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. – Matthew 11:28-30

God, I want this to be true. 

I am heavy-laden. Who isn’t? The world is heavy-laden. This is all too much.

I have heard this verse since I was a child. I have seen the words printed in red, and from my earliest memory I’ve thought, “That is all I want.”

Rest: Gentle. Lowly. Easy. Light. 

I am always looking for a gold-star, so after hearing the promise of rest my first question becomes: “Okay, Jesus, I want that rest. What do I need to say or do? What do I need to buy? What lifestyle do I need to adopt?”

It can’t be as simple as saying ‘yes to Jesus’ or praying the Sinner’s Prayer. All my prayers are sinner’s prayers, and I still feel exhausted. 

Jeremy Nguyen at The New Yorker.

I’ve tried everything. I’ve done the workouts, read the books, attempted the lifehacks, and listened to the podcasts. I bought a Casper mattress and wore a sleep tracker. I’ve measured and set goals and added more and more and more.

This rest is still elusive.

“What must I do, Jesus? Please.”

I’ve meditated and learned mantras and tried to tame the monkey mind. That worked — for a moment. 

But the monkey doesn’t stay tamed for long. My mind is always running, always looking for solid ground.

What is this yoke that Jesus offers? What must I take upon myself in order to find rest?

I went to seminary, after all. I followed The Call™. I literally wear a piece of white plastic around my neck that symbolizes, in part, that I am bound to Christ.

The question remains: how do I find the rest of Jesus?

Unfortunately, Jesus gives an answer, and his Good News sure sounds like bad news to this ego-driven perfectionist. 

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’” (Mt 16:24-25).

The rest of Christ can be yours — all you have to do is die. 

Die to self, die to your ego, die to the plans you have or the schemes you’re running. Die to the American Dream. Die to the ladders you keep propping up against the never-ending walls that promise success. Die to the lifehacks. Die to the pursuit of more and more and more.

We have all stepped up onto a treadmill, and the speed is continually increasing. We are all running faster than ever and getting nowhere. In the midst of this speed, Jesus offers rest but it comes at the cost of your life.

The truth, of course, is that you will surrender your life anyway. At some point in the future known only to God, you will stop breathing and find rest. What Jesus offers is the chance to die right now.

It takes more than praying a certain prayer. It is not a ‘one and done’ situation. You must lay down your life anew each day or each moment. You must be born again and again, over and over. You must take up your cross as often as you put it down. 

For “the flesh is willing but the spirit is weak” (Mt 26:41). In our weakness, we grasp for control and power.

When we think we have control over our lives, we run ourselves ragged. When we feel like the masters of our own fate, we drive ourselves into the ditch. The world promises that we can do all things by our own sheer willpower. We are told that we can accomplish all of our dreams through nothing but our own effort, but that path is the expressway to death.

Paul writes it this way: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Eph 2:1-3).

It is only through surrendering our lives, letting our ‘selves’ die, and following Jesus that we find life, real life, and rest. 

Paul continues, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (2:4-9).

There are so many forces pulling us back on the treadmill, in the name of productivity, or success, or accomplishment, but Christ has pulled the plug. Without (or in spite of) our egos and efforts, Jesus has run the race and climbed the ladder and brought us with him.

We are free to fail, to crash and burn, to not live up to anyone’s standards. We are free to step off the treadmill. We are free to die before we die so that we can taste the living waters of salvation.

In Christ, we are free to rest.

Finally.