Uneasy Yokes and Heavy Burdens

7:30- Call Mom and Dad

8:00 a.m. – cookies for widow’s tea, laundry

8:30- Call Brian

9:00- drop off caramel corn gift bags at school

9:15 -pick up wreaths and drop off at Ann’s

9:30 -meet with publicity committee

10:00- work on devotional for women’s ministry

I’ll spare you from the rest of this November day from 1980 something. My Day-Timer notebook used to shift from events written in for each hour to every half hour, come the holiday season.  As a senior pastor’s wife, minister of music, mom, daughter, sister and friend, my days filled up without the holidays.  The extra ministry demands of Thanksgiving through New Year’s often packed every half hour on most pages of November and December.

Whether leading a family of two, a business of thousands or anything in between, all leaders know that the upcoming holiday season brings lots of extra joys in tag team with more demands and responsibilities.  We don’t want to say this out loud, but deep in our hearts we might secretly feel like the holidays are a bit of a burden.

Beyond the holidays, life will present us with seasons where yokes feel heavy and burdens don’t seem light at all.   The realities of our circumstances don’t seem to match up with the truth of Matthew 11:30 where Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Some of us are facing the first holiday season without a loved one. Others are facing major financial setbacks, unemployment, illness, divorce and other life altering events. Sometimes it feels like a pile on as we try to manage several things at once.  I remember a season of personal illness, financial hardship, death of a parent and job loss all occurring simultaneously.

So, other than quitting or toiling along with bitterness and despair in our hearts, what can we do when we feel overloaded for an extended period of time?  I’m positive that Jesus is not indifferent to our plights shouting “Rub some dirt on it!” from heaven.  He is, in fact, the opposite.    Hebrews 4:15 assures us that “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses….”   I often become teary-eyed over the third verse of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear:”

And ye beneath life’s crushing load,

                                                Whose forms are bending low,

                                                Who toil along the climbing way

                                                With painful steps and slow.

You might be under a crushing load today, bent low in spirit, wondering how to keep moving forward.  It may even sound laughable to you that Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but he did say it. Understanding what he meant by it may straighten your form back up even today.

In Matt. 11:29, where Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you,” the Greek word for take means a deliberate lift or taking up.  The word for yoke referred to a double wooden harness used to link two animals together so they are able to do work that neither of them could accomplish alone.  Jesus is saying we must choose to put our necks into the double yoke he offers to us so that we are able to make our way through the hard grounds of life without collapsing.   He isn’t saying we won’t experience painful, heavy times where the load is unusually high.  He is saying that we can make it through if we remain side by side with him.

In verse 30, the word “easy” in Greek means pleasurable, delightful or comfortable.  As crazy as it may sound to you and what you are facing today, Jesus is telling us that even the most challenging, scary, painful days can be good when he is at our side and we are working in tandem with him.  Days that would make normal humans collapse under their weight can be navigated with strength and joy for the child of God.

Think about how close together two horses heads are in a double yoke.  They are literally breathing in the same air.  That’s how we are to be with Jesus, so intimate and close with him that we hear every whisper of encouragement, every “Attaboy” of praise and every single “I love you!  We got this!”

Yoked firmly with Jesus, we can face anything life brings our way knowing that we don’t carry the weight of it all alone.

 

 

 

 

Prayer Life Reality Check

Do you ever feel guilty about your prayer life?  I sure do! Does it seem inadequate in some ways?  Mine did for much of my life. In my thirties, I embraced a teaching based on the Lord’s prayer which subtly suggested anything less than an hour a day in intercession might be considered chump change by heavenly standards. For years after that, I vacillated daily between feeling triumphant (and somewhat prideful) on the days I prayed for an hour and defeated on the days I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong; 99.9 % of that particular teaching is rock solid theology and I use many of its principles to this day.  The problem became my type A personality blended with that 1% of mild scolding about the length of my time with God.  If someone sets a bar for me, I will turn myself inside out to get over it and repeatedly bang my forehead against it until I do.  Sometimes a recovering perfectionist, overachiever’s spiritual life can be a bloody mess, honestly.  I know, you laid- back types are probably just shaking your heads, sadly, but this is where many of us live.  Stick with me, whatever your personality type.  I think God’s teaching me some interesting stuff about prayer, useful for any personality or schedule.

