by Rick Warren
Matthew 11:28-30 tells us, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (NIV). In this beautiful and short passage Jesus says three things: come, take, and learn. That’s all you need to know about stress management.
1. Come to Jesus
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. In the Bible people came to Jesus for many different reasons. Some people came for forgiveness. Some people came for answers. Some people came for healing. Some people came to Jesus for salvation. Some came to Him for eternal life. But Jesus says “You could come to Me for rest.” Release from stress, release from overload. He says, “Are you weary? Overloaded? Come to Me.”
He says “I will give you rest for your souls.” This is much deeper than physical rest. Your greatest problem is not overloaded muscles. You’re overloaded in your mind. You’re overloaded in your spirit. You’re overloaded in your emotions. You need soul rest far more than you need physical rest. You need release from worry. You need release from tension. You need release from stress, from guilt, from fear, from bitterness, from anxiety. This is soul rest. And He says, “If you’re worn out, if you’re tired, overloaded, come to Me and I will give you soul rest.”
Who or what do you naturally turn to when you are exhausted, when you are depleted, when you’re overloaded? You may be a Christian, but I doubt that your first choice is Jesus. You may turn to food when you’re exhausted. You may turn to television and prop your feet up. You may turn to a drink or a pill. You may turn to some other form of escape. But none of these things can give you soul rest. Only God can give you that.
Notice what the Bible says, in Isaiah 40:29-31: He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint (NLT). It says new strength. It’s not just strength you had and you didn’t know about. It’s strength from God you do not possess without Him.
The antidote for your overloaded soul is not a plan for time management. It’s not a program for stress reduction. It’s not a philosophy on how to simplify your life. It’s not a pill. It’s not even the church. Jesus does not say, “Come to church.” He does not say, “Come to small group.” He does not even say, “Come to the Bible.” He says, “Come to Me.” The answer for your overload is Jesus Christ. None of these other things can give you soul rest. What you really need is that deep down soul rest when you’re exhausted emotionally, spiritually, mentally.
How do you do that? Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace (Matthew 6:6, The Message). Get alone by yourself so you’re not pretending. When you are not acting in front of other people, you will begin to sense His grace.
Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we turn to Jesus more? Why don’t we come to Christ?
1. We think we can handle it on our own.
2. We often forget what God is really like. We forget God is a loving Father who cares for us like a father cares for a small child. God isn’t going to scold you when you come to Him for rest. He’s going to love you. But you’ve got to turn to Him. That’s the first step.
2. Take his yoke and give up control
Jesus says, My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. The reason why you get so tired, the reason why you get so overloaded is because you think you have to be in control of everything. You think, “It all depends on me. I’ve got to pull all the strings. I’ve got to make it happen. I’ve got to be in control.” Wrong! Everything is in God’s hands. “Control” is just an illusion.
The need for control and increased levels of stress go hand in hand. Are you a control freak? Do you have to have your finger in all of the pies? You will not lessen your stress level until you are willing to partner with Jesus and take up His yoke.
This is Jesus’ second solution to your stress. He says, Take My yoke upon you. You say, “Wait a minute! That doesn’t sound too relaxing. That sounds like more of a burden. It sounds like I take something else on my shoulders. You don’t know what I’m already carrying. I’m carrying way too much. How can I take Jesus Christ’s yoke on me?”
Let’s go back and review what a yoke is. A yoke is a wooden beam that attaches two farm animals together to lighten the load so they can work together as a team. This lightens the load on the individual animals. So, why does Jesus use the symbol of the yoke? Because, first of all, a yoke is a symbol of partnership. It is Jesus’ way of telling you, I will help carry your load. He says, My yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Why? Because it is a shared load. Psalm 55:22 tells us, Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall (NLT).
If you are overloaded, it is because you are not yoked to Christ. You can be a Christian or even a Christian leader, and still slip that yoke off. You’ve got to put it on moment-by-moment and say, “Jesus share this with me.” Every time I get detached from Jesus Christ my stress level goes up. Every time I get reattached to Jesus Christ my stress level goes down. It’s that simple. “Come to Me – Give up control.” Those are the first two things. The yoke is a symbol of partnership. God says, “I will help you out.”
It is also a symbol of control because farmers use the yoke to guide and direct and control the farm animals. Where oxen are yoked together they are controlled by the master. When you are under the yoke of Christ you are controlled by God. You have given up control. The load is lighter but you have given up control.
When I’m yoked with Christ we move together in the same direction and at the same pace. When you are yoked to Jesus Christ you can’t go in a different direction than Jesus. And when you are yoked with Jesus Christ you can’t go any faster than Jesus goes. He sets the direction and He sets the pace.
You do need direction in your life but you need far more than that. You need a pacesetter. All of us have a tendency to go faster than we really should, especially leaders. And Jesus knows better than you do what is the adequate, accurate pace for your life. Every time you get away from the yoke of Jesus and you start going another direction you get in trouble. Every time you get out from under the yoke with Jesus and you start going at your own pace you get overstressed. That’s why He says, “Come to Me,” and then “Take up My yoke”. Give up control.
How do you do that? Galatians 5:25 tells us, Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (NIV). Follow God step by step. Who is setting the pace in your life right now? Are you following God’s agenda or your agenda?
Let God set your agenda and pace. When Jesus is connected to you and you are connected to Jesus, you’re going to slow down. Why? Because Jesus was never, ever in a hurry. I’ve read through the Bible many times and not one time have I ever read, “Jesus ran to this place.” He never ran. Never, ever ran. He always walked. In fact He kind of sauntered. One time He had a friend die about three miles away and it took Him three days to get there. That’s slow walking. Why? He knew God had a plan. God didn’t want to heal a sick man. He wanted to raise a dead man. So He wasn’t in a hurry to get there and in those three days the man died and was buried. A greater miracle. God had a better idea. God had a plan.
