My first trip as a full time youth minister (years before I came to LCC) was to take a van full of kids to a minor league baseball game. At that time, I thought that I was no rookie, I had several years of youth ministry under my belt as a youth sponsor, K-life mentor, and had several youth internships, I felt like I was kind of a big deal. We pull into a gas station to fill up the van and as I filled it up, the smell of gas grew stronger and I was soon standing in a puddle of gasoline. At some point in the week before, some vandal had broken into the church parking lot and slashed the fuel line between the nozzle and the gas tank, making it impossible for the van to be filled up. So I’m standing in a pool of gasoline and saw a man light up a cigarette several yards away, I panicked and yelled to the kids:
“GET OFF THE VAN IT’S GOING TO EXPLODE!”
The kids run screaming off the van and begin to call their parents telling them that the church van is going to blow up, I’m trying to wipe gasoline off my shoes so I don’t turn into a human torch, and my wife is trying to calm everyone down by telling them that they’re not going to die.
To say that I was stressed in that moment would be a profound understatement.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30
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.”
We don’t use the word “yoke” today, but to Jesus’s audience it would have been a great way to describe what it’s like to follow Jesus. A yoke is a wooden beam that goes across 2 oxen to keep them moving in the same direction, so they can pull a plow or some other piece of farm machinery. This was the tractor of the ancient world. The two readings that you can get from this text are complementary: If Jesus means that we’re to be yoked with him, then that means that we’re going in the same direction he is. If Jesus is the one putting on the yoke he’s talking about, joining in the work of the kingdom of God and allowing Jesus to lead you with other Christians. Either way, Jesus is saying that if you allow him to guide and influence your life, it is a “rest for the weary and burdened”.
Yoking around on the river
When Jesus is talking about being “yoked” I think back to the story at the beginning of this blog post. A moment where I thought for sure I was going to be fired and my career as youth minister was going to go up in flames…literally.
For a long time youth ministry was a career for me and I “yoked” my self-image and self-esteem to how well my youth ministry was performing. Than I had a bad church experience and suddenly my self-image didn’t line up with the reality of being a youth minister without a church. I have worked and pastored many folks in similar situations that have had crushing blows to their self-esteem because they had based their identity on what they “did” rather than “whose” they are, that is a child of God (Gal 3:26). I see myself in them, in those moments, because it is incredibly jarring and painful to lose the thing that has been guiding the direction of your life for so long.
I went to a youth ministry conference several years ago and the speaker, who I have forgotten his name, said something that stuck has with me:
“As a leader, be a river not a flood. Rivers are deep, useful, slow and helpful, floods are shallow, destructive, fast and cause pain”
What if Christ is calling us to “put on his yoke” or allow him to plot the direction of our lives because he wants to use us for a purpose, rather than for us to drift into the flood of selfish fulfillment?
Ephesians 2:10 says
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Christ has called us to partner with him and to do the work of the Kingdom of God. Paul says it like this in 2 Corinthians 5:17-18:
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.”
What happens when you yoke your life to that purpose? What happens whenever you don’t identify as a student, engineer, accountant, teacher, or whatever profession you have and begin to identify as a Christian who is doing the work of the kingdom of God in your profession?
That changes things.
Job changes bring new opportunities to bless others.
Financial troubles are moments of spiritual growth as you rely on God and the Christian community.
Returning to school is an opportunity to show the Love of Christ with the people at your jr. high, high school, college, or university.
I could list more examples, but I think you’re beginning to see how when I take what I desire for myself out of the picture and I begin to work towards the desires of Christ, my perspective changes. The burden of having to be successful, to meet the expectations of this world around me is lifted by the new perspective of helping others to be reconciled to God.
Jesus sums it up better than I can in Matthew 16:24-26
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?