When The Burden Is Too Much

I find there are days when it feels like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Global pandemic, riots, political polarization, human trafficking, radical groups destroying our sense of security, people out of work and businesses forced to close their doors, friends struggling with anxiety and depression, kids in the community losing their battle with mental illness, infertility afflicting some couples and other mommas struggling to feed their children. I could go on, but in case I hadn’t already depressed you, I’ll stop while I’m ahead. 

We want to be a light in the darkness. We want to help those around us. We want to bring about justice, but we’re completely overwhelmed by the weight of it all. There are times when the burden is just too much to bear. 

Personally, I know there have been days where I’ve told God, “I just can’t do this. The burden is too hard to take.”

Several years back, I first read this story about Amy Carmichael. It resonated so deeply with me that now my mind is always drawn back during moments of complete overwhelm. If you haven’t heard the name Amy Carmichael, she was an inspirational missionary in India around the turn of the century and served there for over 50 years. Amy’s claim to fame was founding an orphanage and working with women and children. Most significantly, she worked to rescue young children who were either at risk to be, or had already been, sold to the Hindu temple priests. Due to customs at the time, these children would be used as temple prostitutes to honor the gods and to earn money for temple priests. Clearly detestable and absolutely heartbreaking. 

In her book, The Gold Cord, Amy Carmichael writes about how she founded her ministry and orphanage, and the extreme challenges they faced. There is this moment in the book, just a few chapters in, that made me stop and reread it several times. Feeling utter defeat at losing some of the children they wanted to rescue from prostitution, and feeling helpless as to how to save any more of them, Amy writes that the burden was unbearable; it was too much to carry. 

She walked outside and God gave her an image:

“At last a day came when the burden grew too heavy for me; and then it was as though the tamarind trees about the house were not tamarind, but olive, and under one of those trees our Lord Jesus knelt, and he knelt alone. And I knew that this was His burden, not mine. It was He who was asking me to share it with Him, not I who was asking Him to share it with me. After that there was only one thing to do: who that saw Him kneeling there could turn away and forget? Who could have done anything but go into the garden and kneel down beside Him under the olive trees?” 

Don’t get distracted by the fact that you don’t know what a tamarind tree is. It’s simply an indigenous tree to that area, the same as me saying, “the trees about the house were not oak, but olive.” And the reference to olive trees is because in the Gospels, Jesus went out to the grove of olive trees and prayed just before his arrest and crucifixion. Amy is stating an important fact here: the burdens of the world are not meant to be carried by us! Our Lord knows that. He knows the world is ugly and full of treacherous things. The whole point of Jesus coming to this world as flesh and dying on the cross as our Savior is because he knows that! The entire Old Testament is clear proof that humans stink at being their own savior. We cannot do it. It’s too much for our capabilities. The burden is too much to take and it ends in failure each time. 

But here is the beautiful part: God does invite us to partner with him. He does ask us to live as ambassadors for Him, which, simply put, means to reflect the King whom we represent. He welcomes us to intercede for the people, the community, the world around us. 

In his classic book, My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers discusses this same topic of becoming burdened when we try to do or fix things on our own: “We must distinguish between the burden-bearing that is right and the burden-bearing that is wrong.” He goes on to explain that God does put things on our heart to carry, but they are meant to be “rolled back” onto the shoulders of God.  “If we undertake work for God and get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility will be overwhelmingly crushing; He takes away the sense of responsibility by bringing in the realization of Himself. ….the burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” (from the April 13 devotional)

“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” 

Psalm 55:22

“The burden is lightened by the sense of companionship.” I love that. It is not this idea that because the burden is God’s, we do nothing. Rather, we can freely and weightlessly come alongside God and do the work he’s placed on our hearts. We can provide a meal to sick neighbors, get weekly take-out from a local restaurant trying to stay afloat, sing songs outside an assisted living facility, and write notes of encouragement to healthcare workers. We can purchase gifts through Women At Risk International, donate diapers for new mommas, or volunteer as a mentor at Love INC. We can be the first to extend kindness with those on the opposing side, do weekly check-ins with friends who are hurting, and pay for someone’s coffee. 

We can lift up holy hands of prayer and ask for God’s mercy, all the while knowing that ultimately, this life rests in God’s hands. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus in our own sphere without carrying the weight of the world. The results are God’s business. Our job is to obediently follow where God leads. 

