Jesus talked about discipleship a lot, yet few Christians understand what it is. We’ve heard about the “cost of discipleship” paid by the martyrs and saints of antiquity, and it’s easy to view discipleship as graduate level studies for those who are serious about their faith. Jesus had a different perspective. He understood discipleship to be Christianity 101–the basic lifestyle of his followers. And Jesus saw it as a life of blessings, not burdens. He once told a crowd, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The apostle John, who was present the day Jesus gave that invitation, spent the rest of his life in the easy yoke. He, too, found the burden light. He wrote, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.”
In those few words, John gives us the secret of the easy yoke. To better understand what it is, let’s compare it to something we’re familiar with. Think about a time as a kid when you idolized someone and wanted to grow up to be like them. For me, life was all about sports, and especially baseball. I studied my favorite players and tried to copy everything they did on the field. It improved my game a little, but I was a poor imitation of my heroes. Now I understand why–I only copied what they did when they were on the field, but the foundation of their success was how they prepared off the field.
This is true in any area of life. Great teachers and mechanics and doctors and musicians and caregivers were not born that way; they became great because they constantly trained and were dedicated to their work. This is also true in our relationship with God. We are saved by grace, but that doesn’t absolve us from participating with God in our spiritual training.
Where many of us stumble is at the very beginning. We want to be like Jesus, but we only focus on the highlights–how he exorcised demons and preached to thousands and silenced his foes. We often hurry past the passages that tell us how he prepared for those prime time moments, and we miss the secret of the easy yoke. According to the Scriptures, Jesus did not spend his downtime worrying about the future and solving imaginary crises like I often do. He lived by faith, confident that God’s will would be done regardless of the outcome. He spent his time praying for the people he met and seeking the Father’s guidance.
The secret of the easy yoke is to adopt Jesus’s overall lifestyle. Only then will we be prepared for life’s challenges. I learned the hard way that it is a mistake to think I can live for myself, but then at key moments have the ability to automagically love my enemies and turn the other cheek.
God will allow us to live by our own rules if we insist, but when we do, we’re refusing Jesus’s invitation. His offer is only for men and women who are tired of carrying their burdens. Jesus tells those who are soul weary to come to him by faith (what we call salvation), then take his yoke and learn from him (what the Bible calls discipleship). We come to Jesus by faith and experience peace with God; then we participate in what He is doing in our life and in our world.
Rejoice in the Lord always… Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all…
Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer and petition,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
–Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)