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The solution for a stressed soul

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30

Rogers Cadenhead is one stressed individual. The Florida resident and technology author registered www.benedictXVI.com shortly before the new pope took that name. Now he’s heard offers from all kinds of businesses which want to purchase the site. He promises not to sell it to pornographers or others who would use it improperly, and in fact is trying to arrange its sale to the Vatican.

He says he’d like “one of those big papal hats, and maybe three days/two nights at the Vatican hotel they built for the conclave.” His site received 1,000 hits a minute after the election. But he promises not to anger 1.1 billion Catholics: “Even though I’m a lapsed Catholic, I’m not lapsed that far.” He’s a wise man.

Mr. Cadenhead is not the only person under stress today. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology reports that during exams, students are less likely to control their behaviors. They eat more junk food, exercise less, and leave more dishes in the sink. They also neglect to shave, brush their teeth, wash their hair, change their clothes, and do laundry. Sounds like a normal day for me in college.

Workplace stress continues to grow, sparked by demands for increased productivity and longer hours; the need to gather and synthesize growing amounts of information; job insecurity; and the need to balance obligations between work and family as women enter the workforce worldwide.

Twenty five to 40 percent of U.S. workers say they deal with burnout caused by stress. Depression caused by stress is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century. $300 billion is spent annually in the U.S. on stress-related issues.

Women who work full-time and have children under the age of 13 report the greatest stress worldwide. More than 20 percent of all executives and professionals say they are “super-stressed.”

The six leading causes of death in America are heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. Each is linked directly to stress.

Some of us are experiencing acute stress today, dealing with short-term issues which cause anxiety and pressure. Some of us are victims of “episodic acute stress,” living in a constant state of acute stress.

But many of us are dealing with chronic stress, defined by one physician as “the grinding stress that wears people away day after day, year after year.” It results from situations which have no solution, unrelenting demands and pressures, a sense that things will never get better.

Whether you’re stressed today or you will be tomorrow, there is only one solution guaranteed to work. Only one way to find a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose which transcends the struggles of the moment. Only one way to get ready for acute stress, and to get rid of chronic stress.

I need this week’s study as much as you do. Let’s find help together.

Read your invitation

“Come to me,” our text begins. Jesus constantly invited people to come to himself. The fishermen and tax collectors who became his disciples, the lepers and prostitutes who became his followers–always he was inviting others to follow him.

“Come” means “come on.” It is both an invitation and an encouragement. “Hither to me”–hurry on to me, now.

Who?

“All the ones laboring.” This is in the active tense–those who are wearing themselves out today with work, what we would call “acute stress,” the stress and burden of the moment. Jesus knows that we all face such stress. If his invitation applies to you, you have met every requirement to come to him.

And those “having been burdened.” The tense expresses a state of weariness, the kind of chronic stress that others place on us. The immediate context is likely the Jewish law, 613 daily requirements the people must follow. For instance, a woman could not look at herself in a mirror on the Sabbath, lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it–which would be “work,” a violation of the law. There were 612 other laws like that. More generally, his words apply to all of us who are living under the constant grind of demands placed on us.

Whether your stress is acute or chronic, self-imposed or caused by the world around you, you’re invited to Jesus’ promise. Stress is the only requirement.

What happens when we come to him? “I will rest you.” “I” is emphatic, implying that only Jesus can do this. The syntax is similar to a doctor’s promise, “I will heal you.” “Rest” means to refresh or reinvigorate. It is the picture of a weary, tired person being refreshed by water and rest. Something like a sideline rest for a player, or a pit stop for a race car.

How?

“Take my yoke on you.” The yoke was used by the master to control the animal, usually a donkey or ox. As each animal’s shoulders and neck were different, a good yoke was fitted specifically and personally. The yoke then told the animal where to go, when to go, and how fast and how far to go. Everything the ox needs to know, the yoke tells him.

“My” yoke shows that we are to choose his alone. There are many yokes you can wear–the one you design for yourself, your own plans and ambitions; or the yoke made for you by your employer or colleagues, or friends or culture, or religion or family. Jesus says to wear his yoke, his plan, his direction only.

“Learn from me,” sometimes translated “enroll in my school.” The rabbis of Jesus’ day typically had schools of disciples. Here is Jesus’ invitation to enroll in his school of life. We may not be able to go to Harvard or Stanford, but we are all accepted into the university of the God of the universe.

