Rest for the Soul

Exhaustion, fatigue, and apathy are worn today like it’s poorly in style and there’s a good chance you are wearing it too. We all are, and it’s a tell-tale sign we as a humanity are hurting and unhealthy. It’s about time for an overdue wardrobe change.

We Have a Problem

The first step in getting healthy is recognizing there is a problem. If your typical everyday life is marked by exhaustion, fatigue, and apathy that usually manifests through feelings of endless busyness, anxiety, stress, restless sleep, and frequent desires for daily “escapes”, you have a problem. I probably just described 95% of the American population, but just because the majority is suffering doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. And just because it seems like everyone is living this way doesn’t mean that it’s the way it’s supposed to be. As a matter of fact, this is why deep exhaustion and fatigue has become such an epidemic that is now being studied and addressed in the mainstream. We have ignored it, dismissed it as being ‘normal’, and even celebrated who can achieve more by doing more without considering the potential consequences.

Even as Christians we have ignored some of the most life-altering and freeing teachings of Jesus Christ in favor of embracing an exhaustive way of life. We pile on more by competing with other churches and the world for the attention of the masses. We create more programs, entertainment that perpetuates an escape-seeking culture, bigger weekend shows, and endless ministry opportunities, all with a spiritual emphasis that typically adds more burdens rather than take them away.

The exhausted world turns to God, Jesus, and the Bible for relief, not replacement — but this is what we give them. Our message (directly or indirectly) sounds like this: “Replace that anxiety, stress, and busy lifestyle with sacred (churchy) things and your life will be more joyful.” Sadly, people eventually see through this charade when they suffer from burnout and leave the church finding the “even exchange” doesn’t satisfy — nor should it. Whether with spiritual platitudes, uplifting sermons, positive music, and serving in a ministry program, or conversely through pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol, and hours of TV watching, each of these “escapes” are simply pacifying our existence and fail to ultimately fulfill our deepest longings.

The Solution We Need

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The picture of a yoke is that of a wooden hitch that connects to the neck of an ox for the purpose of towing a cart or a plow. Now re-read the words of Jesus: “For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Receiving Jesus Christ as Lord of your life is not a promise to make you Superman or Superwoman. The Holy Spirit does not transform individuals from a two-door Toyota Prius who’s been trying to haul a semi-trailer full of works, goals, emotional burdens, and good intentions into an 18-wheeler only to achieve more. Instead, the gospel (good news) of Jesus is such that He removes the semi-trailer and replaces it with one of those tiny U-Haul cargo trailers that leaves you wondering, “What could you possibly fit in that thing?”

And that’s the point. Not much can fit in that little trailer. Only the most crucial, important, and meaningful God-given things will make it inside for the journey ahead.

Think about what it would look like if you had to pack your home every morning, leave for work, and then settle in a new home for the night. For most of us, it would take a week or more to pack-up the contents of our home along with the rental of a huge moving truck to get it across town. To do that everyday would be an impossible endeavor. But this is the way most of us insist on living our lives. We’re regularly traveling with the countless emotional and physical items that we are no longer called to carry as God’s children — our heavy burdens, worries, unnecessary possessions, wealth, and more.

When Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment,” (Matthew 22:37-38) we can’t afford to take more than what we are able to carry to obey this commandment. The bigger the trailer, the greater the distraction, time, energy, and need for maintaining the stuff we’re insistent on carrying around with us. It’s those unnecessary heavy burdens that Jesus graciously takes from us so that we can freely fulfill our calling by loving and glorifying God, and discover true rest for our souls in this life and the eternal life to come.

Making a Change

If the solution is found by hitching our drastically condensed college dorm-room-sized U-Haul to a new life in Christ, then it’s imperative that we seek Him to know what exactly in our life belongs in it and what doesn’t. This is not an exercise of efficiency on how to pack in as much as possible utilizing every square inch available to us. It’s the life of freedom and rest that Jesus calls His followers to. It’s about taking bold steps of faith to trust in Christ in every aspect of our lives, recognizing that much of what ends up in our trailer doesn’t belong there. We were meant to live light and free in the Kingdom of God, fully dependent on our Lord in love, learning to be His children who bless the world by sharing this life and good news in Jesus Christ.

The only way each of us can know what to change is to be in fellowship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. In the context of a discipleship community and fellowship with the Spirit, we receive wisdom, counsel, direction, and encouragement to “keep the main thing, the main thing”. The best place to begin packing what’s important is by inviting the Lord to go through the closets of our heart, mind and soul.

(We recently addressed the role of the Holy Spirit in a message at Restoration Church in relation to this topic. Watch or listen to it here: “One Spirit”, Ephesians 3:14-22.)

One thought on “Rest for the Soul

  1. Thanks for this insightful bit of writing. I agree that the ‘organized church’ can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help in addressing our ‘age of anxiety,’ which entwines both the unbelieving world AND many Christians. I find it interesting that the Mt. 11:28ff in the first place addresses rest from the Pharisees who had caught up their followers in a mass of legalism and applications. In every way Jesus sets us free, as you have said. PS, I found Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the above passage in The Message very clarifying. Bless you Matthew!

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