Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. —Jesus
That passage (Matthew 11:28-30) bleeds relaxation! Notice both times Jesus said “rest”! Like that’ll ever happen. The problem is, we’re all a lot like Job. "Everything I say seems to condemn me." (9:20) If you're typical, you are your own worst critic, right? Always putting yourself down. Much of it might be subconscious, but it’s always why people join a religion—to try to prove that we matter. Perfectionism is a tough yoke to carry. But, hey, Nobody said being a Pharisee is easy!
I talk mostly with church leaders anymore, whether leaders on our team or those who serve Jesus elsewhere—and I can tell you this—there’s an awful lot of stress out there! We all know that churches generally don’t grow quickly, but that doesn’t stop pastors from feeling that, if their church doesn’t do something pretty big pretty quick, they’re going to be perceived as a failure. Maybe even get fired.
So maybe this will help.
You’ve heard of a basketball coach named John Wooden? His name is synonymous with success, at least at the collegiate level. A lot of people don’t know it, but Wooden was a head coach for seventeen years, fifteen of them at UCLA before he won his first national championship. Then he rattled off ten of them in twelve years, including seven in a row! His teams won an NCAA men’s record 88 consecutive games and he was named National Coach of the Year six times.
When he retired, things changed. The seven head coaches at UCLA that followed him have only held the job for an average of four years—for the most part, because lots of money is at stake now, much more so than when Wooden coached. Evidently, the prospect of losing money sucks the patience out of people. So, what if Coach Wooden had come along a couple of generations later and been hired to coach at UCLA, let’s say, in 2007? If his record would have been what it was for the first ten years he actually did coach, he’d already have been fired. Twice!
In fact, Gene Bartow, the coach who immediately followed Wooden, had almost a ninety-percent win percentage, took one of his UCLA teams to the Final Four, and coached a College Basketball Player of the Year. He quit after two seasons.
We live in a performance based world, one where how you do affects the way you’re rewarded or loved, so it’s easy for us to think that God operates that way too. But He doesn’t. No matter what we do or don’t do, God’s love and acceptance of us doesn’t change. He’s always known we didn’t have very much going for us, that we are all under-qualified for every job we engage. He knows that, at any given point in time, we are either condemning ourselves for something we’ve done wrong or sinfully proud about something we did right—but, either way, we’re a perpetual mess.
The world condemns us for the wrong reasons. The church might condemn us even for the right reasons. But everyone, it seems, wants to condemn us. Everyone except Jesus. The reason any of us are still alive to read this is because of His uncompromising love for us all. He offers us forgiveness, gives us value, and then builds His church through our efforts.
Don’t you think God might want you to enjoy all of that? So, all I’m saying is this. Relax and enjoy the privilege you’ve been given to live in his grace. The pressure of expectation is a bad yoke, period. No Pharisee ever wore it well. Neither can we.