I should not be surprised that I have a burden. Jesus tells us that, when we come to faith in him, we will have to pick up our burdensome cross in imitation of him and follow to the same place where he is going. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), and more, “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
Having a burden to carry is an integral part of being a disciple of Jesus. If one does not have a burden then I would say there is something wrong with one’s discipleship. Further, when one has a calling to leadership or responsibility (and leadership can be of many different types other than church leadership) the sense of the burden one carries is only increased.
And so here I am… both carrying a burden and called to contentedness. They seem to be incompatible, yet the Bible tells me that both burden and content are a part of what it is to be a mature disciple of Jesus. The truth is this… burden and contentment are only really compatible when we are close to God.
I believe that it is true to say that my burden is either my own, someone else’s, or it is Gods. In whatever case, it should not be impossible to be content and burdened.
- If my burden is my own, then I can be released from it by taking it to the Father in prayer and receive rest and healing. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28).
- If my burden is someone else’s then there are two possibilities. First, for many reasons, I may not need to carry it at all and so I should lay it down. Second, I may be sharing in it out of brotherhood and love (Galatians 6:2) which means I can pass it on to Jesus in the same way as I pass on my own burden. This can also be the case when a burden is God’s and I adopt it as if it is my own (such as the success of a church or the healing of an individual).
- If I am close to God, however, then I will sense God’s burden for the world. His burden is of love and compassion for a broken world that is overwhelmed by the sin of humanity (John 3:16-17). In this case, it is not my burden, it is His. I simply share in it. God does not really need my help to carry this burden, he allows me to share in it out of love and as a part of my discipleship.
Let me illustrate the final point above more clearly. I have a 4 year old son who loves to share my life with me. He wants to be with me and he imitates my actions (which can be very embarrassing when the actions that he imitates might, at times, be less than edifying). Recently, I was moving a heavy object in our house from one side of the room to the other and my son wanted to help me. I could easily have said “no”, since there is no doubt that it would have been easier for me to do it alone and that he would be no real help. Instead, I said “yes” and we moved it together. In truth, he was no real help at all. He did not have the strength or control to make a difference and he even got in the way a little, making it harder for me to shift the furniture accurately without hurting him. So, why did I let him assist me?
- I love my son and I appreciate his desire to be with me. If my son wants to be a part of my life then I need a really good reason to say no to him. Inconvenience is not a good reason.
- By doing the task together, I was able to teach him how to do the task for himself, maybe with his own son, when he is more grown up.
- He tasted a real sense of responsibility by helping his dad.
- When we have shifted the furniture there were high fives all around. It gave him a share in the achievement and it encouraged him.
These may seem like simple things, but they are profound for his training and belonging. My son, by participating in my burden, learnt how I carry it and what I do with it. Further, he shared in it and experienced it for himself.
Let’s be brutally hones with ourselves as Christians. Jesus does not need us to help him with the burden he carries. The truth is that we gave him the burden to begin with and, more often than not, we seem to get in the way rather than assist. I know that this can be hard to accept when we really, at the heart of things, hold the belief that Jesus needs us and cannot really grow the church or change the world without us. He does not. Jesus’ burden is to save the world and, truthfully, there is no way that I can even make a mark on that burden. Jesus knows it. I know it. We all know it. The burden is carried and the victory won wholly through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:4-5). Yet he shares his burden with us and invites us to follow him.
Why? Because, he loves us.
God is our Father and we are His children. He loves us and wants to be with us and wants to see us grow into mature imitators of Jesus.
If I am as close to the Father as I can be, then I will be both burdened and content. I will be burdened by the same things that reside in the heart of the Father. I will also be content because the Father is God and nothing is too difficult for him. The burden I carry is not my burden… it is His. He allows me to share in it because I am His child and he will allow me to share in his achievement for the same reason.
What happens if we still feel a weight and burden with little sense of contentment? I know that this is a state that I often find myself in. Burdened with little contentment. What is the answer that allows both contentment and burden?
First, we need to understand fully, right at the guts of our being, that the burden is not our own. There is nothing that we can do to save the world from sin and death. That burden and that task are God’s. Completely and utterly God’s. His is the burden, the mission, the answer, the power, the glory, the honour, the everything. It is ALL God’s.
We might still take the weight of the burden onto ourselves, feeling a yearning to find an answer and make a contribution, but it is a futile and pointless exercise. The burden is God’s and the solution can only come from God. He might let me share in His plan and to witness His solution, but as soon as I begin to think that I am God’s answer to any part of that burden I have lost the plot. ONLY GOD HAS THE ANSWER. The answer is always Jesus.
In Philippians 4, Paul had come to realise that wherever he was, in prison or in charge, the mission and the burden were in no way his. He was probably the most gifted, highest achieving church leader in the whole of the history of the Church. Yet he was content to spend 7 or more years chained to guards under house arrest with no real influence, power or position. Paul trusted that, whatever was to befall him and whatever situation he sat in, God would be the one who would accomplish the goal. He did not take God’s burden as his own, although he picked up his cross and followed on a daily basis.
The burden of the cross is not to take responsibility for the things that only God can accomplish, but to follow God wherever he leads. No amount of worry or effort on Paul’s part would help meet the needs of a lost world. It is ONLY through Jesus that the world can be saved. Jesus is the ONLY way, truth and life (John 14:6).
So Paul was content. Not necessarily in his situation as a prisoner, but in the Father’s love. His situation was entirely irrelevant to his sense of contentment, because his contentment was not dependent upon his ministry or position or situation. Paul’s contentment depended wholly upon his proximity to Jesus. As long as he was with Jesus the nature of his task was unimportant. And so Paul could write; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21)
It is entirely incorrect to believe that the way to address a sense of burden, no matter how justified that sense might be, by focusing on the burden itself. It is tempting to see an issue or problem and seek to address it through ministry, programmes, service or counseling, but to do so is futile. The burden is not mine and the solution is not in my power. All I can do is look to the Father and follow where He leads. He carries the burden and offers the solution. So I share the burden and follow Him as my son shared my burden and followed me.
So what are the implications of our burden? Or to put it another way… Yes, but How?
I will have to write another blog… Burdens (Part 3)