We all bear burdens on our pilgrimage through this weary and wearying world. Sometimes these are burdens of temptation, when we feel the world, the flesh, and the devil arrayed against us, luring and enticing us toward some sinful thought or depraved deed. Sometimes these are burdens of guilt as we think back to a sin we committed and we grieve our folly, grieve our inner disposition away from what is good and toward what is evil. Sometimes these are burdens of physical pain as we suffer the effects of living as mortal beings whose bodies are ravaged by time, age, and illness. In all these ways and so many more we go through life burdened by heavy weights that may be physical, emotional, relational, financial, spiritual.
I wonder if you are being pressed or crushed by such a weight even today. Perhaps you are asking what you can do and how you can bear up under it. What actions should you take when you feel the tremendous weight of such a burden? The Bible provides three instructions.
First, you must bear your burden. Galatians 6:5 says, “each will have to bear his own load.” While there are some burdens you may share with others, there are some that you will have to bear alone. You may long for someone to come to you, someone to shoulder at least a portion of it, someone to help you when you are bowed down with the great load you are being forced to carry. But sometimes help does not come. Sometimes your pleas are not answered. Sometimes you must stagger along unassisted under even the heaviest weights. Ultimately, no one else can live your life for you. Philip Ryken says, “There is a weight that every person must carry—the weight of our own personal responsibility before God.” No one can have faith for you. No one else can become holy for you. No one else can do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God on your behalf. You must accept the burden and bear it faithfully, even if you must bear it alone.
But then, second, you may share your burden. While you must bear it, you may share it, for as Galatians 6:2 commands, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” While we most often understand this as an admonition for the strong to seek out the weak, we may as easily see it as an invitation for the weak to seek out the strong. You may find a Christian brother or sister who will shoulder that load with you through encouragement, through prayer, through speaking precious truths. Indeed, it is both a duty and an honor for Christians to help other Christians while they suffer under life’s heavy burdens. As we do so, we fulfill the law of Christ and we imitate Christ who so perfectly exemplified this command: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). J.R. Miller says rightly that while “no one can do our duty for us, or take our load of suffering … human friendship can put strength into our heart to make us better able to do or to endure.”
Then, third, you should cast your burden. You must bear it, you may share it, you should cast it. Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” When you are weary and burdened, God is always available to help. He may not remove that burden from you, but he will certainly straighten your spine and shore you up as you carry it. God may not make you able to bear your burden without pain, but he will make you able to bear it with joy. Just as he sustained his people as they wandered the wilderness, so he will sustain you through your wilderness. Just as God provided for their every need, so he will provide for yours. “Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell” (Nehemiah 9:21). God will not withhold from you anything you need to bear your burden well. J.R. Miller says, “Our burden is that which God has given to us. It may be duty; it may be struggle and conflict; it may be sorrow; it may be our environment. But whatever it is—it is that which He has given us, and we may cast it upon the Lord.”
Weighty and painful burdens are an inevitable, inescapable fact of life in this world. We will all receive heavy loads and we must all bear them, even if at times they seem impossibly large. But when we feel them sink into our shoulders, when we feel our spines compress, when we feel our legs grow tired, when we feel we cannot take another staggering step, we cannot and must not despair, for God has told us what we must do, what we may do, and what we should do.
Inspired in part by A Life of Character by J.R. Miller