A photographer was snapping pictures of first graders at an elementary school, and he was making small talk to put his little subjects at ease. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked one little girl. “Tired,” she said.
A lot of tiredness is going around these days. We live in a fast-moving world with lots of pressures, deadlines, problems, and tough circumstances that put us under a lot of stress and can make a person feel very tired. A certain fatigue sets in, a physical fatigue, emotional fatigue, and even spiritual fatigue. It makes our lives feel very flat.
I came across a wonderful analogy written by Mike Penninga comparing life to a flat bike tire.
On a recent bike trip it wasn’t until I finally arrived home that I noticed something wrong. My tires were low. They needed air. The funny thing about bike tires is I don’t remember taking air out of them. It just went. Somewhere. Somehow. Air leaks.
My tires weren’t crazy low, but low enough to know that my efforts in peddling were not producing maximum return. Each rotation was just a little bit harder than it would be had the tires been properly filled.
It got me thinking. Life is like a bike tire. We don’t intentionally take air out … it just leaves. And just as it’s harder to peddle with flat tires, it’s not as fun to live when the air has leaked out of our lives. We don’t know where it goes or how. Life just has a way of deflating us. Difficult conversations . . . hisssssss (that’s the sound of air leaving your tires!). Tough day at work . . . hisssssss. Overwhelmed by circumstance . . . hisssssss. It happens to all of us.
What about you? Are you going through life with flat tires? How fun is that?
It is to the people who are feeling like flat tires that a sweet invitation comes today. Come to me all who weary and are carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. These are the words of Jesus. He has just told His listeners that He and the Father are one. To know Him is to be connected to God.
Now He claims to be the Lord of rest. He’s the rest giver. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” It turns out He is not talking about offering a nap for the body, some advice for the scrambled mind, a breathing exercise, stretching to relax your body, a vacation, how to slow down, or leisure activities. No, He is talking about a deeper sort of rest when He says this. He is talking about rest for the soul. “You will find rest for your soul.”
That statement begs the question, What exactly is the soul? How would you answer the question? We know of soul music. Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul. I love eating soul food. We talked about the danger of selling your soul. When I was a kid, I was taught, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Sports franchises talk of a certain player being the soul of the team. The eyes are described as the windows of the soul. So what exactly is the soul?
Dallas Willard, a Christian writer, compares the soul to a stream that needs to be tended. Gordon MacDonald talks about it as an inner garden that needs to be carefully kept. It’s the inner part of you, the life center of human beings.
So we hear the soul being addressed – in the book of Psalms for instance. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (13:1). All that is within me – that’s what the soul is. We all have one.
• It is the deepest part of you. It integrates your will, your mind, and your body.
• It is the most important part of you. It needs continual care in order for you to thrive.
• It, perhaps, is the easiest part of you to neglect. We work so hard on our external existence and don’t take much time thinking about the soul. That’s not good because it is the most needy part of you. Totally dependent! It has deep desires that long to be satisfied.
What the soul truly desires is a connection with God. We know from the book of Genesis that God breathed life into man, and man became a living soul. Our souls were made by God for God, and they were made to need God. We are wired for God. We might try to fill this need with other things, but the soul will never be satisfied.
So we hear it again: The psalmist says, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord” (Ps. 84:2).
I want to be with God. “As a deer panteth for the water, so my soul longs after thee” (Ps. 42:1).
When the soul is neglected – when that refreshing stream isn’t flowing and we’re trying to operate without God – it becomes polluted, fatigued, and is soon in a condition of deterioration.
We see signs of soul fatigue in statements like these: I feel like my life is falling apart, or I’m coming apart at the seams, or I can’t seem to get my act together anymore. We see signs of it in other ways like these:
• Things bother us more than they should.
• We ruminate.
• It’s difficult to make up our minds about decisions we face.
• We develop impulses to eat and drink, or spend, and they are a challenge to resist. They get out of control.
• Our judgment suffers. We make bad decisions or have less courage.
Fatigue has a way of making us a little more cowardly.
In this passage, Jesus points out that the state of soul can be in one of two conditions. It can be either weary and overloaded or at rest and have peace with Him as God intended.
These words of Jesus beg a personal question – How is your soul these days? If it is restless and overloaded, the antidote is not a program but a person – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “Come to me, and I will give you rest for your soul.” Have a relationship with me. Live with me. Follow me. Walk with me, and you will find rest. Jesus is inviting us to live intimately with Him from one moment to the next. The One who lived 2,000 years ago promises His followers, I am with you always. I’m available. I want to walk with you.
Then He tells us what coming to Him really involves. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” That yoke is oftentimes a symbol of being under the direction of someone else, a student under a teacher. So Jesus is saying perhaps, Be my disciple. Come under my control. Submit to me. Follow me.
