I remember what it felt like as a child needing comfort and receiving it. To hear my mother say, “Come here” when I was hurting and relaxing in the rest of her arms. Even if my need arose from something I had done wrong, I found welcome and respite from my distress in my mother’s arms.
We grownups don’t get that much anymore.
But Jesus offers it. It’s part of the deal when you receive Him as Savior. He says in Matthew 11:28-30:
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.
Oh my, what a wonder. The great God of the universe, holy, perfect, mighty, infinite, bids me, unvirtuous, flawed, weak, limited, to come to him when I am burdened, even and especially when that burden is self-imposed. Even when the affliction comes from his hand, he doesn’t push me away in annoyance or impatience. He doesn’t dismiss me with a “suck it up, buttercup.” He simply and warmly says, “Come.”
Come, All Who Labor
Everything requires effort. We shouldn’t be surprised. Striving in work was the verdict for humans after the fall (Genesis 3:19). So from yard work to parenting to marriage to maintaining our health, life is toil. And toil is ceaseless.
Most of us grab reprieves from physical labor at one time or another, but mental and emotional labor is another story. Fighting our inner battles, resisting selfishness, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Wondering if we measure up, wrestling with guilt over parenting decisions, contending in our marriage, perseverating on the past, fearing the future.
But Jesus says, “Come.”
Come, All Who Are Heavy Laden
I am in my sixth decade of life, and I don’t remember one year that didn’t involve some level of struggle. My sin and the sin of others press down on me, and some days the burden is crushing. I don’t have a mother to run to anymore. My husband is often a comfort to me, but he is also under a burden, and sometimes he is the cause of my struggle (and I of his). Nobody on the planet can offer me comfort for the deep striving that sometimes wearies my soul.
But God says, “Come.”
Come, And I Will Give You Rest
Rest is a reprieve, a replacement of striving, even if only for a little while. Rest isn’t necessarily being still, but it is taking a break from working. When I crochet or watch a movie, spend time with my family, or do something I enjoy, I rest from work—resting from obligations—resting from the beaten path. But it’s temporary, and very soon the work starts up again.
And in our own strength, is there ever rest from worry?
But the Holy Spirit says, “Come.”
Rest in Trial
God’s rest is internal and eternal. The rest he offers is “rest for your soul” (Matthew 11:29). God’s rest doesn’t mean cessation of trial. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promised (John 16:33). But God’s rest is rest in the trial. It is a respite from the effects of the trial.
God’s rest is rooted in his promises. It is anchored in hope. It is knowing that he is real, his Word is true, and he is sufficient. His promises offer assurance that supersedes labor and burdens. The rest is inner, in our soul, and in our mind. God offers rest from striving, from worrying, and from doubt. The Scriptures are replete with abiding promises that act as a balm to put our mind at ease.
John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides, called by God to bring the gospel to the cannibalistic natives living there. Virtually every moment he spent among the indigenous people, his life was in danger. In his autobiography, he recalls an incident in which he spent hours hiding in a tree from a group of men who were seeking to take his life:
The hours spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me and speak more soothingly in my soul than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves and the night air played on my throbbing brow as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge spending many nights alone in such a tree, feeling my Savior’s spiritual presence again, and enjoying His consoling fellowship.
That is soul rest.
The Burden of Christ
Jesus does not tell us we will be without burdens. He says to replace our burdens with the burden of his yoke. A yoke is a device meant for labor. John Piper explained:
(Jesus) makes clear that this yoke is his teaching. The Jews thought of the law as a yoke. Jesus said, “No, I’ve got a yoke for you. It’s my teaching. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” So it’s like Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). It’s rest in walking. Not rest from a walking, but rest in walking. He says in this beautiful passage about rest, “I’m gentle, I’m lowly. And that’s the reason my burden is light and my yoke is easy — because I’m gentle and lowly.” What he meant was, “I’m not a hard slave master. I don’t stand over you with a whip: Crack! Crack! ‘Do my word!’ Crack! Crack! I get down low underneath you and I lift you up.”
The burden of Christ shines a light into our circumstances, adjusting our perspective toward affliction until we view it as “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that will take the place of our earthly trial (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Run to Christ
The Hymn I Run to Christ captures the essence of the rest we receive when we acquiesce to God’s offer to come to him.
I run to Christ when chased by fear and find a refuge sure.
“Believe in me,” His voice I hear; His words and wounds secure.
I run to Christ when torn by grief and find abundant peace.
“I too had tears,” He gently speaks; Thus joy and sorrow meet.
I run to Christ when worn by life and find my soul refreshed.
“Come unto Me,” He calls thru strife; fatigue gives way to rest.
I run to Christ when vexed by hell and find a mighty arm.
“The Devil flees,” the Scriptures tell; He roars, but cannot harm.
I run to Christ when stalked by sin and find a sure escape.
“Deliver me,” I cry to Him; temptation yields to grace.
I run to Christ when plagued by shame and find my one defense.
“I bore God’s wrath,” He pleads my case—my Advocate and Friend.
Coming to God means turning to him in prayer, Scripture, and obedience and submission. It is a quiet resolve, a conscious, Spirit-compelled choice to turn our thoughts to him and away from our troubles. His offer to come is not fleeting, and it does not expire. He bids us come to him again and again and again, boldly, desperately, without a hint of condemnation. We will find inexhaustible comfort and a sweet, ceaseless rest for our weary and burdened soul in him.