“<sup class="xref" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; line-height: 0.5em; vertical-align: text-top;" value="(AM)”>Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and <sup class="xref" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; line-height: 0.5em; vertical-align: text-top;" value="(AN)”>learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and <sup class="xref" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; line-height: 0.5em; vertical-align: text-top;" value="(AO)”>you will find rest for your soul. For <sup class="xref" style="font-size: 0.65em; font-weight: bold; line-height: 0.5em; vertical-align: text-top;" value="(AP)”>My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”
One of my roommates and I were talking the other night about a host of things as the day wound down. One recurring topic centered on our task to follow Christ in some tangible, quantifiable way — a way in which we can jot down each instance and point to God and say, “Look at what I have done for the Kingdom! The world is changing and changed because of this!” Praise God for the transformation of his people, through the work and efforts of those following him!
Skye Jethani refers to this posturing of the soul as a life lived for God. For most of us, this reality is seen as the ultimate telos (end) of existence. Once we reach this status (we believe), we finally become who God created us to be. We emphasize terms such as mission(al), evangelism, and social justice when we discuss the portrait of a Christian. Most likely, our hearts long for Africa or Asia or maybe even the homeless in our own community. Jesus and his disciples were on mission for the poor, so we must do the same. We must pine for those whom he pines for.
Personally, my soul usually remains in this state of being. I find myself, in moments (minutes/hours/days) of despair, reflecting upon my effectiveness as a tool of the Gospel. “Why don’t I know more customers at Starbucks?” “Why am I not pouring into more students at TCA?” “Why am I not more social? I am missing opportunities because of introversion.” “Why did I not help that homeless man on the street corner? I mean, he only asked for a buck.”
The commonality in each question that swims through my head is the subject “I.” The yoke of Christ, which should rest so gently upon my weary, sinful shoulders, weighs me down in the same way the stones weighed down Virginia Woolf. In reality, the thing in which I think is the yoke of Christ is really something else. It is the yoke of my perception of the Christian life. Work for the kingdom is accomplished.
“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife…What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice (Philippians 1).”
Even though my missional activity bears itself initially in my envy, strife, and pretense, Christ is still proclaimed. While I ponder and beat myself over the questions above, somehow and someway God uses me. I lead a life so unaware of my fellow man, yet by His grace, others occasionally see Christ in me.
Do I allow my soul to continuously and solely pursue the life for God posture, even though he uses us in it? By no means!
The distinction needs to made that our end is not to live for God, but to live with God. A life with God can not flow from a life for God, but a life for God can most definitely flow from a life with God. Because we live so much within the for posture, we forget that “We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased’ (C.S. Lewis — Problem of Pain).”
The recognition of God’s love for us only drenches our soul by way of his gift of Grace. This realization shocks, yet soothes, the anxiety ridden life for God. Then, all of the sudden, with the sweat and blood still fresh from our toil, the yoke is virtually non-existent. You still work, but it is restful.
Have you ever met someone who laughed or scoffed at the notion that his job resembled our cultural definition of “work?” You know, they find so much joy in their labor that they lose themselves completely in their task and desire nothing more than to continue their task day in and day out?
So it is with the work derived from the yoke of Christ. You lose yourself to the point where you live out God’s will unconsciously. Your desire to live for God fades away. All that remains is a soul that is with God, united at last, for a few breaths.
Oh, but what a sweet few breaths!
Just as a breath comes and goes without any cognizant recollection of its existence, so does this yoke of Christ. For “perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for his own sake alone” (Thomas Merton — New Seeds of Contemplation). One within a life with God does not even realize they are in that posture. Their souls absorbs and reflects his love to such a degree that they move about their day unaware of themselves. The joy overflows and covers all aspects of their self, leaving them completely blind to their self.
But, in our fallen nature, we really pine for the yoke powered by our own strength. We love the tangibility of it. Yet, as our souls become tattered and beaten from our exhausting selves, God infuses us with his ever peaceful Grace. As Thomas Merton says:
“there are times in the life of a man when [living a life for God] can become an escape, an anodyne, a refuge from the responsibility of suffering in darkness and obscurity and helplessness, and allowing God to strip us of our false selves and make us into the new men that we are really meant to be.”
This idea of losing yourself upon the restful yoke of Christ seems so ambiguous and mysterious, yet at the same time, in its unintelligible transcendence, it allows us to truly be — a soul with God.