with the employers from the beginning. I tell them my faith in Jesus is most important and there are two times I cannot work, Sundays and Wednesday nights. Undoubtedly they have told me Sundays are mandatory. I have told them it is not an option for me and they cannot withhold a job from me because of religious beliefs. Never have I been refused. We did the same thing with our children with athletics. We told the coaches at try-outs our kids would not be at practices on Wednesday nights or at tournaments on Sunday mornings. They knew upfront this was not an option for our family. Never were our children denied a place on a team because of our commitment. Even if it did not turn out this way for jobs and sports, we believed God would have something better for us if we honored Him thus we never feared what man could or would do to us. If friends or family want to plan something on a Sunday, we simply let them know we are not available until “after” our worship time. We have never had to leave early or cut short our time with the Lord because He is simply not an option.
People of other faiths are steadfast in their convictions for prayer times (even on the job), dress requirements (even on the job), and their freedom to share their faith. Christians are not so steadfast, generally caving in to the expectations of the world, believing as long as they remain true to God in their hearts, all is well, no matter what their actions might look like. I know this might sound strong, but this is the very reason we find ourselves laboring and heavy laden with sin. We must make better choices in our lives because the cost is great if we do not start now. We make these choices out of a love relationship with Jesus not out of duty, obligation, or law. We make godly choices because we are in love with Jesus, not because we “have” to, but because we “want” to.
Being in ministry for a quarter of a century puts me in prime position to see the great cost to people and families caused by our created lifestyles. We see the exhaustion in people’s faces, hear their stories of busyness and burnout, witness broken relationships, and listen to regrets and missed opportunities. This is the “stuff” Jesus was talking about with labor and being heavy laden. Our busy lifestyles are killing us, not just physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well. The dictionary defines rest as: “a state or period of refreshing freedom from exertion” and “freedom from mental or emotional anxiety”. The “rest” we find in Jesus is a place where He refreshes our souls. No matter how we define “rest” it is a place we all long to be. The beautiful truth is we can all “be” there!
At times, it seems a hopeless battle to help people see Jesus in the midst of their overly busy lives. People will not admit their own choices have brought them to a place of feeling helpless and hopeless. People generally refuse to fix or change priorities until lives are nearly destroyed. For example in marriage people do not normally deal with issues until the marriage appears to be past repair. They choose to ignore all the warning signs; lack of communication and time spent together, lack of romance and desire for one another, arguments caused by stress and anxiety, and financial woes. When it appears the marriage is too far gone and divorce is an option people “might” ask for help. They often still refuse to make the marriage and relationship a top priority continuing to defend their job and time commitments or conceding they no longer love one another. The worst part of it all is our ignorance and refusal to acknowledge these choices as sin, which burden and weigh us down, thus we do not go to Jesus and find our rest, being refreshed, and allowing Him to make all things new.
However, it is not a hopeless battle but rather a faithful victory when we embrace Jesus and pursue Him. When we change our priorities and lifestyles by choosing Jesus first and learn how to rest in Him, we will stop letting the world and our circumstances dictate how busy we are, but we will let Christ rule in our hearts. Priorities will change as we are filled with the joy of the Lord and cannot resist resting in Him again and again. We will find rest in the house of the Lord where there is encouragement, fellowship, and refreshment in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have the distinct privilege of being free from laws of religion and the burdens those laws place on people. We also have the unique privilege of being in relationship with Jesus allowing Him to teach us His will and ways, finding rest.
The truth is we will make time for whatever is important to us. We do not have to wait until it is too late, until we are dying, retired, on the verge of divorce, depressed, financially broke or anything else. How many people have come to the end of their lives wishing they would have been a better husband, wife, mother, father, or friend? How many people realize at the pinnacle of their success it was not worth it? How many people sacrifice everything to be successful in athletics, careers, to be well educated or more employable? People rationalize their priorities by saying they need to sacrifice now in order to experience the reward later. Or they say it is a “season” of sacrifice for the family in order to “get ahead” and provide long-term stability. Unfortunately that season turns into another season, then into another. And along the way, how many things have we “squeezed in” or “missed” with our children, spouses, and others whom God has brought into our lives? My friends, today is all we have! Why not invest everything we have into today? Certainly goals and aspirations are necessary and motivating, however not at the expense of people and relationships.
One television show, Biggest Loser, vividly demonstrates the truth that we make time for whatever is important to us. It involves people who have lost control of their lives through poor eating habits and unhealthy lifestyles, leaving them obese, unhappy, and unproductive. For months these people lay down their own agendas, jobs, families, and other activities to focus completely on losing weight, learning how to regain control of their lives. They spend time at this camp working out physically, emotionally, and mentally as they lose weight and also lose the lies and extra baggage they have carried as a result of losing control. They push their bodies and minds past any limit previously established. They learn how to take back control of their lives and ultimately learn they will make time for whatever is important to them.
As Christians we MUST to do the same thing. Make time for Who and What is important to us. We must ask ourselves the hard question: How important is Jesus and His Church to us? The answer to that question is evident in how we live our lives. We can declare Jesus is our Lord but our lifestyles, activities, and where we invest our money, time and energy clearly reflects what or who is Lord of our lives. Take time now to do inventory! Then make the necessary changes now! He is waiting for you to come to Him. He has supernatural rest awaiting your presence! He is prepared – are you?
“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”