The Labor Day holiday was established in 1884 in a time of unrest among the working class. Exploitation was often cited by the fledgling unions as low wages and long hours in unsafe conditions were often the rule. Workers were perceived as little more than replaceable parts in the greater machine; if you didn’t like conditions or the wages being offered, someone else would. The Carpenters and Machinist unions both claim to be the impetus behind the Labor Day movement.
Many of these labor leaders were campaigning for an innovative idea, one that would curtail the overuse of the labor force. What they were asking for was not only one day from work to celebrate those who worked by the hour, but also for the idea of a balanced day. They were proposing that management establish an 8-hour work day which would then allow for this balance: 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation and 8 hours of rest.
That equation for the use of 24 hours sound pretty good, doesn’t it? However, as it is true today that you cannot legislate morality, coming up with a formula to live each 24 hours by is equally fruitless.
We might get one segment right, but overdo another which then disrupts the third. My experience and the experience of many that I know, is that the segment that gets most short-changed is rest. Ask yourself, how’s this balance working for you? Many work more than 8 hours a day and yet will still attempt to get full time in on recreation. The result is less than ideal, for even though you get away from the work place, fatigue still wins out. You can look at any of these three segments of time, I guarantee for most of us the one that gets cheated the most is rest/sleep.
The one true way to know balance in life is with Jesus Christ. Please read slowly and carefully what the Lord says about this: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).
Jesus calls us to life in Him. Yes, we have eternal life assured through the salvation He has won for us. But that is not some ‘get to it later promise’ either. He knows full well our tendency to overdo most everything, even when they are good things. He calls to us still today to help us find the true balance that only He can provide.
Let’s look a little more closely at what the Lord said as recorded by Matthew, keeping in mind that the rest He offers is completely fulfilling and refreshing.
- 28= “Come to me,” Jesus said. This is a call to action. Jesus has and will give us the soul-rest we desire, but only if we go to Him. And the invitation to come to Him is for everyone!
While it is vital that we understand that Jesus offers His rest to everyone, we also must take note that it is not a free handout. We can’t sit back and simply expect this rest to somehow come to us, we must go to the source and humbly acknowledge our need of it.
One example of what I am saying can be found in Exodus Ch. 16 in account of the manna from heaven. God provided the manna in response to the people’s plea for food in the desert. The people then had to pick it up and then prepare it. In this promise/gift from God, the Israelites had to be active to get the fullness of it. Manna wasn’t any good if left on the ground and it wasn’t any good if they did not use as God prescribed it (rotted if saved overnight). This principle applies to the rest Jesus offers us as well.
Acknowledging that we play a part in experiencing this rest, what are we to do? First, admit our need of this balanced life. If we’ve honestly looked, we’ve seen that we need to have it. Also, it’s ok to admit “I’m tired.” No shame in that, as a matter of fact many of us succumb to pride when we push on through fatigue thinking we can overcome any obstacle if we work long and hard enough. Wrong? Jesus has ‘overcome the world.’ He’s the only one who could. Humbly go to Him seeking this rest.
Not this balance is not just for the weary, but ‘burdened’ burdened as well. May I ask, what are you burdened by today? Finances, health, children, work, the state of the country/world, etc.? Plenty to be burdened about and they quickly become too heavy if we try to carry them ourselves.
Verse 29 from our passage tells us there is more that we must do: “Take my yoke.” This is an act of our will. We take what Jesus offers, here referred to as a yoke, to symbolize that the Lord’s guidance will bring us peace and rest.
Once yoked, we are to learn from Him. “You’ve tried the rest, now try the best!” Look over your track record with dealing with problems and difficulties on your own, or in your power alone. If your past success rate is as low as mine in doing things my way, you can see that we have some things to learn. Hence, once yoked to Jesus, we are to learn from Him; the One with the strength, wisdom, the One that is on the inside of our team!
As I wrap up these thoughts about the rest Jesus offers, please consider what The Baker Bible Handbook says about Matthew 11:30: While the yoke was commonly understood to refer to the law, Jesus invites people to come to him and his teachings instead. Jesus doesn’t welcome us into a passive life, but into a life of restful action in which our burdens are eased because we have someone to depend upon. What we find in Jesus is a whole new way of doing life. (P. 516)
Doing life; isn’t that what the original proponents of Labor Day were attempting to legislate? So much time for this, that and the other thing. Jesus has been and is still offering this way of life all along!
His yoke is not easy because He expects less from us, rather it is light because He carries so much of the load! In the same way, our burdens don’t lighten or go away simply because we follow Jesus, but again because He carries most of the load, they become so much lighter and easier for us to carry.
Is there a balance that can be found in life like the people who established Labor Day 130 years ago were striving for? If you are looking for a neat and well-structured formula of 8-8-8, the answer is most likely no.
But if the balance you seek has Jesus in the heart of all you do, then the answer is a resounding yes! Jesus has told us again today that He will give us rest. His offer is true and reliable. He will give it, if we seek Him for it. It really all boils down to a question of faith: Is what God’s Word says applicable to us today? If you believe that it is indeed ‘active and alive,’ the answer is again yes.
With the word of God activated in your heart and mind, you can know and experience the wondrous truth that Jesus Himself provides the ‘rest for our souls’ that we need.
On this Labor Day, and every day, keep all that you do centered on the Lord Jesus. As you do, you will find that the rest He gives doesn’t just come at the end of our physical activity, but in fact is present and available to us all the time. As you let this truth take root in your heart, you will find that you will not need legislation to provide you balance between work, leisure and rest, Jesus Christ has and is your balance in abundance. Amen.