Publication: Pastoral Letter, September 2001
Dear Friend in Christ:
I trust you had a wonderful summer! As the “busy-ness” of autumn approaches, I want to share something with you that I pray will encourage you. In this life, we spend a lot of time in an effort to acquire things that fit our needs and tastes: clothes, cars, houses, and other things. But, many people remain unhappy with something far more important_their role in life. They are in a service, a ministry, or an occupation that chafes their souls. This frustration causes depression, disease, and sometimes, premature death.
What makes matters worse for those who are Christians is that frustrating and unenjoyable service is often done in the name of the Lord. Sometimes people just need a change of attitude about their service, but often they are laboring in the wrong yoke.
THE RIGHT SHOES
One of my youthful dreams was to play football; I went out for the team during my freshman year in High School. I had to buy football cleats. In my eagerness to get equipped, I went to Sears and bought an ill-fitting pair of shoes because they did not have my size in stock. Before long, blisters appeared on my feet.
I was already slow of speed and the shoes slowed me even more; but alas, I couldn’t afford another pair. I made the team, but did not earn a letter. The next year, I bought new, well-fitting shoes and I earned a position at guard; the right shoes helped!
Many people go through life with “shoes that do not fit.” They tenaciously go on, being slowed by a service that only chafes their souls. The service that they render is an unhappy one and their performance is less than it could be, if they were in the right yoke.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaks of taking His “yoke” upon ourselves. A yoke is a piece of wood that fits over the neck of a beast of burden. It joins one beast to another and allows them to pull together. From the yoke, ropes are attached to a load or wagon. An ill-fitting yoke chafes the animal’s neck and diminishes performance. And a heavy yoke is an unnecessary, added burden.
Jesus was speaking to religious people, as well as others, when He said,”Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart; and you shall find rest for your soul. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I read this Scripture one day, many years ago, and laughed out loud, because the yoke I was bearing was very hard. “Where did I get this yoke?” I wondered. I realized that it had not come from Jesus. I was weary and heavy-laden.
Jesus addressed the fact that many people thought that they were serving God with forms of service that only chafed their souls. Religious activity, expectation of others, legalism, and intimidation are only a few of the pressures that weigh us down. Often our vocations are also ill-fitting and only add to the misery.
Many people are yoked to a wrong idea of God. They see Him as a “Pharaoh” who is demanding more and more. They are tired and miserable in their service. So it was that Jesus saw Israel in a heavy yoke, and sought to change their view of God. “Learn of Me,“ Jesus said.
The tragedy of heavy yokes is that not only are our souls depleted, but also we miss the possibilities of faith and a fresh venture into God’s will.
The Good News is that God has a well-fitted yoke for each one of us. He knows our capabilities. It is not that we should never labor, but that we labor with Him. We obey, and He bears the burden.
So how do we get into His yoke? He says, “Come to Me.” Looking for another ministry or vocation is not the answer. Many people exchange one bad yoke for another. The answer is coming to Him. When we see and find Him, He first lifts off the heavy yoke.
Whether that yoke is some sin or some self-assumed activity, we must be delivered in our hearts from a wrong obligation. We need to understand that He bore that, and the guilt associated with it, on the cross. The old yoke has to go; He can remove it from us. He can remove a service based upon the wrong motivation.
Then the raw wounds must be healed. That can take some time. Many people are understandably reticent to even obey God after having borne a bad yoke. But in Christ, healing does come as we accept responsibility for the previous error. We cannot blame God or others if we have accepted someone else’s manipulation or control. Accepting personal responsibility is a big first step to healing.
After one has dealt with past “burnout,” sin, or frustration, they are ready for a new understanding of service. Jesus said, “Learn of me.” This is the key to a better yoke. “I am gentle and humble.” His yoke is not coerced; it is offered. It comes with peace, and joy, and suits our capability. It was made just for us.
This is a new kind of labor – a labor in rest. Rest for our soul is a Sabbath in our soul, even as we labor with our minds and bodies. By coming to Him, we have left frustration and anxiety behind. We have cast our cares upon Him, and we have trusted Him. We have entered into His rest – the rest of trusting His leadership (see Hebrews 4).
