Discipleship as Rest
by James Harvey
There are many words that we associate with discipleship. There are the verbs—learn, commit, obey—and there are the nouns—righteousness, suffering, perseverance. These are weighty words; they are biblical words. There is a cost to discipleship. Jesus makes clear that if we want to know what discipleship looks like, then we should look to the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25). If the world hates the Master, it will hate His servants (10:25). We ought not to be surprised by the opposition we face from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
But, as we take seriously the opposition that we will face as disciples of Christ, we need to be sure that we don’t subtly begin to see discipleship itself as a burden. For example, do you feel an internal burden when you contemplate the disciplines of regular Bible reading, faithful worship on the Lord’s Day, or the memorization of Scripture? These spiritual disciplines are indeed disciplines—they don’t happen without planning and purpose. But these disciplines are blessings, not burdens. Listen to Jesus speak about discipleship:
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. (11:28–30)
Jesus uses ancient Jewish metaphor to define discipleship in these verses. We are yoked to Jesus as oxen pulling a cart are yoked to one another. Where He goes, we go. When He moves, we move. But His yoke is easy. Our necks are not chafed; they are soothed. His burden is light. Our backs are not made sore; they are restored. By His stripes, we have been healed (Isa. 53:5); the law no longer condemns us (Rom. 8:1). His commandments may now be costly, but they are no longer burdensome (1 John 5:3). We are called to learn from Jesus. But our Teacher’s voice is not harsh and high-minded. Our Savior is gentle and lowly of heart. We delight to be in His presence because He pours love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
So watch the subtle tendency to see discipleship as a burden. To view discipleship as a burden is to view Jesus as a burden. And Jesus is never a burden. He is always a blessing. When we gather for worship, we come to Christ’s feast to satisfy soul-hunger (John 6:35). When we read our Bibles, we come to Christ’s fountain to quench soul-thirst (4:14; 7:38). To draw near to Jesus is discipleship-rest for our weary souls (James 4:8). While we experience loss with respect to the world, we experience rest in our relationship with Jesus. And so, as one great disciple said, “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16).