We also know from the form of the yoke over the oxen. Come alongside of me, perhaps Jesus is saying as well. Let’s share the load of life together. Let me teach you the rhythms.
There are all kinds of yokes out there that can control your life and make you absolutely miserable.
• There is the yoke of the law – you have to do this and do that in order to get God to love you. If you are not keeping all the commandments, God will have nothing to do with you. He doesn’t love you, and you can’t go to heaven. So you feel absolutely, totally, strung out because of it, wondering, What’s going to happen to me?
• There is the yoke of the various appetites. Humanity has a desire for success or possessions. Those things become idols and taskmasters in our lives.
• There is the yoke of perfectionism. I need to be a perfect person.
The list goes on and on. Jesus says, Take my yoke and learn from Me. Be My apprentice. Come study under Me. Do life with Me. In doing so, you will discover that I am gentle and humble. I am not an unloving taskmaster. I love you. I care about you. I have your best interests in mind.
After 38 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that we need to remind ourselves now and then that while Jesus is our Savior and Lord, He is also a teacher. He knows what our lives need to work best. When He came into this world, He announced, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel”(Mark 1:15). He was pointing to Himself. He has come to teach us kingdom life, God life, what’s important.
Jesus teaches us kingdom living as we live with Him in His holy Word, as He speaks to us. For instance, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Mark 8:36). This is diagnosis, not destination. Jesus is not talking about going to hell, but about a deteriorating condition of the soul.
He also tells us, Life is more than what you eat, drink, and wear. So don’t worry. Your heavenly Father knows you need these things. Trust Him (adapted from Mark 6:25).
Jesus warns us to be careful. “Be on guard toward all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Possessions may be nice to have, but they can overcome your life when they become the center of it.
Listen to Him say,
• “You are valuable to your heavenly Father. You are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 6:26).
• Beware of the Pharisee types, legalistic rule keepers who don’t understand God’s grace (adapted from Matt. 16:6).
• You are forgiven. I died on a cross for your sins.
On and on the truths come from the lips of Jesus for kingdom living. If lived out, these truths lead to a healthy soul and a very contented, joyful, peaceful existence. As we observe Jesus and not just listen to Him in those statements, as we observe Him in action in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we can also learn how to invest our time and energies, our mind, our body as we copy Him.
Notice how busy Jesus always was. He was constantly under a lot of pressure facing obstacles and opposition, but He was still under control and able to obey God. He was compassionate, loved God with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind, and His neighbor as Himself. He even loved the unlovable neighbor and remained cool under pressure. Jesus had a well-rested soul focused on God.
What were the activities, the disciplines that helped Him?
• Jesus was big on solitude, silence. You find Him getting away from the crowds, the noise, the temptations, and the distractions of life. His time alone with God became a shelter, a refuge for Him to face the busyness.
• Jesus often took very long walks. He enjoyed taking in the majesty of God’s creation as we hear Him describe the birds of the field, and the vines and the farmers and all creation. He was enthralled by the majesty of God’s handiwork, knowing God was in control as He took it all in.
• He fed on the Word of God. He knew the Old Testament.
• He regularly took breaks; He even took a nap on a boat, and He insisted His disciples take breaks as well. One day, when the disciples returned from a witnessing trip, He said, “Come away by yourselves and get some rest.”
• He enjoyed spending quality time with close friends, laughing and sharing life.
• He was a worshiper. It was His custom each Sabbath to go to the synagogue with the people of God and take in the word of God.
Are you enjoying the life Jesus came to give you – a healthy, rested soul? The invitation this day is to come to Him and apprentice yourself to Him. Take His yoke upon you. Do life with Him. Place your life in His hands and trust Him with it. Trust Him not just with your eternal life but also with your day-to-day life.
You might wonder how you can be sure He holds the real answers to a healthy and rested life. I think of the cross where Jesus was restlessly writhing from pain. I think of Isaiah 57:20 where the wicked are described as the tossing sea, which cannot keep still. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says, “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” He became wickedness for us. He experienced restlessness so we could have rest.
I think of the empty tomb. The resurrection where God affirmed Him and says to us, His words are true. They are life for you. Come to Him, and you will find rest for your soul.
Horatio Spafford lived in Chicago and invested most of what he had in real estate. However, he lost everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871, including his home and most of his money. They had no insurance.
In 1873, Spafford put his wife and their four daughters on a ship headed to England as he stayed behind to restimulate his business. A few days after the ship departed, he received a telegram from his wife. “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Their ship had wrecked and all four of their daughters perished.
Spafford quickly boarded another ship to England, and as he passed over the same place in the ocean where his daughters had drowned, he wrote these words to a song:
When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrows like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
What makes it well with one’s soul? A close walk with Jesus Christ who promises, I will give you rest for your soul. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer