What is a burden?
BURDEN: noun: a load, that which is borne or carried; a weight, a charge, a duty.
This pandemic has really done a number on the world, hasn’t it? So many people have been unfairly burdened because of this virus and its effects on society, economy and human interaction. Jobs have been terminated, income has slowed or stopped, businesses have folded, homes and transportation have been lost, food and resources have become scarce or unaffordable, family members have been lost, and more abuse has been inflicted on those who were barely skating by before the pandemic hit. Freedom has been limited, and life may never return to “normal.”
Very real burdens have been placed on very real people’s lives. During the past 10 months, our family experienced many, many burdens. I, my wife, and our 4 kids had nowhere to go for months and all financial support dried up; we had nowhere to park our RV multiple times and we stayed at a friend’s house, then we got stranded in the mountains, and we even spent a month living at truck stops. We drove out of state to help where it was needed. We were food-less multiple times, with no money to purchase more and no way to get to the store except my trusty skateboard. We have endured countless burdens as a family, but in the end, I can say that we learned a ton and grew enormously. Because of this adventure God is bringing us through, others have joined us on this journey as they speak with us about it in person as it is happening or read about it through this blog after the fact. I’d love to share with you what our family has learned about the value of burdens.
WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN
I have The Bible app by YouVersion installed on my phone. Every day a verse pops up and I love to see what nugget of wisdom God has for me, spending my first moments of the day meditating on His word within its context. One day, this verse popped up:
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Psalm 55:22 (CSB)
King David, who wrote that verse, was a poet who wrote often about his burdens. His native language was Hebrew, not English, so the actual translation does not say, “burden,” it says, “what God has given.” He honestly viewed everything God has given as ultimately beneficial, never negative. He recognized that God was the one who orchestrated everything in his life - both delightful and challenging. He acknowledged the painfulness and heartbreak, but knew that there was great and defining purpose in all of it. In the original language, he actually said this:
“Constantly be throwing off what God has given you back onto Him for His purposes and His glory, and He will hold you up so that you endure. God will never surrender to failure those who are constantly obsessed with Him.” Psalm 55:22 (paraphrased)
I’ve personally experienced countless endurance-building burdens since Brave Sky Ranch was born 3 years ago, and the last 10 months I’ve grown exponentially. God has grown me and pushed my focus to remain on Him and Him alone. I have grown wiser and experienced far beyond everything I thought I knew. When God revealed Psalm 55:22 to me and what David was saying when he wrote it, my eyes were opened to how wrong we’ve been about burdens only being bad.
God set the course for David to be hunted for 20 years before finally crowning him king. David recognized this as “what God has given,” and acknowledged that it was never a bad thing, but always a thing to be dedicated back to the Giver for His purposes and glory. Because David honored God and did not take things into his own hands, God got every ounce of credit for David not killing his adversary every time he got within reach of David’s sword. Multiple times this happened, and David continued to practice his conviction: everything God gives me I will return to Him for His purposes and glory - it’s not my revenge to take for wrongs done to me.
Since God mentioned it early in David’s life, the world has known David as the “Man after God’s own heart.” I can only imagine that this was because in every challenge David faced, He recognized that God had given it for a purpose. He was human, of course, and he made mistakes, but for nearly all his life, David kept his eyes on the God he was obsessed with and he chose to draw close to God instead of solving His problems by himself.
Most of us experience difficulties and challenges and we allow ourselves to worry over them, dividing our focus between learning the lesson and solving the problem. God’s enemies constantly use this tactic to entice our minds away from looking solely at God, dividing our focus and often diverting it away from Him altogether.
In Matthew 6:33-34 (paraphrased), Jesus said, “Do not let your mind be divided between being obsessed with God and not obsessed with God.” We generally understand this another way: “Don’t worry.” When we are worrying, we have a mind divided between trusting God and NOT trusting God.
Philippians 4:6 (paraphrased) says, “Let nothing divide your mind from being obsessed with your God. Instead, present your needs before Him: vow to dedicate the resulting provision to His purposes, ask Him to fill your lack, and appreciate His goodness and favor toward you that you do not deserve.”
