Working in ministry can be an all-consuming job, because it isn’t just a job. For a Christian, working in ministry is working for a cause upon which life itself is based, upon which a person’s core identity is built. It is a job with eternal consequences, so it can be very hard to say “I’ve done enough for today.” When there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t know God and that is suffering and needs his love, there is always something else that could be done. When we measure the real world change we want to see, is it ever enough? If we drive ourselves hard to achieve greater results, will we ever think we can pause for a rest?
The prospect of burnout and losing one’s joy is very real for people working in ministry, so it’s very good news indeed that Jesus says he has a better way. Let’s let him minister to us through his words.
“I will give you rest”
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Verse 28 has a very powerful, attractive pull to it. Jesus’ invitation to come to him and receive his rest simply screams at me, “You’re okay. I love you. You’re safe. That’s enough now.” Sometimes I just want to surrender myself into Jesus’ care and be enveloped in his arms.
But no! That is not what Jesus is telling us to do. Jesus does not intend for us to escape from the world or our jobs. He wants us to continue working, but to work differently — his way.
Matthew 11, which contains this offer from Jesus, opens with John the Baptist languishing in a prison cell wondering about the legacy of his life of obedience, hardship, and sacrifice. Looking back over his life and ministry, he asks, “Is this all there is? Is there any fruit? Are you the one who is to come, Jesus?”
In response to John’s questions, Jesus reminds John of the prophecies of the One who is to come and that Jesus’ ministry gives evidence of their fulfillment. He then pays tribute to John.
However, John’s questions lead Jesus to review his own ministry thus far, and he marvels at its lack of results. He remonstrates against the cities which didn’t respond in faith to his miracles, but then does something quite unexpected. He praises his Father and says that the way God works is pleasing to God and that’s good enough for him.
Jesus’ invitation to us
It is then that Jesus says to others, presumably his followers (including us), to come to him. The point isn’t to let people retire and “be okay”, but to give them a new perspective and send them back out to work again. The key statement is “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus’ kind of rest
When Jesus says we’ll find rest he does not mean that we will be inactive. Christ’s rest is very active. It involves a yoke after all, so he means for us to be working. But he wants us to learn from him. He wants us to learn to evaluate our ministries and our efforts the same way he did his. Doing so will result in our results-driven souls taking a rest.
- Jesus accepted that God has a way of working and the implication is that he was comfortable doing his part and leaving everything else to his Father.
- Jesus was committed to obedience to his Father, not to achieving results. His attention was on what his Father revealed to him to do. He could afford to be gentle and humble in heart as he served his Father because he wasn’t measuring his success by external results.
Jesus will use his yoke to get us to work with the same gentleness and humbleness as he did. If you want to know how well you are leading like Jesus, ask yourself, “How gentle a leader am I?”
The issue comes down to a simple question which can be asked three ways:
- Am I satisfied with knowing that I am leading the ministry in a way that is pleasing to God, or must I have external results to satisfy me?
- Are results the goal of my work or the consequence of the good work that I do?
- Am I content to do what God has asked me to do and leave the fruit to God?
I know that getting results is very important. They show good stewardship of the ministry’s resources. They indicate that the church’s mission is being advanced. They mean that people are benefiting from the ministry’s work. This is all good. But we should be pleased with results, not driven by them.
If we are following Christ, and conducting our ministry in alignment with Christ’s values, then we will be faithfully obedient and God will provide fruitfulness as a by-product of the good work we do in his name. The problem we should avoid is what happens when people are driven by measurable results: they can easily fall prey to seeing people from a utilitarian perspective, making people a means to achieving a goal rather than seeing them as fellow image-bearers of God.1
Jesus was satisfied with a ministry career which he saw as just a process (albeit an important process) in his Father’s work plan. He could perform his duties and not worry about the outcome because the outcome was God’s responsibility. Paul wrote something very similar: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”
So in this passage, Jesus says to do the work we have been called to do (and we know he expects it to be very well done), but that we should take our pleasure from doing it in a Christ-like manner. If we do that, we can pray for God to bless our work with much fruit, and the results will be the reward or consequence of the good work we do.
All Christ asks us to do is to gently and humbly fulfill his call and leave the consequences up to God. What are you striving for that you need to turn over to Jesus? “Come to me…and I will give you rest.”