So if you are finding yourself weary today because of the impending darkness in our world as of late, take heart that the burden doesn’t rest on us. God is still sovereign. He is still carrying us– even when things look bleak. He is still enacting his rescue plan and he will still bring about justice one day. I will continue to say this again and again: we are still in the waiting. The final day of restoration, where heaven meets earth and all things are made new, has not yet come. And while we wait, we can choose to partner with our gracious God. Not getting weighed down by the burdens, but coming alongside our Savior to intercede and to act on behalf of who or what is broken.

As for Amy Carmichael, despite a discouraging and uphill climb to start her ministry, she saved over a thousand children from futures that would have otherwise been filled with poverty or prostitution, even building both a school and hospital on their ministry site. She inspired future missionaries, including Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. Her foundation still exists to this day, run by local Indians, and supports hundreds of people on over 400 acres. 

Praise God that Amy didn’t throw in the towel when her task felt too daunting. Her story has served as a powerful reminder to me that while we may not be able to right every wrong today, that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference and bring a little bit of God’s peace to this world. Stay strong and keep on rolling back those burdens. God hasn’t given up on us, so don’t give up on the world yet, either. 

I look up to the mountains;

Does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes from God,

Who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

Psalm 121:1 (The Message)

When Did We Forget to Love our Enemies?

I wrote this well before I knew what all would enfold today. The message hasn’t changed. But friends, I think we all desperately need to hear it again. While some have been more guilty than others, I have seen it on both ends of the spectrum. 

We have to let go of the hate. 

Don’t take my word for it. If you call yourself a follower of Jesus, listen to his words. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:43-48

What is a fairly common passage read in modern-day church from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this would have been radical teaching to its original Jewish audience. Levitical law taught to “love thy neighbor” and urged not to hold a grudge against their own people, but that didn’t entail outsiders and enemies. Old Testament scripture never explicitly says to hate enemies, but some Jewish sects taught that idea based on examples of pious Old Testament figures like David, who wrote about hating the wicked and those who aren’t following the Lord (Psalm 31:6, 119:113, 139:21). So it would have made perfect sense to the Jews to love their fellow Jews, but to hate the wicked outsiders, Romans, and Samaritans– or any non-Jew for that matter. 

However, Jesus doesn’t just direct them not to hate their enemies, he goes so far as to say to love and pray for them! He’s asking them to love the dirty tax collectors who rip them off, the cult-like Samaritans living the next town over, and the domineering Romans impeding on their freedom. Jesus drives the point home by comparing his listeners to tax collectors and pagans if they don’t love in this way– “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”

Jesus is ushering in the kingdom of God here. The final Day of Restoration has not yet come, but Jesus’ coming as flesh initiated a call to kingdom of God living while we wait. He was calling these Jewish listeners to a higher form of living– “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If they are to be the salt and light of the earth, his people to spread salvation to the ends of the earth, they needed to live in such a way that reflected they were children of their holy and righteous heavenly Father. 

So what does that mean for us? While the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture may differ from Western 21st century culture, our general challenges and struggles aren’t so different. Our lives are filled with political, moral, cultural, and social conflicts just as theirs were. And in the same way Jesus first called Jewish believers to spread the message of salvation through kingdom living, so we the church are called to do the same. 

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society?

Do I embody a radical, kingdom of God love that acts as a light in the darkness of society? Or do I blend in amongst the crowd? How do I react when political debates begin at a family party? How do I treat my neighbor that I’ve determined has the “wrong” yard sign? How do I respond on social media when someone posts an outrageous opinion? How do I treat the neighbors who move in down the road that don’t “fit in”? 

Jesus is not saying that we roll over dead or stick our head in the sand to sin and evil. Other passages of scripture make it quite clear that he stands against wickedness. But he is calling us to a higher form of love; a love that rises above the worldly standard to only love those whose political views align with ours, share the same denomination, have the same color skin, or live in the right zip code. He is calling us to love in the way he has loved us, still covered in our filth of sin. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19

How can we engage with those who have hurt us or with whom we vehemently disagree? How can we shift our own hearts to begin to lift our enemies up in prayer instead of lifting up our noses? How can we begin to see our fellow humans through God’s eyes?

We may not be able to fix society on our own, but we can make a difference in our own sphere. We can control what we teach our children about those who “aren’t like us.” We can be the first to extend a humble hand of forgiveness. We can choose to speak with kindness even when we don’t feel like it. We can demonstrate outrageous, Christ-like, kingdom of God living right here, right now.

As it was those 2,000 year ago, Jesus’ call to love and pray for our enemies is radical. And yet it is this very form of radical love that reflects the heart of God and will ultimately bring about change. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -John 13:34-35

Prayers for the nation,