“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, 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.”
If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying a relationship. Jesus said that a relationship with Him would bring rest to your soul. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life.
Hard work or lack of sleep can make you tired. This fatigue can usually be remedied by a good rest. But there is a deeper fatigue that goes beyond physical tiredness. There is an emotional exhaustion that comes from experiencing heavy burdens and draining crises. There is a tiredness deep within your soul that comes from carrying the weight of the needs of others. You can go on a vacation, but your soul will not be restored. This condition can only be rectified by finding rest in Christ.
Some zealous Christians want to do all they can to serve Christ, and they exhaust themselves in the process. It was to these that Jesus extended His invitation to go to Him and learn from Him. Jesus spent most of His earthly ministry surrounded by needy multitudes. He faced relentless opposition, He often prayed throughout the night, and He rarely had any privacy; yet He always received the rest and strength that came from His Father. It was not that Jesus did not work hard but that He knew the path to spiritual rest. Are you weary? Go to Jesus and let Him give you His rest. His rest will restore your soul and nothing else can.Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God Day by Day, pg 349
It is ironic that these comments are written to accompany Matthew 11:28-29, since that passage emphasizes the nature of the word religion, as used in scripture. Blackaby, however, inaccurately contrasts relationship with religion, using the word differently than does the Bible.
Religion comes to us from the Latin word ligare: to bind; which also serves as the root from which we get ligament (which binds muscle to bone). Religion, in other words, is comprised of the practices (or lifestyle) which bind our affections to a god. What does a yoke do? Binds two oxen to one another, and to the purpose and direction of the ox-driver.
The mistake, then, is not in practicing religion, but in attempting to earn God’s affection and blessing. There are, of course, only two religions: true and false, or Christianity and Paganism. The contrast should not be described as between religion and relationship, but between true religion (inclusive of healthy relationship) and legalism. Dallas Willard was fond of saying it this way, “Grace is opposed to earning not to effort.”
Another way to say this would be that the mistake is not in laboring, but in who one is laboring for (inclusive of for oneself). The religion vs relationship dichotomy is false, and we do ourselves a disservice by continuing it. We also impugn God’s plan for our good in so doing.
All relationship requires submission to forms to survive and thrive; without it the relationship atrophies. What if we attempted to preserve our marital relationship without spending time together, without dedicating ourself exclusively to that man or that woman, without prioritizing that relationship above others? I can only find rest in my relationship with my wife if I have properly nurtured that relationship by practicing its forms.
“Take my yoke upon you…” what was a yoke for? To enable the oxen to work together in concert with the farmer’s purpose. Want to enjoy rest for your soul? You were saved, according to God’s eternal purpose, so that you might walk after Him, practicing His assigned ways.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)