Our pastor preached a good sermon this past Sunday on the spiritual discipline of solitude. Among his points, he noted that Jesus spent alone time with God as he balanced his public ministry and private teaching. Our pastor then connected Jesus' prayer times with Jesus' own words:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 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 (Matt. 11:28).
If we are weary and burdened, we can set aside time to spent with Jesus (in whatever form that may take: Bible reaching, prayer, fellowship, worship, or a combination).
I liked our pastor's point, because I hadn't connected this verse with Jesus' prayer time.
This Matthew 11 verse bothered me when I first read it, years ago. Jesus' teachings in, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount constitute a very high standard, after all: how, then, can Jesus' "yoke" be "easy"? His yoke (that is, our discipleship and our obedience to him) seemed hard.
Well.... it is! But we're not supposed to be out there trudging along and doing things on our own. We can approach Jesus for help, without fear that he'll disapprove of our weakness and failure (Heb. 4:14-16). We can call upon divine help for our worries and burdens, knowing that our prayers are heard with gentleness.
As our pastor noted, we discover Jesus as a source of rest and gentleness for our souls, when we spend time with him as he spent time with God. Setting aside times of solitude can be powerful sources of divine help.
It's not easy to find such times. I’m the son of a man who worked 12-15 hour days as a truck driver, and I’ve had students who are raising children, working full-time jobs, and also taking classes. I’m sympathetic to the challenge of working even basic Bible reading into your schedule, even when you’re interested in doing so. I read a Newsweek article about the evangelist Billy Graham, who said that if he could life his life over, he would’ve read the Bible and theology more.(1) Even Billy Graham!
Taking on Jesus' "yoke" is challenging too. How, for instance, do you practice love, kindness, gentleness and patience—fruit of the Spirit that are not negotiable—in circumstances where you must be firm and harsh, and even duplicitous and adversarial? How can you be a faithful student of Jesus’ in a difficult world wherein his teachings might not seem "workable"?
But, again, we have only divine power available to us for help, understanding, and guidance. God's Spirit is way, way ahead of us.
1. "Pilgrim’s Progress" by Jon Meacham, Newsweek (Aug. 14, 2006), pages 42-43.