Joy and peace are rare in America. Politics have divided people into two camps: angry and angrier. Scripture says: “The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.”1 The 24-hour news cycle, combined with the barrage of economic recession, the pandemic, moral crises, natural disasters, and social unrest, has exhausted many of us. Worse, the agitation shows no sign of abating and psychologists suggest that anxiety is on the rise. One pastor said that life is not a summer camp but a battlefield full of struggles.2
This week I turned again to an old hymn entitled, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” It was written by Horatius Bonar (pronounced Bonner, 1808-1889), a Scottish pastor and poet. The hymn can teach us much about looking to Christ when we feel stressed and burned out. When we are groaning under the weight of a steamroller of suffering and don’t know what to do.
We will look at Bonar’s hymn in three bites (following its three stanzas), the Scriptures it points to, and some lessons to be gleaned.
Hymn Stanza #1 says:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me, and rest;
Lay down, now weary one, lay down, your head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place, and He has made me glad.
Christ says: 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)
1. The hymn recalls Jesus’ words as an invitation and promise to people of every place and time. The Bible is full of invitations from God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to humankind, urging us to turn from our former ways and live in fellowship with God. The Lord invites us to come home to Him and be His partners in helping others to love God and our neighbors.
2. The hymn also shows our required response to God’s invitation. We must call on Him by faith and in prayer. Thankfully, we don’t have to clean ourselves up first. We can come back to God weary, worn, and sad. Remember that many of the Bible’s Psalms are laments. We bring God our exhausted-ness and the burdens of our heart, mind, soul, and body and ask Him to heal and help us. Remember how Christ had compassion on the crowds, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.3 He still welcomes people in that condition.
3. When we come back to Jesus, He becomes our refuge, resting-place, and shelter. This reminds us of the opening section of Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Christ is our Good Shepherd who lovingly cares for us—providing, pardoning, protecting, and leading us. We need His daily restoration for our worries and weariness. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”4
4. In Matthew 11, Christ calls us to put on His yoke. A yoke fastens two things together so that they move in unison, like a pair of oxen. To enjoy Jesus’ joy, peace, rest, and gladness, we need to live close to Him, “yoked” to Him so that we learn His ways and are transformed. Christ’s commands are not burdensome.5 Although they are demanding, they are “easy” compared to the disastrous results of sinful living. They are “easy” also because they come from our Savior who is gentle and humble in heart and He provides rest for our souls. Those who love Jesus and His teachings will find true peace. Nothing can make us fall.6
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us not to be discouraged. Refresh us with your joy and peace. Heal the wounds of our hearts, minds, and lives. Help us to trust and obey you, to learn from and submit to you, to put your teachings into practice. Make your goodness and love follow us all the days of our life, so that we will dwell in the Lord’s house forever. Amen.
To be continued. You can read I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say (Part 2)
Notes (various translations): 1 Isaiah 57:20. 2 This introduction borrows from Laura M. Holson, New York Times writer. I don’t recall the article title. 3 Matt 9:36 4 2 Cor 4:16 5 1 John 5:3 6 Psalm 119:165. I also acknowledge the help of a radio message by Hernandes Lopes.