If I ask to be delivered from trial rather than for deliverance out of it, to the praise of His glory; if I forget that the way of the Cross leads to the Cross and not to a bank of flowers; if I regulate my life on these lines, or even unconsciously my thinking, so that I am surprised when the way is rough and think it strange, though the word is, "Think it not strange," "Count it all joy," then I know nothing of Calvary love. -Amy Carmichael, If
This week I read again the verses in Matthew 11 where Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I ponder what Jesus means by rest, and then I think of the many times Jesus warns that those who follow him will suffer. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," Jesus reminds us (Matt. 8:20). Just a few chapters before that, he warns, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when other people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Matt. 5:10-11). He reminds us in John 16:33 that "in the world you will have tribulation", also translated as "trouble". So I wonder how Jesus really defines rest...
Is his yoke easy if the expectation is hardship? Is his burden light if we cannot lay claim to the right to a home or even stable relationships? How do we rest when others condemn us, oppress us, slander us? Does Jesus speak truth to us even (and especially) when life just seems hard?
I come back to the first three words of Matthew 11:28, "Come to me..." Christ calls us to come, and he promises rest. He knows that suffering is a part of this life, especially for those who follow him, but the rest that he offers comes only through the gift of his presence, and this is why his rest is so precious. Christ's rest has nothing to do with our own physical tiredness. Christ's rest is not about wealth, success, ease, or comfort. Christ's rest is about him, his righteousness, his work that has done all. We miss the point when we expect his rest to be about us. And we also miss his rest.
So often our focus snags on the struggles that assail us, on the things we have given up. Hilary Alan writes in her book Sent, after their family gave up their home, two lucrative jobs, their children's hobbies, regular schooling, their friends, their normalcy, and life as they knew it in order to go share the gospel in Southeast Asia: "We had not given up anything of any real value, and we had been given so much in return." She was able to look past what some would see as loss and instead note the surpassing gain of Christ and the wonderful joy, rest, and peace that flow from him. It is only when we set the cross before us that we can see our small sacrifices and even our devastating losses for what they really are: light and momentary troubles in comparison with the joy of knowing Christ.
Christ warns us of the coming troubles because he does not want us to be surprised by them. But he promises that his yoke is easy and his burden light because he is just that wonderful, if only we can choose to truly come into his presence, over and over again, and learn from him. When I find life too hard to bear, the best response--in fact, the only response of any worth--is to come to Christ, seeing him more fully and thus reveling more completely in the gift he gave us through his death: salvation from the sin, pain, and death that have so tainted this world! True rest means placing our trust in Christ's goodness and power. It means knowing that I get to rest, delighting in the joy of Christ's presence while he does all the heavy lifting.