Take My Yoke
This is how I felt just 24 hours after feeling inspired by the new year. I knew my mission (see last week's post: The Sound of Hope), was armed with anticipation to master time without it mastering me, and if I paused long enough to listen, I could hear the sounds of hope all around. Yet, that groove was quickly fading. The rhythm of anticipation was being replaced with a song of fear.
Pressure mounted. Anxiety resurfaced. Discontentment loomed.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
I stopped in my tracks. The words highlighted, bold, neon: Take my yoke upon you.
Take the yoke of Jesus upon you, not your own.
I was putting the yoke of my own making upon me. In my fervent endeavors to achieve the accomplishments of the day, I felt spent, discouraged, and shamed. And in the midst of the pressure, His still, small voice whispered, “My yoke. Not yours.”
What is this yoke of Christ?
Help me to learn it, to know it, to embrace it.
There are over 50 references to yoke in the Bible. It seems the imagery is important if we are to understand the nature of Christ's yoke. When I picture a yoke, I imagine a wooden bar holding two oxen together. Those flannel graph days of early childhood left vivid imprints.
Those same images remain so real today that when I read in 1 Samuel 6:10 the cows used to pull the cart housing the ark of the Lord were placed together in a yoke, I have a very clear picture in my mind. Elijah, famous prophet of God that he was, plowed with twelve yoke of oxen (I Kings 19:19).
There is an earthly feel to these images, which invoke realism in such a way the truth feels like it can be cleaned out from underneath one’s fingernails.
Christ's yoke is down-to-earth real. Attainable. For me, for you.
If the yoke of Christ is attainable, what do these images imply?
First, the yoke imprints the idea of bondage. The animals in a yoke were subjected to the service of their owner. Whatever their Master had in mind, those animals did. This literal picture eventually gave way to many figurative references in the Bible to slavery. Lamentations 1:14 shows that sin is a yoke around one’s neck, breaking free from the yoke of slavery is found in numerous other passages, and even Christians are encouraged not to return to the yoke of the law in Galatians 5:1:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
If this is a yoke, why would I want to attain to it? If it possesses the figurative idea of bondage and slavery, the thought of taking a yoke upon our shoulders makes one shudder.
There’s a second imprint the image of a yoke implies: joining. Once those animals were hitched, there was no way they could be separated from one another. This was a good thing so that they worked together to accomplish a task. However, the union of the yoke described in most Biblical passages is negative, such as Paul’s warning that unbelievers and believers not be yoked together (2 Cor. 6:14).
What I find fascinating is that Christ takes this negative imagery of union and slavery and turns it upside down, right-side up. The bondage of Christ's yoke is not a burden. Joining to his yoke is light. We find a paradox in the burden and union.
There can be freedom in slavery, when one is enslaved to Christ.
There can be sweet release when one is joined to the Father.
In my human effort to lessen my burdens, relieve the stresses of the day, I actually tighten the noose around my neck. By taking on my own yoke I become bound to my burdens, joined to the pressures of my own making. I end up chasing more when I should be chasing less.
Everything is not urgent. I need holy discernment to know what is and what is not. In the words of Priscilla Shirer,
"A free woman possesses the God-given ability to know when He is truly asking her to do something--as well as the God-given ability to know when He's not. Then she has the God-given discernment to know her limits and the authority to know when she needs 'to cease, to stop, to pause.'"
To cease in the moment and take on the yoke of Christ. To stop and pause long enough to be joined to Him. Give me this discernment to find the right kind of rest. Am I taking on the yoke of Christ or my own? Give me Your yoke.
Let me find myself living the lyrics of the cross in the beautiful paradox: The heavy yoke is easy. The burden is light.