When my wife and I were going through pre-marital counseling, our pastor had asked us to agree on a scripture on which to base our marriage. Anne and I went round and round, and just kept coming back to this:
“My brothers and sisters, take command of all joy as soon as you fall into various kinds of testing, keeping in mind that proving your convictions achieves patience and endurance. Let this steadfastness culminate in its intended result so that you may become perfect and complete, lacking in no way. But if any of you are lacking in wisdom, ask my God and He will give it generously and uncriticizingly to all who ask - but be sure to ask with an undivided conviction because a divided mind is easy to sway back and forth, like the surf on the sea that is tossed around by wind, and the one with a divided mind, by definition, cannot expect to receive anything from God, because a divided mind is unanchored in every way.” - James 1:2-8 (paraphrased)
There’s the divided mind again. This really is a common problem for us, isn’t it? But this time, the author begins with instructions of how to prevent a divided mind. “Take command of your mind and choose to view the burden as fully beneficial, even when it doesn’t feel that way.”
Life has been called a race, a climb, a competition, a journey…. Would someone attempt to run a marathon without ever training for it? Who would enter a strongman competition without weight training beforehand? Who would climb the most difficult rock face in the world without first training to build strength and endurance? Training and preparation takes time, energy, will, and determination to continue when naysayers surround us.
Our Creator made us with a purpose, and He is the best Personal Trainer we could ever follow. He has created a custom training regimen for each of us based on His plans for us. If we trust Him to know what He’s doing, we will take each instruction in stride, no matter how painful it seems or how silly it appears, and we can be confident that the entire purpose is for us to grow in maturity and strength. We can trust the expert when we have no idea what we’re doing… no wonder so many people subscribe to a gym membership and quit a week later. The average gym member has no idea how to reach their goals without overloading their bodies and giving up.
Another key to training is constantly increasing the resistance on a schedule so that muscle strength can handle more and more stress - called “progressive overloading.” Strength cannot increase if intensity never increases. If life were weight training and burdens were the weights, picking up and putting down those burdens (and taking breaks in between) is the surest way to grow muscle and endurance - repetitive and progressively increasing stress on muscles causes them to adapt and strengthen.
Anne’s favorite example of this is a story about a man who was given a piglet and told to carry it on his shoulders up a mountain every day. As the pig grew, the man’s muscles grew… until many months later, he was carrying a full-size pig (hundreds of pounds!) up the side of a mountain on his shoulders. Incremental increases in strength training is the way to go. Mindful training must be done to slowly and healthfully prepare a human body to endure such stresses. It is no different for a human spirit.
Repetitive stresses on our convictions help us grow stronger in sticking to our beliefs, giving us muscle memory and endurance to plant our feet securely and not waver. Burdens are all blessings that encourage new growth in us. What makes us feel awful is usually that we are trying to apply our burdens ourselves instead of trusting our Personal Trainer to be coaching us to pursue movements that will help us reach our goals.
We were never meant to handle any burdens ourselves but to simply trust God while the burden is weighing us down. God is the one who uses the burden to grow us closer to Himself, and He even benefits others who hear how He brought us through it. But when we don’t trust God, we try to take that burden on ourselves and we get ourselves in a world of trouble. Often we avoid a lot of time and pain when we hand that responsibility back to God and let Him guide us through. It only took me 40 years to understand what I am now sharing with you today. I may be very slow at learning these lessons, so it’s a good thing that God is so very patient with me!
PROVING A POINT
Millennia before King David, there was a man named Job who had a massive burden placed on him - God bragged about this man to His enemies: God insisted that Job would always respect and defer to the One who gave him everything he was and had - right down the breath from his lips and the heartbeat in his chest. If God stripped away almost everything from Job (including his children, influential position, extreme wealth and good health), God’s enemies swore that Job would disrespect God and walk away.
But God knew exactly what would happen - “The Job Test” was an outrageous success because all the burdens drew Job closer to God, instead of pushing him away. In fact, the experience only brought Job to the conclusion that God - and God alone - was enough. No possessions or family or influence or anything else can ever replace a direct and personal relationship with the God who Created us - and nothing and nobody should ever come between us and Him.
