Weary and burdened… but where is the rest?

On February 24th, the brakes on a truck traveling in Tanzania failed, leading to a tragic collision that took the lives of eleven key YWAM leaders.

The global YWAM community has remained in a space of lament as they’ve comforted those who have lost loved ones, prayed for those still in the hospital, and processed how this event impacts the days, months, and years ahead.

When tragedy like this strikes, we often desire to retreat, to get away from everything and embrace solitude; too often, this is not possible.  Grieving parents still have to care for their kids, missionaries still desire to serve their neighbors, and day-to-day life continues.

What do you do when you cannot retreat from tragedy?  How do you function when the difficulty is too much yet you can’t get away?

Jesus faced this dilemma.  One of his closest relationships was with John the Baptist.  In addition to being family and close friends, both deeply sought God and engaged spiritually in ways that uniquely unified them.  They understood each other in ways many could not.

Matthew 14 reveals that John was wrongly imprisoned and brutally murdered; Jesus’ response to the tragic loss of a loved one follows in verse 13:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.

Heartbroken, Jesus longed for solitude to grieve with his Father.  In fact, this news came after a rough trip to his home town, where he was questioned and dismissed by many.  As any human would in these conditions, Jesus needed a break.

This was short-lived:

Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

Imagine it: you’ve just had an exhausting experience followed by devastating news, only to have your efforts at retreat interrupted by people that want something from you.  Let’s be honest, this can be difficult in everyday life; to occur amidst tragedy can feel impossible and unjust.

Jesus was tired and hurting, yet we read this in verse 14:

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

When he was in need of compassion, he gave it generously to others.

Many sermons stop short here.  We are presented with this challenge to rally amidst disaster and serve others no matter how we are feeling.  “Smile!  Be Positive!  Do what you need to do to keep going!  That’s what Jesus did!”

Is this a story of human resiliency, or something else?

Verse 23 indicates the latter:

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.

Jesus’ grief had not disappeared; rather, something sustained him as he remained faithful to “love God and love others.”  Despite his need for solitude, something empowered him to demonstrate the faithfulness of “not my will, but yours be done.

This isn’t mere human resiliency, but the power of the Spirit.

When Jesus invites us to follow him, this is what he is talking about.  It is not about becoming spiritually smarter, missionally effective, or globally impacting: he calls us to live as he did through the power of the Spirit.

The disciples must have missed this: there is no record of them saying, “Woah, Jesus is grieving the loss of John and disappointment of community rejection… and yet here he is loving and serving!  No human could do this… something greater is at work!”

Instead, verse 15 shows them solidified in their human understanding:

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

The weren’t wrong; they were not equipped to feed thousands.  For all we know, they may have been trying to protect Jesus; perhaps this was a convenient way to give him an excuse not to serve so he could retreat.

Jesus did not go for it:

“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (v16)

Remember, Jesus is heartbroken and exhausted, and aware they are ill-equipped for a food ministry; he could not be faulted for calling it a day and resting.  Yet although all of human logic demanded that they needed to go away, the Helper let Jesus know they didn’t.  They could stay.

The disciples are not yet spiritually-discerning enough to sense what Jesus sensed, and continued to (understandably) think like humans:

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. (v17)

“That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37)

So Jesus — still carrying the loss of John and lament of difficult ministry — is used by his Father to do the impossible, not only meeting the physical needs of thousands, but spiritual needs of those whose hearts limited God.

After this, Jesus finally retreats.

As I type this, my heart laments for many YWAM leaders that are facing an impossible invitation: wracked with grief and the weight of difficult ministry, God is inviting them to serve when their humanity longs to retreat.  Many are navigating the heart-wrenching logistics of the tragedy in Tanzania.  Others are wrestling with hardships closer to home.  Most see their ministry challenges compounded with personal struggles.

And though they long to withdraw “privately to a solitary place”, the Spirit shows them an opportunity to love, and fills them with compassion.

When they have nothing to give, the Spirit gives through them.

If you are at the end of yourself — whether due to loss or another hardship — and your attempts at solitude are disrupted by God’s invitation, “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

That death on the cross was not the end of the story, and Jesus’ willingness to say “Not my will, but yours be done” at the point of his deepest grief led to a display of God’s power and love that transforms us still today.

What Jesus showed us is that rest is important, and even the son of God can feel the weight of sorrow; yet the deepest tragedy cannot outweigh the power of the Spirit to do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  In our darkest hour, the Spirit can move through us, and in our weakest moment, Jesus can give us rest.

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Related Comments

2 Responses

  1. Interesting fact:
    This moment, when Jesus longed for rest but was invited to serve, led to the only miracle — except the resurrection — found in EVERY gospel (Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:31–44; Luke 9:12–17; John 6:1–14). Something more powerful and important that filling stomachs happened that day!

  2. I haven’t thought much about how Jesus felt with John’s death and how he could feel exhausted. Jesus in my mind didn’t face these struggles but instead was on a triumphal procession of miracles and teaching. But now I can see that Jesus really had humanity with a soul and body with limitations and through that did everything that we read in the gospels.

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