A guy walks into a bar, looks around, and demands to know, “Who’s the strongest in here?” The toughest guy looks up, walks over to him, and says, “I’m the strongest here!” The other guy politely asks, “Can you please help me push my car to the gas station?”
Being strong is such a huge thing. When someone is having a hard time, a lot of people reach for the easy phrase, “Be strong.” Everyone is supposed to “toughen up,” especially kids many parents think, because they have it too easy—which I think is completely unfair since it’s not as if the parents of today had it so tough growing up in the 80’s.
This isn’t just an emotional deal. Physically we’re supposed to get in shape, which means get strong. Gyms are on every corner, sometimes more than one. Now there’s nothing wrong with physical exercise and getting strong. It’s not like getting weaker is a good thing. In fact, let’s make something clear: sitting in a chair all day long and then transferring ourselves to the couch all evening long until we lie down while sleeping all night long isn’t the divine plan for our bodies. Let’s not think of our exercise plan as making us stronger as much as thinking of it as making us not as lazy! When we move on from being a tad bit lazy, then good things will happen to our bodies.
The thing is we can see when we’ve lost what we had, how our muscles used to be one way aren’t that way anymore. It’s easy to figure out that I can’t jog the three miles that were pretty easy 15 or 20 years ago. We know if we’re getting physically stronger or weaker. It’s not as easy to see and know however when it comes to figuring out a different kind of strength.
Jesus tells us we face heavy burdens. Scripture tells us to cast our cares on the Lord because Christ cares for you. In Hebrews 12:11, we are told to “lay aside every weight… that clings so closely.” But it’s tough to know when it’s too heavy of a burden or when that’s just how this one feels because it belongs to us and nobody else. It’s hard to know when we’re strong enough in this way, or we’re not—when life’s delivering a burden that’s simply too heavy for us to carry on our own. I like the saying, life is too short and eternity too long to live without God. We could add, life is too heavy to live without God.
I can guarantee that you’re all carrying too much weight. You’re not sharing enough with the Lord.
Did you know that in heavy weight lifting, the lifter always has a spotter? Let’s say you’re lying down on a bench and you want to do bench presses, and let’s say you lifted it six or seven times and you start to get tired, but you really want to get that eighth rep because you know you can do it. You bring it down, and you push up, and it goes a couple of inches, but then it stops. So, you use all your strength to hold the barbell there, take in some air, and push again. It goes a couple of more inches, but then it starts to come back toward your chest and neck. You need to transfer some of that weight from you to someone else—a spotter! Yeah, a spotter can be a lifesaver. It doesn’t really matter if you’re doing heavy weight lifting. A spotter is always a good thing in such lifts.
We think we can handle life’s weight, but it often comes back and down on us. We need a spotter. We need someone to lift the load off our chest, shoulders, and back. You’ve got to let Christ take some weight off you. Let yourself transfer your burdens to the Lord. The weight in your chest means you’re lifting more than you can handle. Cast your cares on God who cares for you. Do it daily, and even more, consciously, in prayer, by breathing, by accepting.
I heard about a woman who was carrying a heavy suitcase. She was so glad when she saw the bus come. She paid the fare and then stood in the aisle holding up the suitcase. Someone said to her, “Why don’t you put the suitcase on the floor?” “I am so thankful that the bus is carrying me,” she said, “I’m not going to expect it to carry my suitcase too!”
Our scripture reading is short but to the point. You’re invited to transfer some weight. His first word in verse 28 is “Come,” which is an invitation or even a command. Jesus’ invitation is to those who are tired, weary as it says, which to me sounds even more tired than the word tired sounds.
Who was the real Jesus looking at when he said this, I wonder? Because, listen, it’s not like he had a sermon in mind when we spoke every time. He taught to the people surrounding him. He saw them and responded to them, to what they looked like, what they seemed to be interest in. They must have looked tired, but more than that. How about beat up? Pushed around. Overwhelmed. How about desperate? The real Jesus wanted to lift some weights. He wanted to be their spotters. To take burdens off of the weary people’s shoulders.
Now Jesus wasn’t saying he could fix everyone’s problems. But he was saying there’s another way. The real Jesus believed things aren’t the way
they appear to be. The world we perceive as obvious or absolute isn’t. It isn’t the only one. The burdens we feel won’t last. God is nearby. The desperation we feel is shared by others and can be lifted together. God makes miracles happen when people come together. Christ was willing to stand in the center of people who needed help, some desperately, and say you don’t have to lift all that yourself. I will lift it for you if you come to me. Take my yoke and I can then take your burden. Let’s build something better.
Obviously, yokes were a common sight in Jesus’ day, yokes carried by people, used with oxen and other animals. There were two basic kinds of yokes, single ones and double ones. Singles were efficient. You placed a yoke across your shoulders and buckets hung from poles on each side. A person can carry almost as much as donkeys. Oh, sure, we tire easily, shoulders ache, but it’s possible to move heavy loads from one place to another using the single yoke.
The shared yoke required a pair of people, or a pair of oxen, but if they were well-matched, they could work all day. One could rest a bit while the other pulled. They took turns bearing the brunt of the load. They could cover for each other without ever having to put down the load.
We live as though we’re under a single one. We go it alone. “I can do it myself” is our motto. We need to slip on Jesus’ yoke. It’s a double yoke.
The thing is many of us not only don’t transfer any of their burden to the Lord, they’ll take on more than they should. I know for sure many people carry other people for too long. We keep people in our lives who cost us too much. The fact is too many have a tough time removing toxic people from their lives. We want to show we’re good Christians or we’re strong enough or we’re willing to sacrifice for someone else. We want to be weightlifters like Jesus was.
That’s all fine, to an extent. But you’ve got limits. The energy you expend on that person means you won’t have energy to expend on another. And you’ve got a calling to fulfill. You’ve got the Lord’s labor to complete. You’ve got a spiritual life to pursue.
Life is too short to spend it on people who are not God’s purpose for you. Realize someone is more than you can handle. Acknowledge you want to go in a different direction. Liberate yourself so you can take a better path. Pray over it and pray for them but be willing to lighten your load.
Being strong isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be. We can be too strong for our own good, or at least believe we are. Being weaker doesn’t
make us worse, as long as we know who to turn to find our strength. After all, sometimes your biggest weakness can become your biggest strength. Take, for example, one 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo even though he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
The boy began lessons. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move. “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.
Several months later, the boy went to his first tournament. He easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. He was in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, he was overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei insisted the ref let his student continue. His opponent quickly made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?” “You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
Yeah, sometimes we must accept our weakness instead of relying on our strength.
You know there’s another weight people carry, and they shouldn’t. Life’s too short to live someone else’s dream. Dad wants you to be someone and do something, but it’s not you—be an actor when you want to be a doctor, an attorney when you want to be a pastor. All kinds of people carry others’ expectations and demands on them. We’re burdened with the weight of having to prove we’re good enough to someone else. Living a life that doesn’t belong to you is a weight that shouldn’t be carried. God wants us to live our lives, not someone else’s.
The truth is for many, the biggest break-through they will have is when they realize they’re carrying someone else’s baggage on their own back.
When this happens, it opens a door of freedom. It provides a path to hope, healing, and understanding. It opens more and more windows of opportunities to create the life you want and deserve.
Let go of the need to prove yourself to everyone else. Don’t live an uninspired life. Look again at who you are and what matters to you. Liberate yourself to follow God’s plan for you.
After all, it’s not about us getting the glory; it’s about Christ’s life being revealed in ours. Give to the Lord your burdens so you can be free to know Christ’s strength in you.
Can the church say Amen?