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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:29-30

 
Today, I finish my short devotional detour, in which Charles Wesley’s marvelous hymn, “For Believers Before Work” is our inspiration. Yesterday, we looked closely at the first three stanzas of this hymn. Today, we’ll be focusing on the last three. Tomorrow, we’ll return to Genesis.

Charles Wesley depicted in stained glass

Here’s how Wesley concludes the hymn he called “For Believers Before Work”:

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes mine inmost substance see,
And labor on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day.

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate’er Thy bounteous grace hath given;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to Heaven. Amen.

What is work? Wesley offers insightful and inspiring answers to this question. In the fourth stanza, for example, work is an offering to God, the God who sees, not just our outer actions, but also our inner motivations. Thus, if we are to offer all of our works to God, we would do well to examine the condition of our hearts. Am I able to serve God through my work today? Or am I filled with grumpy resentment or selfish ambition?

The fifth stanza, my work is part of the “easy yoke” of Jesus. The verse begins, “Give me to bear Thy easy yoke.” This is an obvious allusion to Matthew 11:29-30, where Jesus offers his yoke to us, saying, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I find it fascinating and encouraging to see that Charles Wesley does not limit the yoke of Jesus to things we tend to identify as “spiritual.” To be sure, we bear Jesus’ yoke when we teach Sunday School, lead mission trips, or work for God’s justice in the world. But we also bear his yoke through our daily work, even when that work feels awfully secular. Accountants, civil servants, and entrepreneurs who seek to serve the Lord in their labors are bearing the yoke of Christ.

The final stanza reminds us that our work is an instance of grace. Though, because of sin, our work can be filled with pain, struggle, and unfairness, work is God’s gift to humankind. It includes the privilege of sharing in God’s own work of stewarding creation. It offers a way for us to walk in the good works God intends for us as new creations in Christ.

In the final words of “For Believers Before Work,” our gaze turns toward Heaven. But we are not encouraged to see this world and its work as joyless struggle to be followed by eternal bliss. Rather, because God is present in our work, we can run our course with joy as we walk with God in this life on our path to Heaven. Once again in Wesley’s hymn, work is a context for communion with God, an activity in which to know God more deeply and enjoy God more fully.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Which words of phrases in the last three stanzas of Wesley’s hymn strike you? Why? Do you think of your daily work as an offering to God? As part of the yoke of Jesus? As an expression of God’s grace? How might these perspectives on work affect your work today? How might they shape your leadership of others in the workplace?

PRAYER:

Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labor to pursue;
Thee, only Thee, resolved to know
In all I think, or speak, or do.

The task Thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works Thy presence find,
And prove Thy good and perfect will.

Preserve me from my calling’s snare,
And hide my simple heart above,
Above the thorns of choking care,
The gilded baits of worldly love.

Thee may I set at my right hand,
Whose eyes mine inmost substance see,
And labor on at Thy command,
And offer all my works to Thee.

Give me to bear Thy easy yoke,
And every moment watch and pray,
And still to things eternal look,
And hasten to Thy glorious day.

For Thee delightfully employ
Whate’er Thy bounteous grace hath given;
And run my course with even joy,
And closely walk with Thee to Heaven. Amen.

“For Believers Before Work” by Charles Wesley (1749)

Photo credit: Thanks to Weglinde (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons