The Yoke of Understanding

H. G. "Butch" Walker

H. G. "Butch" Walker

Butch and his wife Karaña are friends of the Tittles.  Butch is certified by the Association for Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)

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.”

As familiar and comforting as those verses are, I must admit that I have often struggled to really understand them. First of all, it’s one of those typical Jesus statements that seem almost paradoxical because we don’t typically think of finding freedom by taking on a yoke. But as I’ve counseled myself and others in the midst of trials with these words, I’ve often felt a twinge of discontinuity in them. What was Jesus really promising here, because the Christian life often seems far from easy or light?

So how can we reconcile an “easy and light” yoke with Jesus’ promises that we would suffer and have trouble in this world? Certainly we don’t see the circumstances of Jesus’ life being easy or light. He experienced great agony and pain and, if we are yoked to him, promised that we would also.

Yet He offers “rest for your souls.” I know that in the midst of the refining fire in my own life, my soul definitely needs rest. I am often characterized by a great restlessness of soul, trying to figure out how to get out of the heat. What would it mean to have rest for my soul in the midst of that? I think there are clues to Jesus’ meaning both in these verses and in the context.

First, the context: the preceding verses (vv 25-26) put a lot of value on a simple, childlike faith. Jesus is praying to His Father and thanks Him for the way that He has “hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Where those who consider themselves wise have a tendency to try to figure things out intellectually, the child simply receives and trusts his father. These comments come in the form of a prayer of the Son to the Father and are followed by expressions of the deepest intimate knowledge in verse 27.

So as we come to Jesus’ call to come and rest, we see him tell us we must do two things: take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. But what is it we are to learn? We are to learn from Him – that is, to learn by watching Him. And the Savior describes himself as “gentle and lowly in heart.”

This reminds me of Psalm 131:


Psalm 131

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

Here David expresses a heart that is calm and quiet because he has learned to not occupy his mind with things that are too great and too marvelous for him. He trusts God with things that are beyond his understanding. And I believe the Son of David is expressing a similar spirit when He says He is gentle and lowly in heart. The Son has complete faith and trust in the Father, so His soul is able to find rest, even in the midst of great trials, by knowing that “such was your gracious will (v 26).”

I know that much of my restless soul is related to the fact that I don’t understand what God is doing and it doesn’t make sense to me. But how would things be different if I were able to simply exercise a childlike faith that trusts that, regardless of how things look, my Father knows what He is doing and has not abandoned His promises to me. If I just simply recognized that understanding these things may be “too great and marvelous for me.”

Let us press into our Father’s breast and simply trust that He is going to take care of us. Then maybe we will find true gospel rest for our souls.

How about you? Do you wrestle with trying to understand God’s process of refinement? Share your comments below so we can seek to encourage one another in faith.

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