The result is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus sums up the offer by saying, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” How could that be true? It is true because when we are yoked to the Son of God, He joins us in our service. His presence soothes our souls; His power pulls the load; His peace keeps our minds; and His joy gives us strength.
I have watched fellow Christians carry heavy loads with great peace and even joy. I have also watched people take great satisfaction from seemingly small – yet also very important – tasks. Recently, a Christian man told me how happy he was to care for the church facilities. I could see that he had great joy in it. I have seen others who had or did much more “high profile” jobs, but had no pleasure in doing them.
IS THERE A PROBLEM?
There is no question that millions of people in the world are in ill-fitting jobs, but is there a problem in the Church? Is it possible that many people both in and out of Church see Christianity as a heavy load, rather than a release of life?
Is this perhaps the reason that many do not pray, worship, or attend regularly; tithe or give regularly; or evangelize normally and joyfully? Are we thinking stereotypically and slaving away dutifully, rather than coming to Him again and asking, “Lord, how can I serve you?” Just because God directed us to something ten years ago – does that mean we are supposed to still do it that way?
Approximately 47 years ago, I fought the idea of becoming a minister. I did so because I had a wrong concept of what ministry was. I thought that being a minister would force me into a mold that I could not fit. Finally, I realized that I had to come to him, even if it meant just that. After all, I belonged to Him. But as years passed, I discovered His plans for me were unlike my former ideas. His purpose fitted my life.
DIVERSITY OF GIFTS
Jesus and John the Baptist were very different, but both served God. In my view, “labels” are too limiting. The yoke that fits each person has to be custom made. In fact, it is not only time for each of us to think “outside the box” individually; it is time for the entire Church to think outside the box. We can bring eternal values into new approaches. We must not forsake the Bible as God’s Word. We cannot compromise truth. But even a casual look at the Bible will reveal a great variety in callings and services.
What is “Parachurch?” I wonder if much of what we call “Parachurch,” or outside “normal” Christian activity, is not really more “Church” than we think; it may be more “Church” than many churches in their present structure and activity. Go back and read Isaiah 61 and Matthew 11:1-6, and ask yourself, “Where is the real Church?” Shouldn’t it be out where Jesus is?
Are we using too much energy on bad yokes and missing His yoke? Are we leaving too many with chafed necks, weary and heavy laden? You must answer that for yourself. I have answered it for myself. Whatever the answer, the ultimate issue is to find His yoke. I suspect that if we are yoked to Him, we will be doing what He did. He was busy lifting loads, not adding to them.
SHARING GOOD NEWS
I believe this is a message that needs to get out across North America and among the nations. People need the freedom, joy, and purpose that only Jesus can bring. We all need to be refreshed by God’s goodness and mercy; in prayer, in worship, and in the washing of the Word. Through your prayer and financial support, we are able to share this message in more than 70 nations.
Every day, at our mailbox and through our website, we receive encouraging testimonies from people across the globe who are being blessed or touched in some way through this ministry…in India, in Costa Rica, in China, in Russia, in Muslim nations, in Slovakia, and in so many other places, those hungry for God’s Word are being fed.
We have taken serious steps of faith this Summer to re-tool and re-focus our ministry. My son, Stephen, is returning to full-time ministry with CSM, and will be traveling and writing more. He is also working closely with Steven Tyrrell to continually upgrade our website and sharpen our message for reaching the emerging generation of Christian leadership. For more information, please visit www.csmpublishing.org or call us toll-free at (888) 811-2276. The website now features downloadable audio clips!
May I ask you to continue to pray for us and to support us through your giving this month? Please do not do so out of a sense of drudgery or mere duty…but if the Lord leads you, your support could be a joyous response to all that God is doing and in faith for all that He is going to do. There is much to be thankful for…so much to be joyous about.
In the midst of this very busy month, I pray that the peace and strength of God would be with you, as you receive His yoke of blessing.
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Isaiah