The Easy Yoke

Lord, help us to hear with open hearts so that we may better understand your Holy Word. And understanding, that we may believe; and believing, that we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do.

George Mueller was born in Germany in 1805; as a young man, he moved to England to study with the London Missionary Society, but quickly became disillusioned with what he saw as the worldly strategies of existing mission organizations. Convinced that these groups were relying far too much on their own abilities and far too little on the resources of our heavenly Father, George began his own mission organization in Bristol, England, where he was also serving as pastor or a congregation where he would spend the next 66 years, leading his last prayer service the day before he died at age 92.

George felt that God was directing him to focus on several areas in his mission organization: to start schools where children and adults would be taught Bible knowledge; to distribute Bibles and other Christian books and literature; to encourage and support missionary efforts—and to care for orphans.

At the beginning of the 19th century in England, orphans were everywhere. Sanitation in the cities was poor, cholera and other epidemics were rampant, and often dangerous working conditions all contributed to the problem of homeless, uncared for children. Mueller would see these children as he walked to church and he began to pray for God to show him how he could help them.

In 1835, when George was 30 years old, he called a public meeting to present his idea of an orphanage. No collection was taken, but someone handed him ten shillings and a Christian woman offered to help care for the orphans.

George and his wife Mary had been praying and were convinced that God wanted them to start an orphanage not just to care for orphaned children, but also to demonstrate God’s great glory. And so they made a decision that they would ask no one but God for the necessary funds, because, as George put it, “when we bring our worries to God in prayer, we will never meet a deaf ear or a reluctant glance. We will instead find a Father who gladly bends His shoulder to bear our burdens.”

So George and Mary prayed. After five days of prayer, $300 came in, which was enough money to rent a house, equip and furnish it. Four months after his initial public presentation, George opened the doors of the orphanage to 26 girls between the ages of 7 and 12.

It’s important to understand how George was praying. He was asking God to provide for children in need and to do it in a way that would provide visible proof that God does indeed hear and answer prayers. George and Mary continued to pray and seven months later, they opened a second house, this one to care for children from infancy to age 7. Ten months later, a third home was opened to house boys over the age of 7. Soon there was another house for girls. 130 children were now being housed in Mueller’s orphanages.

George prayed and God provided, but that didn’t mean that everything always went smoothly. It didn’t mean that there were never any problems. At one point, donations had been drying up for months. Week after week, they struggled with barely enough funding to provide food for the children. Until one morning George Mueller rose from his bed knowing that the plates and cups and bowls on the tables were empty. The children would be waiting for their morning meal and there was no food.

Was he anxious, frantically wondering what to do? No—because George Mueller was a man, who, despite a lifetime filled with the need to care for hundreds of children with never enough funding, didn’t worry.

He knew who was in charge and he knew it was not him. George, who read the Bible from cover to cover almost 200 times in his lifetime, knew God’s promises. Perhaps he thought about Jesus’s words that we heard earlier in Luke’s gospel: “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:24).

When George arrived at the orphanage that morning, he gathered the children together and prayed. He raised his hands and said, “Dear Father, we thank you for what you are going to give us to eat.”

Before he was done praying there was a knock on the door. The baker stood there and said, “Pastor Mueller, I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at 2:00 AM and baked some fresh bread and here it is.” George thanked him. No sooner was the baker gone than there was another knock at the door. It was the milkman. He said that his milk cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage and he’d like to give the children his cans of fresh milk so he could empty his wagon and repair it.  

George Mueller was a man who never worried, according to written accounts by his son-in-law, James Wright, who was also the associate pastor at Mueller’s church. it wasn’t because his life was so easy. George and Mary’s first child was stillborn, their third child died at the age of 15 months, and their fourth child was also stillborn. Mary died when George was only 65 years old. He later remarried and his second wife also died before George.

Yet somehow Mueller was able to live out Jesus’ words in our gospel reading: “Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:29-31).

He not only knew what Peter meant when he wrote, “Cast all your anxieties on Jesus, because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7), he somehow knew how to do this.

I’m pretty sure that none of us wants to go around being anxious about things. But, for many of us, we don’t seem to know how to let go of our worries.

George Mueller knew that the key was a combination of prayer and soaking in God’s Word—that together, the practice of these two things bring the kind of peace that the apostle Paul talked about, the “peace that passes all understanding.” Paul, of course, achieved this peace the same way George Mueller did—prayer and study of God’s Word.