Sometimes, God gives “burdens” that do not let up so that we are constantly focused on Him; Paul, the most influential contemporary of Jesus’ disciples, spoke of his own experiences:
“I could tell you what I’ve accomplished, and because it’s the truth, it’s not foolish to share my résumé - but I choose not to, so that my current words match how I live, especially when God has shown things to me that nobody else has ever experienced. Therefore, to deter me from boasting that I am deserving of such honor, I received a festering splinter in my mortal-ness, a messenger from God’s enemies to torture me and hold me back from over-praising myself. Three times I asked my God to remove this torture from me, but He answered, ‘You do not deserve My goodness - and yet I give it to you. It is enough. Weakness is power’s catalyst - powerlessness provides the contrast necessary for one to be able to see power.’ Because of this, I will wholeheartedly display my weaknesses so that my God will get all the credit for His power shining through me. I choose to be well content in weakness, facing insults, hardships, oppression and extreme difficulties as God’s representative, because whenever I am powerless, I AM is powerful.” - 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 (paraphrased)
It’s important to note that a key part of asking God for something was often the asker striking a deal with Him - a woman named Hannah asked God repeatedly for a child, and for many, many years she had none. Then finally she added a caveat to her request - “Making a vow, Hannah said: ‘God, Ruler of Heaven’s Armies, if you choose to notice me in my pain, if you remember me, if you give a boy child to me, Your servant, I will give him back to You for all the days of his life to be used for Your purposes.…’” 1 Samuel 1:11 (paraphrased)
As Hannah did with her burden of childlessness, we should be determined to dedicate the outcome back to God, regardless of what He chooses to do with it. We should have this mindset before He answers and even before we ask. We ask Him to grow us, or to perfect us, or make us more like Him - whether we realize it or not, we are giving Him permission to test and improve our strength in order to give us what we’re asking for. That’s the only way we grow, become more perfect, and more closely resemble our Creator.
We’ve talked about giving our burdens back to God, but He wants us to hand over absolutely everything, even what we don’t have - even our NEEDS should be handed back to Him! Dr. Tony Evans said that if we have a need, we must first give it over to God and fully allow Him to take the responsibility to fill that need. He has already filled that need and entrusted it to someone else who is waiting to pass it on to us as He directs. This is how God meets our need. We are blessed, they are blessed, and God gets all the credit.
In my own current personal burdens, I can choose to take them into my own hands, or I can continue trusting and following the God I am obsessed with. When I give it all to God and let Him control it all and let Him orchestrate my life the way He wants it be, it’s the most freedom a human can experience. God is behind everything - it’s been 3 years since Brave Sky was born and we’ve never been in a place where we didn’t have what we needed. God continually provides what we need when we need it. He has always strategically orchestrated our lack to attract someone specific and to bless them as they obey His leading while meeting our need. My family and I live by faith every day, and we hope to inspire others to do the same.
God places tests in our lives to grow us, strengthen us, beckoning us further up and further in just as any decent teacher desires for their students. Tests and quizzes may feel torturous, but when the graded paper is returned with an “A+” and “Good job!” the test-taker admits it was well worth the discomfort. Maybe the next test will seem a little less daunting.
BURDENS ARE BLESSINGS
Each blessing, whether painful or painless, is simply a training weight that we set down and leave when we’re finished at the gym. We don’t carry the gym weights everywhere we go as accessories or bring them home with us, so why do we allow our burdens to weigh us down in every part of our lives, often until the day we die? We make permanent what was meant to be only temporary. When we attempt to fix each burden ourselves, the weight ends up lasting far longer than it was meant to and it causes damage because it is being misused.
We get ourselves deep into trouble when we try to fix things alone - we get bogged down and create even more difficulty for ourselves, like fighting quicksand. We become trapped in a hopeless world of despair. I endured an abusive childhood and I tried to fix the pain myself - it never worked. We try to drown the pain by shifting the focus to something else — obsessing over work, hobbies, shopping, gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships, and may ultimately result in taking one’s own life. I’ve reached that precipice, and though I faced it as a teenager, it continued to haunt me many years into my adult life. (To read my story, click here) If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve approached each burden with a completely different attitude.
We humans are such a mess because at some point we decided to try and figure out our lives on our own. If God orchestrated everything, why are we so quick to try and dissolve our burdens ourselves? God wants us to give back EVERYTHING He has given us, just as Hannah pre-dedicated the child she was asking for. If God gave it, give it back to Him for His purposes and use; it will always benefit us to do this. If you are obsessed with God, you will dedicate everything you have and everything you are for His purposes… and you will never, never, never be disappointed with the results.
I can’t write this post without mentioning that when it comes to trusting God, timing is everything. We must be focused on listening for His voice so that when He directs us to make a move, we are able to hear Him. Every burden/blessing He gives is for a purpose - sometimes for ourselves and our growth, and often for serving others. Either way, our focus on God is essential to getting the most out of each burden and the lesson it is meant to teach us.
The key is to always, always, always continue focusing on God through the burden. Take command of your mind, recognize that each situation is an opportunity for growth and joy, and determine to learn the lesson it’s meant to teach you - then toss it back into God’s hands. Appreciate each burden and honor it, respecting its place in your life and the strength you are gaining because of it. Even when it hurts, it’s still a blessing. Then repeat. And repeat. And repeat.