by Danetta Kellar
The yoke hung rough and golden in the evening sunlight. It bore no decorative paint, no soft cushioning. It was fashioned out of necessity and practicality. Hewn from splintery wood by work-weary hands, iron rings hammered out with a farmer’s patience. A yoke much like it had been crafted generations ago by my great-great-grandfather on this very farm. With it his horses trod and cut this mountainside into submission, made the rough and rocky terrain into a fertile place where food could grow to nourish many. We are still being fed by the work of his yoke. I am resting today because he worked so hard long ago.
There is Another whose labor so long ago has brought us rest today. One who trod and cut the mountainside of our sin into submission, making the rough and rocky terrain of our souls into fertile places where love could grow. We are still being fed by the work of that wooden yoke, that rough-hewn object of labor on which Jesus finished the work of redemption.
Are you at rest today? Deep, soul rest? Are you resting today in the work Jesus did for you long ago? Or are you exhausted, worn, weary deep on the inside?
Jesus promises rest for our souls. Real rest. And paradoxically, He takes an object of work and suffering, a yoke, and declares it will rest us in our souls.
Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.
I did not understand the significance of Jesus’ words about the yoke and its relationship to rest until one day long ago on a quiet road in the North African countryside. We were making the long scenic drive across the country, through rolling fields and grove after grove of green olive trees. I was gazing out the window, about to doze off.
Suddenly I sat up with a jolt and stared, as I saw in a field by the road two animals yoked together with a yoke that looked very much like the old-fashioned wooden ones my great-great-grandfather built long ago on our old family farm. One of the animals was a stunning, spotless, white horse. The other was a small, dirty donkey.
We lived in a country where only the king owned horses. This, however, was a humble farm with a little stone house in the distance. We had never seen a horse except on the days when the king rode through our city or his men did special ceremonies in his honor. Donkeys, on the other hand, were common. They did most of the work and were not highly esteemed. I saw them daily as they carried mounds of trash, their backs weighted down with loads double their height.
We were quite fascinated by the unusual sight before us and pulled over to get a better look. A magnificent, gigantic horse, and a humble, dirty donkey. Yoked together. How could this ever work?
The white horse was prancing, head lifted high, looking straight ahead. I fancied I saw anticipation and joy on his face. The donkey, however, stood stock still, staring at the dirt, unmoving, as if he were saying to himself, “I’ve got to plow this? Impossible..”
Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke and learn from Me…
The verse shot through my heart like a swift arrow, right to its mark.
I was just like that donkey.
Stuck in the circumstances of my life, discouraged, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Head hanging down, staring at the dirt. Stubbornly refusing to believe that this field could be plowed.
Jesus, however, my Yokefellow, was prancing with anticipation for what God had ahead for us! And the contrast between that huge horse’s size and the size of the puny donkey was downright laughable. Just like my strength compared to Jesus’ strength.
The rough, uncomfortable yoke didn’t matter. I wouldn’t feel it because I couldn’t even pull it. He was going to pull it and take the discomfort, and my job was to look up and walk with Him.
Jesus’ work. Mine and His together. Not mine alone, all by myself, in my puny strength. His yoke. Not mine.
The Message version of Matthew 11:28-29 puts it this way:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me— watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Jesus invites us to walk with Him and work with Him, to watch how He does it. When we exchange our yoke for His, we begin a new part of the journey of rest. Learning how He does it.
This is the secret of the unforced rhythms of grace. He is pulling, we are cooperating. He is leading, we are following. Together we are working.
He sets the grace rhythm with His joy-prancing. For He sees the future. Yours and mine and His together.
And glory to God, the field behind us lies in neatly plowed rows. The field we found impossible in our own strength.
He rests us, even as we plow.
Are you stuck in your circumstances today? Head hung low, staring at what looks like an impossible task? Lift your head, look up and walk with Jesus. He will pull the yoke.
This is real rest.
How do you find soul rest? Share your best practices with us in the comments section below.
Jesus takes an object of work and suffering, a yoke, and declares it will rest us in our souls. (Click to Tweet)