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Meditation: To understand ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me’

After years of ranting about the importance of meditation, I have resolved that several times this year I am going to share meditations on familiar biblical texts. I want to begin with Matthew’s report of Jesus’ appeal, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

I realize how unfamiliar we are with the image of a yoke. Even agricultural communities are so mechanized that yokes are unused. A yoke is a means of governing an animal and linking two or more animals for greater strength. We have to go to Third World countries to see a real yoke. And when I have seen the real thing, I cannot imagine willingly taking on a yoke. The idea is totally counter to my love of personal freedom. I want to do it all my way. I resist bondage, and to consider going under a yoke is a stretch that challenges me.

“Take my yoke upon you.” The yoke has many implications. The first thing that learning from Jesus means is bringing under control our passions and desires for the immoral and ungodly practices of the world. The nature of our culture makes the desires of the flesh so accessible that immorality is rampant and almost totally acceptable.

The yoke that draws to holy living often seems oppressive to the young and spiritually immature, but Jesus says the yoke is easy. In perspective the yoke is easy because it brings none of the guilt and suffering that comes with fleshly, immoral actions.

Further consideration of the yoke reminds me that it forces us to address our “stubborn hearts.” That phrase is used to describe the people Jesus addressed in Mark 3. Jesus had called attention to the withered hand of a man in the synagogue, but the people were ready to condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Most of us have stubborn hearts that sometimes resist the power of God. We are often confined by our traditions or our private interpretations of Scripture. Wearing the yoke of Jesus, we can manage our stubborn hearts so that we are open to see God at work in our lives and in our world. It helps us cast aside whatever keeps us from knowing God.

For many a yokesuggests work. Yet the yoke is more the instrument of discipline than of work.The yoke of Jesus becomes a powerful guide for our thoughts and actions. In asense the yoke allows us to see things through the eyes of Jesus. That visionmakes us concerned for a lost, sinful world, but it also puts a burden on us tocare for the needs of other human beings.

We act to relieve thesuffering from natural disasters like Katrina and personal storms likeaddictions. That yoke intensifies concerns for our brothers and sisters inChrist who are struggling.

The yoke of Jesus isall about heart and mind. It helps shape us in the image of Jesus so that webecome meek and gentle in all our dealings. It equips us to deal with egos thatdrive us to all kinds of excesses. It helps us bring every thought and everyaction under the control of Jesus. It helps us love spiritual things more thanwe love the world. When we first put on the yoke, it is strangely uncomfortableand disturbing. But as time passes it begins to feel natural until iteventually seems to be a part of us that we could not function without.

The yoke of Jesus isnever forced on us. We must make the decision to put on that yoke. Thatdecision is the first step to surrendering our will, our control to a higherpower. We make the decision, but the process of assuming the full weight of theyoke often takes a long time. I made the decision when I was 12 years old to makeJesus the lord of my life, but the full significance of that decision is stillregistering with me. It became a more important decision as I became an adult,a husband, a father, the parent of grown children, an elder, a grandfather, aprofessional educator. Every event in my life has made me more aware of theyoke and its power over me to transform the way I have dealt withresponsibilities and authority.

The yoke of Jesusmakes us increasingly aware of God’s perspective on what is important and whatis insignificant. It equips us to resist temptations and to extend our lives to others. It gives us eyes to seemore clearly all the aspects of life and the world. It gives us hearts toembrace the weak and the sinful. It extends our understanding of God and hiseternal purposes for our lives and for his church.

“Take my yoke andlearn of me.” The appeal of Jesus to us mirrors his own role in our salvation.He willingly took the yoke of redeemer and Savior when he became flesh anddwelt among men. Paul emphasizes that yoke Jesus bore. In Philippians 2 heincludes what is often considered an early hymn of the church: “your attitudeshould be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, didnot consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himselfnothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Andbeing found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient todeath–even death on the cross!”

Jesus appeals “Takemy yoke and learn from me.”

  • Feedback
    It is very interesting and very motivating for me. Thx
    Atueyi Nkoli
    Rhema Chapel
    Ikeja, Lagos
    August, 11 2013

    One comment I heard in a sermon today was that in the days when yokes were used, since it involved two oxen or whatever, they wouldn’t necessarily be of the same age, strength etc so that initially the older stronger ox might be doing most of the work whilst the younger one was in effect being trained – with the idea being that Jesus is the one doing the main lifting but that we join him – a variant on the comment above that a yoke is for two – which i think is illuminating, as otherwise it’d be Jesus saying take the yoke and transferring it from him to us. A lot of the agricultural images of course do mean less to us initially (as do the water ones) living as we do in the main in times when even agriculture is largely mechanised.
    Stuart Griffiths
    St James, Birkdale
    Southport, Merseyside
    August, 4 2013

    A very beautiful article with great insights.
    Simple and easy to understand.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Winners Chapel, UK
    UK, UK
    February, 23 2013

    I enjoyed this article, and your insight. Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective.
    Robbie Redmon
    The Village UMC
    Dallas, TX
    United States
    February, 6 2013

    I had a vision last night of the Lord walking through a crowd of young people, taking eggs, shaking them and cracking them over the heads of the young people (including myself). I felt impressed that these young people were worship leaders and in church leadership. I felt the Lord was telling me that we have to deal with the yoke within us to be able to see through his eyes into the spiritual atmospheres in our church meetings to know how to be able to minister to the “yoke” people are struggling with (oppression, sin, etc.) if he could lift the veil from us, we would be able to minister so that the yoke is broken in the world around us. Right before I came to, I heard him say, the yoke is not just upon you, the yoke is in you.
    Dana Adams
    C3 San Diego
    Carlsbad, CA
    United States
    January, 8 2013

    Over the course of many decades I have noticed that in the church there are two kinds of believers. In regard to Matt. 11:28 most have obeyed the “Come unto me”part. That is the north side of the yoke. But a smaller number have placed the yoke upon their shoulders. These are the true disciples living on the south side of the yoke. I am not questioning the salvation of the first group, but their lack of obedience to the call of the Master brings them under the influence of the world.
    Rick Davis
    Grace Valley Fellowship
    Valley Forge, Pa
    March, 27 2012

    thank you. your insight on this is enlightening.
    cambridge, ma
    newburyport, ma
    March, 23 2011

    A yoke is for TWO…Jesus & me. HE is pulling ALL the weight. I have in mind a picture of when my kids were toddlers. I’m bringing in heavy sacks of groceries. My toddler “HELPS”-(he actually makes my load heavier). BUT, when we get in the house, I praise him. I say, “Thanks for helping mommy”. When I get to heaven the LORD will reward me for a job that in all honesty HE DID…YES, HIS yoke is easy!!! Thank You JESUS…Your yoke is easy…”Cast all your burdens on ME”.
    natalia nitu
    calvary chapel boise
    star, idaho
    united states
    March, 26 2010

    this article on the yoke was good it blessed my life .
    God Bless you
    word of faith church
    kiambu, nairobi
    December, 9 2009

Filed under: Insight

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