Why? “Because,” for this reason. He is “gentle.” The Greek is praus, which means to do always the right thing and never the wrong thing. His will and purpose are always best and right for us.

He is “humble in heart,” the One who is humbled before his Father and his plan. Jesus wants only that which honors and glorifies his Father. He wants our good and God’s glory.

We will “find rest for your souls.” This is the second time he has made this promise. Anything repeated twice by a Holy God is guaranteed!

His yoke is “easy.” The word means that it fits properly and well, like a tailor-made suit or dress. It is perfect for us.

And his “burden is light,” for it is made exactly for us. When I carry luggage through an airport, if the strap fits my back the burden is much lighter than when it cuts off my circulation or slips from my shoulder.

Now, what does this invitation mean to us today? Four facts are clear.

Answer your Lord

God has a yoke for you. The gods of the ancient world were mean and capricious. In the movie Troy, for instance, the gods afflict people with plague and disaster. Or they are weak and irrelevant, as the sun god which Achilles beheads with his sword. The gods are more powerful than us, but just as sinful.

The god of the modern world is a clockmaker who created the world but no longer interferes with its operations. No miracles, no intervention, no relevance, a grandfather watching his children play.

The god of the postmodern world is personal, individual, subjective. Your truth, your faith, not mine. Spirituality = sincerity + tolerance.

The God Jesus represents is personal, individual, and relevant. He knows the hairs on your head, and sees tomorrow from today. He has a yoke which he has made specifically for you, a plan and purpose for every day of your life.

God’s yoke is best for you. It fits perfectly and makes your load light.

His yoke is his plan “to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). His will is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Because he made you, he knows what yoke fits you best. He knows what purpose will most fulfill his glory and your good.

God has prepared you for your purpose. Such is true of every person used greatly by the Lord in all of Scripture. Moses was “educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22). Josephus states that he was “educated with great care. So the Hebrews depended on him, and were of good hopes that great things would be done by him; but the Egyptians were suspicious of what would follow his education” (Antiquities 2.9.7). He was prepared for his purpose.

When Saul of Tarsus was learning the larger Roman culture, he had no idea he would use such knowledge to win intellectuals to faith in Christ on Mars Hill (Acts 17) or serve as God’s apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-8). When he learned to master the Hebrew Scriptures, he did not know he would quote them across the Roman Empire. Matthew did not know that the stenographic skills he perfected in tax collecting would one day enable him to record the Sermon on the Mount. God has prepared you for your purpose. His yoke fits best.

You must choose to wear his yoke.. Unlike an ox or donkey, you have a choice in the matter. You can make your own yoke, or wear someone else’s. But you can wear only one at a time. You’re wearing one now–the only question is whose.

The key to purpose is humility, choosing to serve God rather than yourself. It is the decision every single day that you will serve God’s glory and not your own, that you will submit to his authority and not your own, that you will pay any personal price to be faithful to his will. That you will go where he leads you and let the chips fall. You cannot wear his yoke and your own. And only you can make the right choice.

You wear his yoke by surrendering to his Spirit. Now we come to the topic of the spring–being committed daily to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, every Christian among us is commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), to be yielded every day to the Spirit’s leading and direction. When last did you make that decision? When next will you make it?

Conclusion

My first pastor was a great storyteller. My favorite of all his stories is one I’ve repeated often since. It concerns F. B. Meyer, one of the greatest preachers of his generation, and the young minister he had preach for him one Sunday. The man spoke with a power Dr. Meyer had never before encountered, so he asked the man his secret. He said, “I don’t have any secret. It’s just that I’ve given all the keys of my life to the Lord.” That night Dr. Meyer had a dream in which an angel came to ask for his keys. He gave all but one, and the angel said, “All or none.” Finally he gave that last key, and his ministry and life were never the same.

Dr. Meyer later made a statement I discovered this week: “the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ is present in all true Christians. He is prominent in some, and he is pre-eminent, alas, in only a few.” Meyer spent the rest of his life and work trying to convince people to make Jesus pre-eminent in their lives.

Would those who know you best say that the Spirit is present in your life? Prominent? Pre-eminent?

Whose yoke are you wearing today?