When Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,”[i] he was offering to join with us and help carry our heavy load. Jesus does not make extraordinary demands for us to step into his yoke; “My yoke is easy,” he said. Once we are yoked together, our burden becomes his; suddenly it feels light.
God programmed the experience of life to be one of continual lack. Our resources and abilities seldom equal what is required to heft our burdens. As we struggle to cope and progress, we find ourselves in the constant need of seeking help from someone who has greater strength and ability. Try as we might, we cannot change life’s program. But once we admit that we will never have enough and that we need constant help, we will be in a better position to come to Jesus and draw strength from a Resource that never diminishes.
The Great Discovery
One of the great discoveries of life is that God can take care of us. Here are two examples:
Years after the Israelites had wandered in the wilderness, the prophet Nehemiah offered a prayer of thanksgiving, remembering how God had easily yoked with his people and shouldered their burdens:
Thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst. Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, [so that] they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.[ii]
The Lord never forsook them; he was with them both day and night; he instructed them and provided manna and water to sustain them so that they never lacked anything. Amazingly, neither their clothing nor their shoes wore out during those 40 years! Truly, the Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Here is another of example of “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
At the end of Jesus’ life, just before he entered Gethsemane, he reminded his apostles of the time when they went out to teach the people with neither purse nor scrip. Then Jesus asked them: “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.”[iii] They lacked nothing!
Here, then, is the solution for those who of us lack:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.[iv]
We could rephrase this scripture by replacing the word “wisdom” with “anything.”
If any of you lack anything, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth [chastises] not; and it [the blessing] shall be given him.
Notice the inclusive language: anything,” “any of you,” and “all men.” Now notice the word “liberally,” meaning abundantly. Clearly, the Lord is anxious to freely take care of our needs, if we will ask him. If we will sincerely request that he yoke with us and help to carry our burden, he will neither chastise us nor turn us away; rather he will gladly give us the blessing we seek.
Grace and the Lord’s Yoke
One of the greatest gifts that Jesus offers us is his grace: his ability to add to our strength to make us equal to any challenge. Grace is that divine power which enables us to become more than we are and do more than we could if we were left to ourselves. But by yoking with Jesus, we become as strong as our Partner.
A Divine Formula
We can no more explain grace than we can understand how the Lord’s yoke works. But here is how the formula works:
- Come unto Christ and ask for his help.
- Do our best to carry the load.
- He will make up the difference.
A Pattern for Shifting Burdens
Jesus gave us a pattern for shifting the weight of both the burdens of sin and the difficulties of life. He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[v]
Let us examine some words and phrases in these verses:
- “Labour”—a woman in labor descends into the valley of death to bring forth new life. To survive the labour she needs comfort and encouragement. Jesus is offering us his comfort and encouragement.
- “I will give you rest.” The word rest has at least two meanings: “I will share your load” and “If you will come unto me, I will give you eternal life.”
- “Take my yoke upon you” means “Because I am the Savior I am already wearing a yoke. I going your way and have a place open in my yoke if you want to take it.”
- “Learn of me” means “I am inviting you to get to know me. We are family; we are friends. Family and friends learn about each other. As we travel along, yoked together, you will get to know me better.”
- “I am meek [patient, humble, gentle, submissive to your requests] and lowly in heart [not proud]” means “I want you to learn about me: I am always willing to help, and I am harmless.”
- “Ye shall find rest” – Our journey together ends with the great promise of eternal life.
- “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” means “You are going to notice a marked difference in the weight of your load.”
In the scripture, four verbs and their phrases describe how we can lighten our burdens when we easily yoke ourselves to Jesus:
- Come unto me.
- Take my yoke upon you; it is easy.
- Learn of me.
- Find rest.
1) Come to the Savior
Don’t try to see how long you can tough it out. Don’t drive yourself into spiritual and mental exhaustion by trying to carry the burden alone. Come to the Savior—ALL of you “that labour and are heavy-laden.”
2) “Take my yoke upon you”
Here are two examples of people’s burdens made light by their taking upon them the easy yoke of Jesus Christ:
- Moses’ people were punished. A plague of poisonous serpents bit all of Moses’ people for their disobedience to God. Moses created a brazen serpent and raised it on a pole, symbolizing the Savior’s being lifted upon the cross, and invited the people to simply look upon the serpent and be healed. But many of the people perished because they would not look; the solution was too easy and therefore too unbelievable. The prophet, Nephi, explained, “The labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”[vi]
- Referring to this event, the Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, taught his son: “For behold, it is…easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss…. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look [unto Christ] we may live forever.”[vii]
Clearly, the burdens of sin and life are hard, but yoking ourselves to Christ is easy.
The Easy Yoke of Jesus Christ
President Howard W. Hunter described Jesus’ easy yoke:
In Biblical times, the yoke was a device of great assistance to those who tilled the field. It allowed the strength of a second animal to linked and coupled with the strength of a single animal, sharing and reducing the heavy labor of the plow or wagon. A burden that was overwhelming or perhaps impossible for one could be equitably and comfortably borne by two bound together with a common yoke….
Why face life’s burdens alone, Christ asks, or why face them with temporal support that will quickly falter. To the heavy laden it is Christ’s yoke, it is the power and peace of standing side by side with a God that will provide the support , balance, and strength to meet our challenges and endure our tasks here in the hardpan field of mortality.[viii]
What is Christ’s ‘easy yoke’?
