According to the American Psychological Association (APA), few Americans get enough sleep. As a result, they report, “Many people are carrying a heavy ‘sleep debt’ that they have built up from weeks, months or even years of inadequate sleep.”
We suffer from a similar problem spiritually. We begin this study on the topic of rest with Christ’s invitation to enter into His rest. The most surprising feature of this invitation might be the instrument that Jesus promises to use to cure our deficit of rest: the yoke. A yoke was a piece of wood shaped to fit over the neck of a beast of burden, sometimes used to join two animals into a team to pull a heavy load. A farmer used a yoke to exploit the strength of the animal that bore it.
Jesus’ invitation to rest, combined with this surprising metaphor of the yoke, implies that we are already under a different kind of yoke. Instead of helping us bear our load, it leaves us “weary and burdened” (v. 28). For some, this is the burden of trying to please God by doing our best. For others, it is the exhaustion from trying to run from Him. The solution is not to try harder or to turn over a new leaf. The remedy for our spiritual restlessness is to receive. Rest is a gift before it is a practice.
Another word for this rest is grace, which is too often in short supply even in our churches. Author Mark Galli observes: “What I’m hearing time and again, in every corner of the church I visit, is not the soaring message of grace but the dull message of works—that I have to believe a certain theological construct, or have a certain feeling, or perspire in effort before I can be assured of God’s radical acceptance and my future salvation.”