  1. God doesn’t make prayer hard. We do.  God carried all the weight to restore the relationship between created and creator after Adam and Eve squirreled it up.  Just as He walked and talked with them in the garden, He wants meaningful conversation with us that flows from intimate relationship with Him.  To that end, He gives every believer the gift of the Holy Spirit who teaches us, through the Word, how a human can grow a relationship with a perfect God.  He packed the Bible with tons of Scriptures which share specific guidelines for our God conversations.  These aren’t designed to condemn us but to instruct us.

In any successful relationship, both people need to learn the other’s likes, dislikes, boundaries and the specific keys that open their hearts to one another.   The same is true of God.  The purpose of verses like Isaiah 59:2, “Your sins have separated you from God,” are to help us understand His preferences so that we can approach a conversation with Him easily, freely.  Verses about prayer are intended to be lights on our path, not straitjackets that bind us.

My Dad and I live a couple hours apart and he still owns his own business.  If I want to phone him and catch up, I need to respect his schedule and energy level. Calling him at 9 p.m. is thoughtless and useless as he will probably fall asleep during the conversation.  I’ve learned this by listening and observing what he says and does. I respect his boundaries so he’s usually very pleased to hear from me and will spend an hour or more talking with me and sharing the things on his heart.  Think of your prayer time with God like that and don’t turn guidelines into legalistic rules.

  1. God wants to spend time with the real you, not a hopped up, more spiritual version of yourself. I recently read an interesting devotional by Rick Renner in “Sparkling Gems II,” in which he talks about Christ’s commentary for the seven churches in Revelation.  To each church, Jesus says, “I know this that and the other about you,” basically.  The Greek word for “know,” in these passages means “to see.”  Revelation chapters 2 and 3 create a picture of Jesus standing in the midst of His church seeing all that is done and said, good and evil.  Seeing it all, He still chooses to be with His church and takes the time to encourage, praise, correct and rebuke.

Jesus stands in the midst of your life and sees it all.  He sees the times I snark at my husband because I’m overwhelmed and tired.  He hears my negative attitudes.  He also observes my faithfulness to my Tuesday prayer walker group and my willingness to sacrifice my time to make ornaments for a missionary Christmas tree.  Seeing and hearing it all, He wants to be with the real me, in whatever state I am in.

  1. Talk to God, not at Him.  Conversation should be back and forth like a tennis match, not one sided, like a driving range at a golf course.  My prayer times used to be me hitting as many balls towards God as I possibly could, hoping some of them hit heaven’s gates.  Relationship-wise, that’s a monologue, not a conversation.

 

I much prefer the tennis match approach to prayer now.  God I and warm up a bit together by me praising Him and then Him sending back some ideas on sinful attitudes and actions and should probably be confessed and forgiven before we continue.  After that, I listen for Him to lead me in each of my subject areas.  I am realistic now and understand I can’t pray everything for everybody every day.

God knows His agenda for each individual and organization for which you pray.  He knows what is going to happen within each day for all of them.  One day He leads me to pray for Ken’s health, the next for wisdom and financial increase.  Today, He might ask me to pray for revival in my country, tomorrow it could be for safety and security.

 

The point is, prayer’s goal should be to line up our will and emotions with God’s agenda, not the other way around.   I’ve added a couple of my favorite prayer tools and books to the book list because I’m not against teachings and books on prayer.  I’m against turning the truth in them into boards with which we whack ourselves on the heads!

 

Take a fresh look at your prayer life.  Ask God where He’d like to see some changes and adjustments.  Don’t miss out any further on all the wonderful, quiet secrets He’s trying to share with you because you’re too busy driving balls!  He’s searching for fit, ferocious people who can also be champion listeners.