When You're Worn Out

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Matthew 11:28-30

An old Christian hymn asks the question, “Are you weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?” What really makes you weary and what brings you rest is what we want to consider today.

What a word we have for you today! “Come to me,” Jesus said, “all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Or again, “Come to me, all you toiling and burdened ones, and I will refresh you.” Those may be the most familiar words that Jesus ever spoke – and the most astonishing. Here’s a young man, just past 30, with little experience of life. He has no academic credentials; he has never even attended a school of the rabbis. And as far as political clout is concerned, he’s a nobody of the nobodies, a peasant from the back-woods of a little nation enslaved to Rome. But he says to every weary struggler who will listen, “I’ll take your tiredness away; I’ll restore your soul.”

To me there’s something awesome about that. If anyone else had made such a claim, we’d be inclined to scoff or smile indulgently, “Come on now, who do you think you are, anyway?” But from Jesus, it somehow seems believable, appropriate. Even the mockers of the world hesitate to make fun of this invitation. All of us are somehow enchanted by it, haunted by its music. It has come to me with awakening freshness just now.


To whom was Jesus speaking? Who are the “toiling, burdened ones”? Are they the hard workers who labor through the heat of the day and can barely drag themselves home at nightfall? Hardly. No one needs a prophet, a Savior, a religious experience to relieve that kind of tiredness. No, a hot meal and a good night’s rest will make them as fit as ever for a new day.

And though he is the Great Physician, Jesus is not principally calling here those who have been debilitated by some bodily illness. Many who are so wearied and weakened that they can scarcely move simply need for restoration medical care or extended bed rest.

The weariness to which Jesus speaks is something deep-seated, something chronic. You don’t get over it by taking a pill or a stroll or even a vacation. Most of the fatigue we feel, friends, comes not from overexertion or disease but from distress in the depths of our life.

We’ve all had the experience of feeling tired when there seems to be no reason for it. You’ve gotten enough sleep lately; your recent medical checkup shows no serious problems. But you feel oppressed in spirit, as though you were laboring under a great burden. Life seems to you a weary business. Sometimes it’s not so much our work that makes us tired as the people we have to deal with on the job. The interpersonal tensions, the petty disagreements, the gossiping and cutting remarks wear us down.

Maybe part of the picture is that you are bottling up your feelings inside. You’re angry enough to scream or throw things, but you don’t dare to do either. You go on taking the abuse, enduring the circumstances every day, but you never let people know how you feel. And you wonder why you’re so tired all the time. You’re spending most of your energy trying to keep the lid on those feelings of yours.

Or think how weary you get when you have nothing to do. Have you ever thought about what a heavy burden enforced idleness is? Unemployment, inactivity, staring vacantly at a television set, can be more exhausting than digging ditches.

Some people are weary of the same old round of things, burdened with a sense of monotony and emptiness. Some are tired even in the midst of their gadgets and pleasures, feeling a strange heaviness. I know friends who are weary of struggling to live up to someone else’s expectations. They feel oppressed with a sense of failure and worthlessness. Others are struggling to break free from the oppressive power of some evil they may have toyed with in the past. They feel crushed by shame and guilt. And how many frustrated, anxious ones seem, Atlas-like, to be carrying the whole world on their shoulders? The causes for soul weariness seem to be legion, but they all are warning signals that something may be profoundly wrong, something out of order within us.

Jesus was addressing people to whom, of all things, religion had become a burden. The scholars of his day had identified and classified some 613 commandments from the sacred writings; 246 positive and 367 negative. Not only that, but their scribes and teachers had hedged each of these about with numerous others. There were elaborate dietary laws, complicated washing routines, minute prescriptions for Sabbath observance, as well as various sacrifices to be offered, and fasts to be kept. People were taught that if they wanted to be truly religious and to enjoy the favor of God, their hope lay in obedience to all of these. But what a formidable task that was! One had to be a scholar even to know what the requirements were. Trying to keep them all was bewildering and burdensome.

These people were struggling to resolve a serious problem. Something has gone wrong between all of us and God. We’ve alienated ourselves from the One who made us and gave us all we have. And because we’ve shut him out, life somehow doesn’t work right for us. Even in our times of health and affluence, we find ourselves restless. In the best of circumstances, we grope vainly for peace of mind.

Now a religious system that is almost all demand, all expectation, makes things worse. When we try to set matters right from our side, to remove this basic disharmony by our efforts, we meet with no end of frustration.

Imagine how you would feel if you really believed this – to be accepted with God and have peace with him you must perfectly keep 613 commandments! You know that you’ve broken scores of them already. Some of the rest seem to you impossible to live by. And you may be violating some of them right now without even knowing it! You feel like saying, “What’s the use? I’ll never make it. I’m not even going to try.”


