Too much weight?
Reevaluating our burdens as missionaries can ease the heaviness and pressure
I had been in Japan a year. My husband and I had studied Japanese for that time and then moved south to Kyushu to finish a second year of language learning. We came to the field with a one year old, and now I was pregnant again. It was during this stressful time that I found Matthew 11:28–30. Sure, I’d heard sermons on it before, but this time it ministered to me in the trenches: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (v. 28 ESV).
What is my burden?
When our first furlough came, our family had grown to three children under the age of five. We traveled each Sunday from church to church, giving our report of the work in Japan. One night after finishing our presentation, a lady approached me and asked, “And what do you do there?” I stumbled around, trying to explain my meager offering to the work in Japan. That night in bed, I felt extra burdened. What did I do to further the gospel? How was I effective in reaching the masses?
The burden pressed heavily on me until Jesus whispered in my ear, My burden is light. That caused me to consider. How could Jesus’ burden be light when it felt so heavy? Then it hit me—perhaps I was carrying a burden Jesus didn’t intend for me to carry. It begged the question: What burden had Jesus given me? I realized that my most important priority had to be my relationship with him. And at this point in my life, caring for my children was very important. I had three tiny disciples! Supporting my husband in the work God had called him to do was another priority. Could I be satisfied in these? Yes!
Jesus’ yoke is easy
Over the years, I’ve listened to coworkers, church members, and other Christian acquaintances hint strongly about ministries I should be undertaking, ways I should be more outgoing, or people I should be reaching. I have struggled with knowing how to hear what they say and evaluate these suggestions in light of what God wants from me. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy” (Matt. 11:30). A yoke is intended for physically hard labor, but it also signifies togetherness. When the person on the other side of my yoke is Jesus, I don’t have to wonder who is doing the most significant work! Being yoked together with Jesus means I follow his lead, add my puny effort to the strength he provides, and then give him all the glory for a job well done. Where’s the burden in that?
Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to feel more responsible for ministry than I should. I feel that if I’m not here, things would crumble. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when the person I’m investing in decides to take a U-turn away from following Christ or when we invite people to an event and only two people show up. Too often I’ve beaten myself up for not saying things “right” or missing an opportunity to share Christ.
Changing my expectations
to match God’s
However, I’m learning that I often expect the wrong things from myself. Also, I allow others to lay expectations on me that weigh me down. But I’m finding that understanding and accepting what God expects from me replaces these burdens with his rest. For instance, I am encouraged when I remember that Jesus promised his disciples that if they would follow him, he would make them fishers of men. Remembering that I am part of the body of Christ gives me freedom to serve God and others in a way that is uniquely my own, not mimicking someone else’s ministry. Jesus promises that those who abide in him will produce much fruit, and that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). No matter what others say, I will stand or fall before my own Master, just as they will. And I “will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make [me] stand” (Rom. 14:4). If all of that isn’t enough, Jesus also promised to be with us always, to the end of the age.
My human nature pushes me to make a name for myself, to prove my worth as a missionary. But that is not the message I receive from Jesus at all. In his grace, I am already accepted by him. I am blessed, deeply loved, redeemed, forgiven, adopted into his extensive family, chosen, justified, sealed with his Holy Spirit, and no longer condemned. All this was made possible by the work of Jesus for me. He understands my frame, and he offers me his easy yoke and light burden. Why would I choose anything else?