Come to Me and Rest

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, 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.   — Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV) Being yoked together with Jesus – placing a bar across our shoulders for plowing the field or pulling the cart – doesn’t sound very restful. But that idea of being yoked with Jesus is the promise of Jesus being with us, every step of the way, to face whatever today or tomorrow may bring. We often would prefer a God who takes away our problems rather than helps us cope with them, who eliminates challenges rather than equips us for them, and who vanquishes our opponents rather than enables us to make peace with them. It’s not usually what we want, but pretty much exactly what we need. For you see, dependence on God, being fitted for that yoke, knowing the burden is no longer carried alone are all ways in which Jesus is telling us that it all about relationship with God.  For God loves the world so much, he sent his son, and on the wooden bar of the cross, he gave his life, so that our sins, our burdens, our selfish desires are put to death.  The burden is taken on his shoulders, and we, like him, are lifted up to new life! Peter Marty’s article in the Christian Century Magazine speaks of this relationship when it comes to prayer. 

Does prayer work? That’s the question many people ask when they perceive that God is not answering their prayers. Other questions surface too. Is prayer worthwhile? Does it change anything? Am I talking to myself? Does God care about my prayers?

I propose that we radically alter the way we talk about prayer by eliminating the use of the word answer from our references to prayer outcomes. The word doesn’t fit well conceptually, and it encourages an interpretation of prayer that leans heavily toward self-interest. Prayer is not mostly about us.


At its most fundamental level, prayer is conversation with God, and conversations aren’t about answers. They engage a relationship. They involve give-and-take and the sharing of company. Deep conversations inspire curiosity and promote discovery. They foster honesty.

Some people suggest that the first purpose of prayer is to know God. I rather think it is to enjoy God. Prayer is really no more complicated than picking up on a relationship already in progress. Robert Farrar Capon put it memorably: “Prayer is just talking to someone who is already talking to you. [It’s] listening to someone who is already listening to you.”

I often think God’s primary role must be larger than just managing our health. That’s why personal and communal prayers that implicitly treat illness as an injustice of God or consider robust health as a right are misguided. Mortality is not an offense. It’s actually part of the deal that comes with being human. 
Once we discover that the greatest benefit of prayer is intimacy with God, the fostered relationship becomes deeper than one that’s orga­nized around having our desires met. The more persistently we hang in there with prayer, the more we encounter a God who does not provide an answer to our every want, but who offers strength for our every need. Requests certainly have their place in honest prayer.

“Let your requests be made known to God,” writes the apostle Paul. But we shouldn’t confuse the value of supplicating prayer with a recitation of personal wants.

In the end prayer is about putting away our quest for answers long enough to enjoy the Lord in an unencumbered way. Here is where Anna comes to mind. She was a parishioner of mine in Kansas City who was terminally ill. Sometimes when I visited her in the hospital, she prayed; at other times I took the lead. Even though Anna’s voice and body weakened as the weeks passed, her eyes retained their glow and her mind its spark. “Pastor,” she said to me one day, “I don’t see myself getting better. How about we skip the prayer for healing today? I just want you to pray for the Lord not to leave me. That’s all I need now—the close company of God.” 

  And Jesus says, “Come unto me…” It’s as though he’s saying, “Stop trying to find the way by yourself. Stop stumbling around in the darkness, getting lost and frightened. Come – and discover the person that God created you to be. Come – and walk on the path that’s been waiting for you all along. Come – and take this yoke that I’ve made for you. Come – and see how I’ve fashioned it so carefully so that it will neither chafe nor rub.

Come – and share this yoke with me – and I will give you rest.”
–Peter W. Marty is publisher of the Century and senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.


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