This morning, as I reflected on the idea of the burden being light and the yoke being easy, I thought about wearing a yoke, and how it must rub against the skin when the animal wearing it moves, the weight of the contraption laying on its shoulders. I thought about how it clamps down over its head and shoulders, locks in place, and limits its motions.
How does this apply to the spiritual life? Jesus promised us freedom. In particular, he promises to free us from sin. What does this mean? First, I think we need to identify sin. If God’s law is summarized as love of God and neighbor, then sin is anything that puts me first, that fails to be loving towards others.
Jesus’ form of freedom is about freeing one from the desires that lead us to sin; from the brokenness within us that allows our will to be exercised in favor of sin. Anyone who has experienced God and his love in a deep and life changing way, has some semblance of not wanting to sin, but like Paul, we find ourselves choosing sin. Rom 7:14-17. So, what’s the deal? How are we freed from the burden of the yoke? How do we arrive at the place in our lives where we better exercise our will in favor of sinless behavior?
The answer is love, an encounter with God, who is love. Once we have this, it is about growing in our capacity to love as God loves. We have to love God more than we love whatever it is that we think we want. For most of us, this is a life long journey, a journey of moving from selfish love to selfless love.
In effect, our desire for personal satisfaction (i.e., sin) locks us in, just like a yoke locks the animal in. Even though it chaffs and weighs us down, we are still attached to it, even when Jesus releases the latch on the yoke, even when he frees us.
What is the answer? Again, we find the answer in Paul, who says, I live no longer I, but Christ live in me. Gal 2:19-21. From this verse, we can extrapolate that we find the answer in picking up our crosses and following in the footsteps of Jesus. We find it in dying to self. For instance, when we fast and live in the discomfort of hunger, we learn to tolerate the discomfort of wanting something, and choosing not to get it. We die to the desire to fill ourselves. When we find a way to patiently endure an uncomfortable social setting, and offer it to God, we die to self, exercise self discipline, and when we do it out of love of God, we start finding ourselves free from sin. This is especially true when we ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, to supernaturally enhance our desire to stay the course, we allow God to be our savior, we give him the credit, and we really start to experience freedom.
The problem is, even after all of these experiences, we, like the ancient Israelites, still find ourselves neglecting him, we still find ourselves under the yoke, even though he has cut the bindings. Luckily, God is as patient with us as he was with the Israelites. He is in our corner, rooting for us. All we have to do is persevere, pray for deeper conversion, and continue asking the Holy Spirit to help us untangle ourselves from the bondages of all that we think we want and desire. We ask him to continue to show us how his love and a sin free life is our true hearts’ desire.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reviewing your yoke. How does it bind and limit you? Have you had an encounter with love that has caused you to want to go on this journey of dying to selfishness, and replacing it with selflessness, a form of love, which is God itself? Be honest with yourself. How much do you love him? How much do you want to love him. Spend some time asking him to help you desire him ever more. Ask him to help you understand the life-long benefits of becoming selfless in this world that promotes the idea of looking out for self.