A Burdened Life: Three Questions for Those in Sorrow

by Samuel Stephens February 12, 2020

Life after Genesis 3 has its fill of conflict, sorrow, pain, suffering, and troubles piled upon troubles. The Bible does not hide this unfortunate reality. King David expresses a melody of vexation in Psalm 6:6-7:

I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.

King David was not the only person in the Bible who had occasion to despair of life. The Israelites grumbled and complained in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2-3; 17:3) and wailed and wept when they heard an unfavorable report concerning God’s promises (Numbers 14:2). Out of fear, the prophet Elijah requested to God that he might die (1 Kings 19:3-4). Jonah’s anger and dissatisfaction brought him to ask God to take his own life (Jonah 4: 3).  Job was so tormented that he loathed his life and was bitter of spirit to the point that he wished he had never been born at all (Job 10:1, 18-22). Perhaps it was this unavoidable condition of life that brought Solomon in his old age to conclude that all things are wearisome (Ecclesiastes 1:8). With the effects of the curse looming before and upon us, it does not take much effort to take a melancholy view of life on earth.

I counseled a young man once who was very much in this predicament. For a season in his life, he doubted his salvation, despite clear evidence. While this matter became settled, his anxious thoughts moved toward dissatisfaction with life. For my friend, life contained too many hardships, temptations, trials, and sorrows to bear, so much so that he often told his parents that he wished his life would end suddenly or that Christ would return to end his suffering.

His desire to be united with our Lord Jesus in eternity, in and of itself, is not wrong or selfish. In a passage referenced earlier, Paul directly interacts with the truth that our outer bodies are wasting away and that while there is indeed affliction on earth it is nothing compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that we will experience in eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10). Indeed, there is a longing in all of God’s children for the day that we will be made completely whole in Christ. When He will come to make all things right (Psalm 42:2; 143:6; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Romans 8:23-25; 1 Corinthians 15:53-57; Revelation 21:5).

However, I discerned that my young friend’s desire for eternity left him with a distorted and sinful view of his life in the here-and-now. Should our physical lives be seen as burdensome? Were we redeemed only for a future glory? Is there nothing to be treasured, appreciated, or enjoyed in this life? These were just a few questions that came to mind as I walked with my friend as he sought answers.

From the Scriptures, there are three important questions that need to be settled in our hearts and minds. Our overall outlook on life will depend on where we land concerning these three points. Is it a life dedicated to the glory of God or is it consumed with self-worship?

Who has control of my life? 

I noticed an undercurrent of self-sufficiency and a strong desire for control in my friend. He lived as if his salvation and sanctification depended upon his willpower and rulemaking. If he walked into a public restroom and did not leave it completely spotless, then he saw it as a failure in his Christian duty. If he bumped into a stranger at the public pool, he would feel guilty over the occurrence and track that person down in order to apologize.

Have you ever tried to pacify your own conscience or settle your own guilt? Have you attempted to achieve God’s will without conferring with Him?  If so, did any of those things bring peace or assurance? Even though my friend had created a complex system of rules and regulations, these did not bring peace. Instead, they brought deeper sorrow, strife, and frustration.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Attempts at self-sufficiency are as old as history. Adam and Eve desired to be like God apart from obedience to Him and were cursed (Genesis 3:1-6). The Israelites attempted to win a victory without trust and were soundly defeated (Joshua 7:1-9). Peter sought to protect Jesus and was rebuked for his lack of faith (Matthew 16:21-23). Ananias and Sapphira planned to give to the work of the ministry but through greed lied about that gift and were killed by God (Acts 5:1-11).

Self-sufficient living brings disastrous results. May we be like Job who understood that there was no wisdom or light in man, but God understands and knows the paths and depths of wisdom (Job 28). He is God and we are not so may our words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

What motivates my life?

My friend’s self-sufficiency led him to focus on himself instead of serving and loving others. Jesus spoke of this connection when he commanded us to love God and, as a result, love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:36-40). As the incarnate God, Jesus did not have to serve others, but that is not the attitude we find in the Scriptures. We find a self-sacrificing, self-abasing, and self-less Jesus who gave himself up for the holiness and purity of others (Mark 10:45; John 13:35; Philippians 2:4-11).

Under the hood of my friend’s doubts, anxieties, and fears was a self-focused engine that drove his life. He had an open and honest relationship with his parents, who themselves were godly and involved in his life. However, week after week I found that regardless of his father’s encouragement and instruction there was a stubborn refusal to heed his father’s counsel. Do you find yourself rejecting godly counsel? Is a lustful and boastful “pride of life” simmer beneath the surface of your life (1 John 2:15-17)?  Ultimately, I confronted my friend with his rebellious and proud heart demonstrated by his rejection of his father’s shepherding.

Self-focused living isolates us in a prison of our own sinful desires and affections (Galatians 5:13-15). When we are distracted by these desires, we are too busy nursing our own self-made worries to care for the burdens of others (Romans 15:1-2). Paul said it well, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:2-3).

What is the burden of my life?

In both self-sufficiency and self-focus, my friend came to despise life. He had become a scrupulous person who was discontent and anxious. In a feeble attempt to prove the “vanity” and “futility” of life, he would often reference verses from Ecclesiastes. However, he missed a very important point made by Solomon that should not be ignored, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime . . . it is a gift from God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).

God, while delivering us from the bonds of the “present evil age,” does not pluck us out of the world, but instead prepares us to be fruitful ambassadors of Christ, loving ministers of reconciliation, and guiding lights to a dying and lost world (Galatians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Matthew 5:13-16). My friend had lost the joy of his sanctification because he had forgotten the joy of his salvation.

The Apostle Paul spoke of the groaning and burden that accompanies life and that often affliction can be found on every turn as “fighting within and fear without” (2 Corinthians 7:5; 5:1-4). However, he also saw rightly that there is unspeakable contentment in the life that is lived unto Christ and not to self. Life is a gift from the good Father.

There is no escaping a burden in this life, the question is what burden are you taking up? Is it a burden of your own self-sufficiency or is it the burden of righteousness? Jesus said it best in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.