It was to such weary ones that Jesus offered rest. Or, as we could better translate the word, “refreshment.” Though he ministered to all kinds of people, there was one group that he especially sought: the religious dropouts of his day. He became known as the “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). He announced that he had not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. He went to the homes of the most despised, and ate at their tables. And to those who knew they weren’t making it, who were weighted down with guilt and shame, he promised this relief.

Do you know what was involved in that? Jesus’ coming to such people, befriending them, dining at their banquets, seeking them to do them good, communicated God’s unconditional love. Society had frowned on them; the so-called religious had viewed them with contempt, but here was someone who went out of his way to seek them and save them. In Jesus, they encountered a love that valued and wanted them in spite of everything. What is so refreshing as to find that you’re loved by the God you thought had written you off!

And then there was forgiveness. They heard it from Jesus’ lips over and over again. “My son, your sins are forgiven . . . Neither do I condemn you . . . Go and do not sin again” (Mark 2:9, John 8:11). He seemed to be saying, “It doesn’t matter how far you have strayed or how many of the commandments you’ve broken. The miracle of forgiveness is now available.” Anyone who turns to God and calls on him for mercy can be freely justified, completely accepted. What can cheer the spirit and renew the heart like that – all the old debts canceled, the burden lifted forever? There is indescribable rest in knowing that your acceptance with God doesn’t depend on your performance but on his forgiving mercy. Jesus promised that gift to people while he lived and then died to make it theirs.

But along with forgiveness, he promised life. Not only were all the debts paid, all the barriers removed. They could taste something of heaven now. What Jesus offered was like an oasis in the desert for weary travelers. It was in his own words, “a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus promised a refreshment now that would never end.

To receive it all, they needed only to come to him. He himself was what people needed. His gift was not primarily a teaching, a religious ritual or an experience, but his own person. If people wanted to be warmed by God’s love, forgiven freely, and given a new start, they needed simply to hear the call of Jesus and put their trust in him.

It’s so absurdly simple, isn’t it? Just rely on what he says. Just turn toward him, move in his direction. Invite him into your life. Just receive his gift. “Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come to Thee.”

But wait, he goes on to describe more fully what will be involved. “Take my yoke upon you” (Matt. 11:28). “Wait a minute,” you say. “Isn’t that what I just got rid of? I came to Christ to get my burdens lifted. You mean I have to bear a yoke? That sounds like responsibility. That sounds like work.” You’re right. But there’s all the difference in the world between working to win God’s favor and working because it’s already yours. One is a grim service of guilt. The other is gladness because it’s gratitude. Jesus said it, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (v. 30). To believe in him -make no mistake about that – is to take on ourselves the yoke of his lordship. We don’t belong to ourselves any longer, but to him. But it is no dreary burden, friends, to serve a Master who loves you and gave himself for you.


Jesus says finally, “Learn from me.” It’s the verb-root from which we get our word disciple. When Jesus calls us to himself, it’s not for one saving encounter but for an ongoing relationship. We experience the liberation and refreshment he promised in a life of fellowship with him. The yoke we bear he describes as his yoke, the one he is carrying. We walk under it side by side with him. And now all of life is to be one long process in which we learn from Jesus.

How does that happen? Basic to the whole enterprise is his Word, “If you continue in my Word,” he says, “then you are my disciples indeed and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). He wants us to continue in his Word. That’s what it means to be a learner. We aren’t merely to hear at the outset but to keep listening to what he has to say to us, keep thinking about, dwelling upon, his Word. There’s no substitute for regular exposure to the word he gives us in Holy Scripture. We listen also to what he may be saying to us through other persons, our family members, our fellow workers and friends. We listen for his message in what’s happening in our world – in the turmoil of the evening news or the agonies of a daily newspaper. We listen as we daily spread our lives out before him, open to his direction, to whatever change he wants to bring about.

There’s a certain irony in being a preacher. You’re always telling other people what you really need to hear. How many times, as I try to prepare a message, I feel weary and burdened. I have things I want to get done – for God, I think. But often I don’t make much headway. I set a schedule for myself, a timetable, and I’m not meeting it. I feel self-condemned, unaccountably tired.

Then I come back to this text, and it seems as if I’m the one Jesus had in mind, “Lord, I’m the one, trying to make it on my own, and frustrated. I’m the one, thinking I have to earn my way by performance. I come afresh to you and trust you to take my self-imposed burdens away. I come to put myself under your yoke, to listen, to learn. And I trust you for rest.” Suddenly, for me, the old text becomes fresh and wonderful again. So I pass it on to you, this matchless word of Jesus: “Come to me, all you toiling, burdened ones, and I will refresh you.”