 When asked how he could remain calm in the middle of a hectic day filled with uncertainties at the orphanage, Mueller would say, “I rolled sixty things onto the Lord this morning.” Or seventy, or a hundred. He took his burdens one by one, off his own shoulders, and rolled them onto God’s.

The children of God, Mueller often said, “are permitted, and not only permitted but invited, not only invited but commanded, to bring all their cares, sorrows, trials, and wants to their heavenly Father. They are to roll all their burdens upon God.”

To fail to do this, Mueller said, is sin.

We often think of sin as telling a lie or stealing or gossiping—we think of it as breaking rules. But if you read the Bible carefully, we get a different picture of what sin is.

In our OT lesson, the prophet Samuel is upset with King Saul because Saul got tired of waiting for Samuel to arrive and went ahead and offered a sacrifice to God. To us, this maybe doesn’t seem like a bad thing—it might even seem like a good thing. But God didn’t give kings the authority to offer sacrifices to Him—and Samuel, speaking for God, told Saul to wait for him. Then Saul went to war against the Amalekites, as God had commanded, but he failed to destroy everyone and everything as God had commanded. Saul decided instead to keep the livestock and let the Amalekite king live.

And Samuel told him that because of these two things, God has rejected Saul from being king. The problem, Samuel said, is that what God wants is obedience. “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry” (I Samuel 15:23).

If you’re going to presume that you know what God wants, Samuel is saying, you might just as well put a Buddha statue in your house and worship it—because thinking you know what God wants is just as bad.

Sin is much more than breaking one of God’s rules. Sin is disobedience to God’s will and to God’s command. Adam and Eve in the garden sinned when they disobeyed God and ate the fruit that He had forbidden.  “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22).

This is sin—and we’re all guilty. Every single one of us disobeys God regularly and often. Because we want to be in charge. We want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

And this is why we so often struggle with anxiety, why we so often worry.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can never place too much weight on God’s shoulders. Not one of our worries is too heavy for the God who has already traveled to the very depths of our misery, who has already carried our curse on His back in the form of a wooden cross, and who has thrown off the chains of death.

This is what George Mueller somehow managed to learn—and to practice. And we know how he did it: he prayed about everything and he knew God in a way that few of us do—because God speaks through His written word. And George Mueller knew that Word.  

Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

All things. Do you believe this? Do you know that when you’ve reached the end of your strength, when you think, “I can’t do this job another day,” or “I can’t deal with this marriage another day,” or “I can’t deal with my financial struggles or health struggles or whatever it might be for another day” that you don’t need to? Because when you can’t handle your job, or your marriage, or your finances, or your health today, you can roll that burden onto Christ Jesus.

Maybe you don’t have the strength to do your job for one more day. But you can do your job for one more day through Christ who strengthens you. You can do marriage or finances or sickness through Christ who strengthens you.

George Mueller knew this. He lived with the continuous problem of inadequate provision not only for himself and his family, but also for the hundreds of orphans in his care. Ten years after he opened his first orphan house, people were complaining about the orphanages. The neighbors didn’t like living next to all those noisy children, because there wasn’t enough space to grow gardens and hang laundry, people and things tended to spill over onto other people’s property.

What should he do? Some of us might have said, “Well, I guess maybe it’s time to close the orphanages—or at least reduce the number of children to a more manageable level.”

No George and Mary—they kept praying and discovered that not only did God not want them to close any of their houses, He wanted them to go bigger. God provided seven acres of land further out in the country and told George to build a single large house that would hold 300 orphans. The final cost was $90,000.00, all of which God provided.

Ten years later God told him to build another large house, this one to hold 400 orphans. A third home and then a fourth were eventually built, each housing 450 orphans.

Now George was providing for 1600 orphans every day—without ever asking anyone other than God to bring the provision. God wanted someone to care for the orphans in Bristol, England—and when George answered the call, God brought the provision. If it sometimes took a long time to arrive, or if it arrived only at the very last moment, George understood that, too. He wrote: “It was from the beginning in the heart of God to help us; but because he delights in the prayers of his children, he had allowed us to pray so long.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, have you ever thought about this? That maybe when God delays in answering your prayers, it’s because He just loves to have you keep coming back to talk to Him, to be in relationship with Him?

James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

God cares about our smallest worries just as much as He cares about our biggest worries. George Mueller wrote, “It’s not simply great matters we are to bring before God, not simply small things but ‘everything.’ Therefore, all our affairs, temporal or spiritual, let us bring them before God. Because life is made up of little things.”

