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"Come to Me, All Who Labor"

Sep 06, 2015 03:25AM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith

“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." ESV

Matthew 11:28-30 is one of the most frequently quoted Bible passages regarding labor versus rest. For me personally, it has a more literal significance. As a little girl in the Presbyterian church I grew up in, I would lay my head down on my father’s lap as the sermon began. As I drifted off to sleep, this verse was the last thing my blurry eyes focused on. It was painted on the front inside wall of the sanctuary. These beautiful words penetrated my mind and heart every Sunday, even as a young reader and child of immature faith taking rest more immediately than perhaps the passage intended. 

The best part was when I figured out it was Jesus doing the talking. When it’s Jesus talking, it’s a promise I can hang my hat on. 

It seems to me that rest is more or less what Labor Day seeks to offer us in its recognition of the “social and economic achievements of American workers” by taking a day for observance.

But, what does it mean to really labor in a biblical sense? What does God require of us? How do we then get to the rest part?

There are many verses on this subject, but here are a few that come to mind along with the questions that they answer.

Genesis 2:15 ESV, Moses writing

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 

What is the purpose of our labor? Who gave it to us?

From the very beginning we were given the garden to tend. It was a privilege and an honor. God literally put us there to work it.

Psalm 128:2, ESV, Unknown Psalmist writing

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

What is the reward for our labor?

We can eat. We are blessed. We are well.

Ecclesiastes 5:12, ESV, King Solomon writing

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. 

What are the consequences of working for our meal?

We sleep sweetly. Our conscience is eased. We did not take advantage of anyone. We performed our tasks and can rest well. Those who benefit from our labors do not sleep as soundly. What an interesting connection between anxiety and our level of work! The laborer literally works him/herself into a good sleep.

Proverbs 21:25, ESV, King Solomon writing

The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.

What happens when we refuse to work or labor when we are still able-bodied? 

This verse completely intrigues me. The Bible says our desire kills us. We still crave what work would provide for us, but without performing that work, that desire wears us into our death.

What is the message in that?

Nonstop leisure or rest isn’t good for us either. We were meant to work and benefit directly from it.

Proverbs 16:3, ESV, King Solomon writing

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

How are we supposed to work? Leading from which perspective?

We work dedicating and committing it to God, and our plans will be established. We don’t work for ourselves. We do it for Him. He gave us the work, and He directs where it leads us.

Colossians 3:23, ESV, Apostle Paul writing

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…

Does it matter how we labor or which kind of work?

Whatever we labor in, assuming it’s honest work, we must do it heartily. We must do it well and not haphazardly. Furthermore, we must remember what drives us is to please the Lord.

So that difficult, demanding, never-pleased human boss? Thankfully, that’s not for whom we’re really working. Isn’t that a relief? We can still give it our best and know we aim higher than receiving the approval of men/women. Phew!

1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV, Apostle Paul writing

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Are we doing some of the work for ourselves? Some for God? Is it about our own egos or status?

The Apostle Paul reminds us that whatever we do is to glorify God. He says “all” of it. I think that also takes a burden off us that we have to climb some mythical ladder to elevate ourselves or that only certain jobs bring God glory.

A stay-home parent receiving no tangible income washing dishes or changing diapers, doing it all for God, can bring Him glory.

The waste disposal worker, diligently performing his/her duty to the best of his/her ability with a smile can shine God’s Light, reflecting His glory.

The janitor heading into an elementary school restroom to sanitize at the end of the day, if doing it for God, glorifies God.

The farmer shearing sheep and shoveling manure brings God glory when he/she works with the kingdom of heaven in mind.

We don’t have to be educated. We don’t have to be wealthy. We don’t even have to be successful. We have to show up, do our best, and remember for Whom we do it.

1 Timothy 5:8, ESV, Apostle Paul writing

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Lastly, who is hurt by our failure to labor? Are we only affecting ourselves when we don’t put our hand to the plow?

This last verse answers this question so well. In fact, it makes a rather harsh statement against those able-bodied folks who deny provision for their families. It accuses them of denying their faith, not living according to obedience to God.

As we ponder the rest Jesus promises to “all who labor” in Matthew 11:28-30, it’s a beautiful picture of mercy and grace, but the rest He offers comes with taking on His yoke and following His example. He will provide rest for our weary body and souls when we trade our reasons for labor (selfish gain, status, ego, materialism) in for His own.

That’s a trade I willingly celebrate this Labor Day, as we honor those whose backs directly carried the burdens of advancing this nation. 

It’s a lovely remembrance when we know Whom it is we really work for.

How do you view God’s rest in light of the yoke He requires? Will you come to Him and find rest for your weary soul?

Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.

Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.




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