Reid Jones is the Campus Minister at Clemson University
Every fall semester, right around the time of midterms, I lead our newest crop of sleepy-eyed and overwhelmed freshmen through a Bible study called, “The Gospel and Your Responsibilities” (thanks to former RUF Campus Minister, Richard Vise, for the original study). During this session, we consider Galatians 6 where Paul instructs his heavy burdened friends to “test his own work…for each will have to bear his own load,” and we then begin to list the individual burdens that these particular students are bearing at the moment.
I’ve now been serving with RUF for over a decade and I can honestly say that the list hasn’t changed very much over the years. Students name the usual suspects that they are all feeling at this point. Endless responsibilities surrounding school work—showing up for class, paying attention, studying, keeping up grades to keep up scholarships and more. They name the newfound adulting duties such as cleaning their room, washing dishes, keeping up personal hygiene (easy to forget). They share about work, friendships, checking in with parents, finding time to exercise, learning how to prioritize sleep… oh, and the Jesus stuff too! It really is a lot when you start to list it.
I remember going through this exact exercise with a group of freshmen several years ago and my wife happened to be present when they were naming all the things. She leaned over to me and said, “This is too much.” And she was right. Yet, year after year, the list remains the same. If anything, it just gets longer.
Something hit me a few years into this repeated conversation. The list started to sound familiar. Not just because we all experience busyness (which these days has become as much of an identity-marker as it is a modifier of time). It sounded familiar because of something Jesus said, about all that we have to “do.”
Once in the Gospels, an expert in the law (a Pharisee, who from what I can tell, loooooved busyness), asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31).
Jesus told the lawyer that the greatest commandment is to love God with our heart, soul, mind, strength and to love our neighbor. This is why the freshmen responsibilities list sounded so familiar! In fact, we began to list the duties in categories: Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical and Relational. In other words: Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength and Neighbor.
Our burdens to bear are not just daily duties to complete (as the expert in the law was attempting to do), but rather each responsibility is an opportunity to love God and serve our neighbor.When we reorient our to-do list in these terms, everything changes!
For freshmen, for every other student, and for all of us who are no longer in college, our heavy load is not just part of life, it is a calling to serve the Lord our God with our whole lives! It is an invitation to love God and neighbor through our study, our work, our campus involvement, through our sporting events, our service projects, our church life and everything other thing God calls us to.
Our burdens and responsibilities are kingdom opportunities to love. And not just to love, but to be loved. As Jesus himself invites those who are burdened, “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).
Dane Ortlund writes in his instant classic, Gentle and Lowly, about this yoke Jesus promises to his burdened followers.
“His yoke is kind and his burden is light. That is, his yoke is a nonyoke, and his burden is a nonburden. What helium does to a balloon, Jesus’s yoke does to his followers. We are buoyed along in life by his endless gentleness and supremely accessible lowliness. He doesn’t simply meet us at our place of need; he lives in our place of need. He never tires of sweeping us into his tender embrace. It is his very heart. It is what gets him out of bed in the morning.”
What gets me out of bed in the morning? Is it an internal motivation to get the to-do-list done? Or is it something greater… something like the love of Jesus? We are called as Christians in this world to love our God and love our neighbor with our whole selves. Our daily responsibilities are opportunities to do just that.
And when we feel overwhelmed by the business of busyness as I do no less than five times a week, it is in those moments that we are invited to come to Jesus, who carries our burdens, even our greatest burden of sin, all the way to the cross. We can find real rest in Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.