Covenants, such as the baptismal covenant, are the easy yoke of Jesus Christ. A covenant is made by two people promising each other: “I promise you and you promise me.” By mutual promises, the two parties are bound (yoked) together.
When we keep our part of a covenant, Jesus keeps his part. And his part always includes removing the burden of our sins and helping us to carry the weight of our problems. Then our burden becomes light and manageable.
Examples of Jesus Making Our Burdens Light:
- The Paralytic Man. The friends of a paralytic man broke through the roof a house to lower a sick man and his bed to Jesus for healing. Their faith was rewarded by the Savior’s healing the man and lifting his burden. Significantly, after the man was healed, Jesus directed him to carry home his bed. The healed man gladly obliged; the bed weighed much less than the infirmity that the Savior had removed from him. Now his burden was light.[ix]
- Alma. The Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, was once the vilest of sinners. When he came face to face with his own rebellion, he repented mightily and the Lord forgave him. Thereafter, he devoted himself to the Lord’s work, which required a lifetime of sacrifice and service. But his sacrifice burdened him much less than the burden of sin that he had carried alone.
Examples of Christ’s Easy Yoke–“We’re in this together”
Peter’s life provides two significant examples of the Lord’s standing with us and absorbing our mistakes when we are yoked to him.
When tax collectors asked Peter if Jesus paid tribute, Peter erroneously answered yes. Later, Jesus corrected him, but because they were yoked together, Jesus provided a solution “lest we should offend them.” Notice that Jesus includes himself in the solution. Peter’s burden was to go out and obtain the tribute money, but Jesus’ part was to provide the miracle by which that happened. When Peter paid the tribute money, Jesus said it would be “for me and thee.” Why? Because Peter and Jesus were yoked together; they were carrying this burden together. Jesus didn’t abandon Peter to suffer the consequences alone.[x]
Later, Peter made another mistake that the Savior rectified. When Judas betrayed the Savior, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Again, because Jesus and Peter were yoked together, Peter’s actions impacted Jesus. Therefore, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword, and quickly he healed the servant’s ear, repairing Peter’s mistake.[xi] When we are yoked with the Savior, he assumes and covers our mistakes.
3) “Learn of me”
The lessons we must learn about Jesus are lessons that we can only learn after we have taken upon us his yoke and traveled with him. What will we learn? That he is kind, just, consistent, non-discriminating, all-knowledgeable, all-powerful, and filled with perfect love.
But we do not have to learn everything about him before he manifests his power in our lives. An apostle, Boyd K. Packer, said, “You need not know everything before the power of the atonement will work for you. Have faith in Christ; it begins to work the day you ask.”[xii]
4) Find Rest Unto Your Souls
Consider what these people found or discovered when they decided to yoke themselves to the Lord and allow him to help carry their burdens:
- Job. This prophet experienced terrible trials, but the Lord remained constantly yoked to him and carried his burdens. During the process, Job learned lessons about the Lord that he could not have learned otherwise, and in the end the Lord appeared to him.
Then Job answered the LORD, and said, I know that thou canst do everything [you have all power], and that no thought can be withholden from thee [you know everything]…therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not [I thought I knew you, but what I have learned being yoked to you is too wonderful for me to describe]…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.[xiii]
In other words, Job came to know the Lord more by being yoked to him than he ever could have otherwise. Finally, he came to know him in the ultimate sense: Job saw him and found rest to his soul.
- Abraham. After Abraham had nearly lost his life to the wicked priest of Elkenah, he yoked himself to the Lord and escaped the land of Ur with his wife and kindred. Then in the land of Haran, his journey with the Lord resulted in the Lord’s appearing unto him and giving him great promises. When the vision ended, Abraham said in his heart, “Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee.”[xiv] Abraham’s resolve to yoke himself to the Lord resulted in his finding the Lord, meaning knowing and seeing the Lord.
If we will submit to be easily yoked to Christ and allow him to help shoulder our burdens, we will receive in return his guarantee of support and the assurance that we will come to know him intimately.
Alma’s Testimony of Jesus’ Easy Yoke
Every person who tests the Savior will eventually stand as a witness that Jesus Christ indeed has an easy yoke, that he will lighten the heaviest of burdens, and that he will take care of us. The prophet Alma gave the following testimony, after having lived a life of sacrifice and service, which had caused him relentless and unbearable persecution:
I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions; yea, God has delivered me from prison, and from bonds, and from death; yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.[xv]
Alma’s testimony could be echoed by every soul who hearkens to the Savior’s invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[xvi]
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(I wish to thank Ted Gibbons for sharing his thoughts on this article.)
[i] Matthew 11:30.
[ii] Nehemiah 9:18-21.
[iii] Luke 22:35.
[iv] James 1:5.
[v] Matthew 11:28-30.
[vi] 1 Nephi 17:41.
[vii] Alma 37:44,46.
[viii] Hunter, Conference Report, October 1990, 20.
[ix] Mark 2:2-12.
[x] Matthew 17:24-27.
[xi] Matthew 26:51.
[xii] Packer, “Washed Clean,” Ensign, May 1997, 9.
[xiii] Job 42:1-3, 4-5.
[xiv] Abraham 2:12.
[xv] Alma 36:27.
[xvi] Matthew 11:28-30.