Many times you’re rushing to meet a deadline that if you missed the deadline, God had a better idea. You’ve got to give up control if you want to lower the stress in your life. You have to let Him be the pacesetter.
The truth is you’re going to be yoked to something in life. Years ago Bob Dylan wrote a song, Gotta Serve Somebody. You’re going to give your life for someone or something. You may be yoked to your career. You may be yoked to the desire to acquire great wealth. You may be yoked by the expectations of other people. All of those are heavy burdens. They’re heavy yokes to carry on your shoulders.
Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you.” So what do you do? You take off your heavy yoke, the burdens that are on your shoulders – you drop those – and you put on Jesus’ yoke, which is light and easy. The truth is you don’t have one yoke on you. You have a dozen. You’re carrying expectations of a lot of different things and people and events. You’ve got a community yoke. You’ve got a family yoke. You’ve got a business yoke. You’ve got a church yoke. You don’t have just one yoke. You’ve got a dozen. If it were a cartoon there would be a dozen of them piled up on your back. Jesus said, “Throw all of those things off and put on my yoke. It’s easy and light and well-fitting.”
If your burden is heavy, if your load is not light you’re not yoked to Jesus right now. You’re doing something that is out of God’s will for your life. You may be doing the wrong things. You may be doing the right thing in the wrong way. We think the answer to our stress is escape. I’m overloaded – I need a vacation. God says, no, that’s not it because when you go on vacation you take you and you’re the problem. You can go to Tahiti but your mind is going with you. We think the antidote to stress is escape. God says the antidote to stress is give up control. Every time I give up control, God gives me His peace.
3. Learn to trust
That’s the third key to stress management. Learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus is the outstanding model in history of how to live a life of purpose and peace. He is our model. The third step is learn to trust by following Jesus’ model. Watch how He lived and then do it.
Study how Jesus lived and do what He did and you’ll have the same kind of peace that He had. If you want balance, if you want health, if you want sanity in your schedule, and in your life, follow the model of Jesus. Learn.
Learning is a process. Learning doesn’t happen instantly. Learning takes time. You didn’t get into the mess you are in overnight. The habits of a hurried, worried lifestyle didn’t start yesterday. You have had years of practice in this. You have developed a lifestyle of overload, a lifestyle of stress, a lifestyle of hurry and worry. You are not going to change that overnight. There is no magic pill you can take. You have to unlearn some things and change some bad habits. You are going to have to learn from Jesus.
What can we learn from Jesus? He tells us, Learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart. Gentle and humble. You are probably thinking, how is that going to help me with stress? Perhaps courage and stamina might be better traits for stress reduction. Or confidence and strength. Power and self-assurance.
But God says, if you’re overloaded you need to learn gentleness and humility. Why? Because the two greatest causes of overload in your life are aggression and arrogance.
Aggression – we get in a hurry. I’ve got to have it now, even if I can’t afford it. So we overextend. We buy things we can’t afford so we have to hustle to pay for them. We don’t want to wait. We don’t want to pause, we don’t want to delay, we don’t want to consider. We want it now. We want to be assertive. We want to be aggressive. We jump into projects and we get way over committed before we could possibly fulfill all those commitments simply out of assertion and aggression. We get in a hurry. I’ve got to do it now! We only go around once in life. So you’re out there pushing and not in a gentle way. In an aggressive way – dog eat dog, competition. Even in ministry. Sometimes, especially in ministry! We’ve got to do it now. We’ve got to do it first. We’ve got to do it best. You’re overloaded because of aggression.
You’re also overloaded because of arrogance. Ego is responsible for a lot more stress in your life than you want to give it credit for. Ego is responsible for a lot more stress in my life than I want to give it credit for. We think, “I can handle this!” and we take on another responsibility. Ego and arrogance is why you try to control everything because you think you know better than everybody else. You think you know better than God. You try to do it all. You try to have it all and you try to be it all and you try to please everybody. Arrogance will prompt you to attempt more than you can possibly fulfill in terms of commitment.
Jesus said, “If you really want soul rest here’s the antidote – gentleness and humility.” You need to remind yourself daily that you are not everybody’s savior. You can’t solve everybody’s problems. You can’t even solve all your own. You need to remind yourself that you are not the manager of the universe. Jesus is. You need to remind yourself that you’re just a tiny cog in a very, very, very big universe. Let’s put it in perspective. Have a degree of humility, which brings sanity, which brings release from stress. Be gentle, be humble. How do you learn that? By following Jesus. Jesus was gentle and humble.
What was Jesus’ secret of peace? I read through the book of John this and found twelve times where Jesus says, “I only do what the Father tells me to do. … I only say what the Father tells me to say… I think what He wants me to think… I go where He wants me to go… I stay where He wants me to stay… I do what He wants me to do…” Jesus lived a life of simple humble obedience to the Father.
Do you think that would change the stress level in your life if you began to live that way? We all get invitations – wedding invitations, graduation invitations, dinner invitations. But this invitation from Jesus is the greatest invitation you’ll ever get in your life. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Some of you are at the breaking point from overload. Ministry can be tough and draining. Turn to Jesus. Give up control. Learn to trust. You will find rest for your soul.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church.
Join us next month for Lance Witt’s article in Soul Searchin. Lance is the founder of Replenish Ministries, an organization devoted to ministering pastors to help them become healthy, holy, and humble. He also serves as the Pastor for Strategic Development at Thomas Road Church in Lynchburg, Virginia.