For those of us who struggle most with worry, anxiety doesn’t go away when trouble does. Even when our family is healthy, our job secure, our friendships steady, worry continues. But with practice, we can learn to roll even those small burdens onto God. Onto our God who is always ready to carry them for us.

In Matthew 11:30, we hear Jesus say, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” If we’re huffing and puffing our way through life, maybe we’re not walking with God. Maybe we’re running in the flesh—maybe that’s why everything seems so hard.

Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). We have been invited to walk with the gentle Jesus. “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).

Jesus was a carpenter, and in Jesus’ day, carpenters did a lot more than build houses. One of the things they built were yokes. Yokes were used to harness two oxen together. When a young ox was being trained, it was paired with an older ox who already knew what was expected and how to get it done. One who knew that a steady, even pace was needed while looking straight ahead, one who knew that pulling together with the other ox was the only way anything would get done.

The young ox would get impatient with the steady pace and want to run ahead. When they did that, they got a sore neck. Other times the young ox didn’t want to do anything—they just wanted to sit. They got a sore neck. The lead ox just kept on going no matter what the young ox did, because the older ox had learned to listen to his master.

When we allow ourselves to be yoked with Jesus, He maintains a steady pace right down the center of the narrow road.

But when Jesus calls us to take His yoke, often we don’t want to. It sounds like a burden. But when we put on the yoke of Jesus, we’re forced to remove all the other yokes we’ve been walking with. The yokes of worry and anxiety. Some people think that Jesus is a crutch for weak people. Maybe it’s true. Jesus might be our crutch, but He’s the only one we need. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

When we learn to walk with Jesus, we learn to take one day at a time. We learn the priority of relationship. We’d learn that our walk is one of faith, not sight, and one of grace, not just a list of rules.

I wonder what might happen if we practiced this model in our own ministry. I wonder what might be different if we prayed about everything before we did anything. If, when things seem to us to be hard, or even impossible, if we just stopped and prayed and asked God what He’s trying to teach us, what He wants us to do?

I wonder what might happen if we really understood that walking with Jesus, walking with the Holy Spirit, isn’t about running around constantly, exhausting ourselves as if everything depended on us? What God expects of us is that we listen, we “cast our anxieties on God, because He cares for us” (I Peter 5:7). Would God tell us to cast our anxieties on Him if He didn’t plan to do anything about them?

In the next verse, however, Peter writes: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). The devil devours by filling us with fear, with anxiety—because when we’re consumed by fear, we don’t do anything. And when that fear grows, it pushes out God’s Word and God’s command that we listen to Him.

What Peter is saying here is that we can listen to God or we can listen to the devil. And sometimes it’s only by knowing God’s Word—really knowing it—that we can tell the difference. In 2 Corinthians 11:14, Paul tells us that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

This is why we need to pray together and test all things. Peter and Paul knew this; George Mueller knew this. Moses and David and countless other saints over the centuries have learned this—anyone can learn to hear God. But it doesn’t happen without effort on our part. It doesn’t happen without soaking in God’s written Word. It doesn’t happen without setting aside time to talk to God.

But to be effective, as God’s people, we must do this. God has a plan for this congregation, a plan that includes every single one of us. Nothing is accomplished in God’s kingdom if we expect Him to do it all—and it’s His eternal purpose of God to make His wisdom known through His church (Ephesians 3:8-11).

And nothing gets done for the kingdom of God when we try to do it alone. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He meant it. We have the privilege of watering and planting, but God causes the increase.

I once heard someone looking at a beautiful garden, say to the gardener, “The Lord sure gave you a beautiful garden.” Thee gardener responded, “This garden belongs to the Lord, and I have the privilege of caring for it. But you should have seen what it looked like when the Lord had it all to Himself.”

Mueller wrote: “My dear Christian reader, will you not try it this way? Will you not know for yourself … the preciousness and the happiness of this way of casting all your cares and burdens and necessities upon God? This way is as open to you as to me … Everyone is invited and commanded to trust in the Lord, to trust in Him with all his heart, and to cast his burden upon Him, and to call upon Him in the day of trouble. Will you not do this, my dear brethren in Christ? I long that you may do so. I desire that you may taste the sweetness of that state of heart, in which, while surrounded by difficulties and necessities, you can yet be at peace, because you know that the living God, your Father in heaven, cares for you.”