God may have shared some burdens with you – they are heavy, but bearable:
Everyone you meet is carrying some kind of burden. It can be anything: a failed relationship; a ruined business; a major health problem; a broken marriage; a collapse of a career; estrangement from loved ones; the death of a family member; and so on.
But the Christian carries an additional set of burdens. Those who love the Lord and seek to serve him faithfully will be heavily burdened by various other things as well: the shocking state of the world; sin in their own life; those who are not yet saved; the spiritual decline of the churches; the moral downfall of the culture; the longing for heaven; and so on.
Indeed, living in a fallen world, the true follower of Christ will always be burdened in so many ways. And God may actually give us certain burdens that he asks us to carry. Sure, as we will see in a moment, he shares with us in carrying that load. We are not left on our own.
Yet he gives to his beloved burdens. I can tell you what my burden is. In fact, anyone familiar with what is found on my website should know what burdens me. As I have said before, I sense a calling from the Lord to be a watchman on the wall. To be a sort of prophetic voice – to speak truth into a culture that hates the truth.
To seek to do this faithfully is a burden. A heavy burden. Other Christians would know about these sorts of things. I and others sometimes feel we will break under this heavy load. And it is in many ways a very private load. Others are not carrying the loads that we are carrying. Others may not understand the burdens that we daily bear.
But we endure and press on, because of certain basic truths that we cling to. One thing that sustains us is to realise that these burdens are actually gifts. Yes, you heard that right. Consider what Philippians 1:29 says: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
The verb ‘granted’ or ‘given freely’ that is used here is interesting. The Greek word charis is the noun form of this, and we speak of things like the charismata, or the gifts of the Spirit. Here Paul says we were graciously gifted not just with faith, but with suffering as well.
Suffering for Christ, as Paul and other New Testament writers make clear, should not be viewed as something strange and to be avoided at all costs. Instead, it is actually a gift given to us from God. As the risen Lord had told Ananias just after Saul was converted, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).
Paul repeatedly rejoices in suffering for Christ (see Romans 5:3 for example). Or as he put it a few chapters later: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18).
Sure, the burdens that Paul carried were not easy, but knowing that he was doing it for the Lord, knowing that he was sharing in Christ’s sufferings, made it all worthwhile. And he often lists the hardships, trials and burdens that he is going through. I especially like the list he offers in 2 Corinthians 11:22-28.
There he enumerates all sorts of things like beatings and imprisonments, but he concludes in verse 28 by stating what really weighs him down: “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” His burden for the churches is what tops off his list of hardships.
That is the burden he daily carries. But he was faithful in carrying this, and we must also be faithful in carrying whatever particular burden the Lord has laid on us. Giving up is not an option – too much is at stake. The assignment or the calling or the mission or the burden that God has gifted us IS bearable.
Sure, in our own strength it will be unbearable. But we are promised that we will not be alone. God is always with us as we do his work and carry his burdens. This familiar bit of dialogue from The Fellowship of the Ring is fitting:
“‘And now,’ said Gandalf, turning back to Frodo, ‘the decision lies with you. But I will always help you.’ He laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. ‘I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear. But we must do something, soon. The Enemy is moving’.”
So we are to lay our burden on the Lord. That will not mean we have no load to carry, but it means we will have one who is more than adequate to help us carry it. And Jesus is our model here. While Tolkien’s Frodo had to carry his burden (the ring) for some of his adult life, Jesus had to carry his burden (the cross) throughout.
His burden was something that he carried with him all his life, until he finally carried an actual wooden cross on the way to his death. But recall what Scripture tells us about this heavy burden: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
There is that theme of joy again. I am not minimising the heavy burdens that many of you may be carrying right now. But again, if this is a burden placed on you by our Lord, then we must know that it is sustainable and a valuable burden to carry.
One of my favourite Spurgeon quotes comes to mind here: “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart. When you are so weak that you cannot do much more than cry, you coin diamonds with both your eyes. The sweetest prayers God ever hears are the groans and sighs of those who have no hope in anything but his love.”
And we must recognise the somewhat paradoxical nature of all this. On the one hand, God graciously gives us concerns, burdens and callings that will not always be a walk in the park. But on the other hand, he tells us to cast those burdens back on to him. As 1 Peter 5:7 says: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”.
I conclude with a few lines from a book I have recommended previously. In Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), Dane Ortlund says this:
The point in saying that Jesus is lowly is that he is accessible. For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ. No prerequisites. No hoops to jump through. The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.”
You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control, Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.
So let me encourage you to simply keep going. Whatever God has called you to do, whatever concerns of his heart that he has kindly shared with you, keep on keeping on. Yes at times you want to quit. At times you will want to give up.
But never forget, Jesus did not give up. He went all the way to Calvary for us, and we need to do the same for him.