“Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord”
from Elijah – Felix Mendelssohn
Cast thy burden upon the Lord,
who ever sustains thee,
who never will suffer the righteous to fall,
and is at thy right hand.
Thy mercy, Lord, is great,
and far above the heav’ns.
Let none be made ashamed,
that wait upon thee.
Psalm 55:22, 16:8
Selflessness, and its relationship to my faith, has always been a particularly confusing point for me. I know and understand that selflessness is an incredibly important tenet of Christ’s teachings, as expressed in His word: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:13) and exemplified in His actions by doing just that, and so much more. In practice, I have found a focus on selflessness to lead me to something all too common in American Christianity – a sort of self-afflicted martyrdom.
I remember when I had just started college and was looking for a church home, someone offered me the advice, “Don’t look for a church that serves you, look for a church that you can serve.” Resemblance to a certain JFK quote aside, I thought that was good advice, and did my best to follow it as I searched for a congregation to call home.
Of course, as the best laid plans often go awry, the most sincerely heeded advice often does, too, and I proceeded to spend the entire year trying just about every church in the greater Waco area. It seemed as though when I found a church that spoke to me, that had sermons that challenged me and music that moved me, people that interested and inspired me, maybe a basketball court and a league on Wednesday nights, I would find myself thinking about that advice and wonder, “Does this church really need me or does it just check the boxes for me?” Essentially I was asking, “Am I being selfish by liking this church?”
Inevitably, the answer for me would be “No, this church does not need me,” and I would go on to another church that had music that really needed some work or a preacher whose words inspired someone else and I, not being moved the experience, would think, “Wow, I really did not like that service, this church must really need me!” and try to plug in. However, unfulfilled and spiritually unsatisfied, my self-sacrificial involvement eventually would fizzle out and I’d be on to the next one.
I tell this story to illustrate a faith issue that I continue to wrestle with to this day – martyrdom. Too often we see the suffering of Christ or of the saints, and assume that the only way that we can be useful to God is through a type of self-sacrifice that makes us uncomfortable or unhappy. Before I go any further, let me be sure to say that God absolutely will lead us through times of discontent and discomfort, and often these are times when we experience massive spiritual and personal growth!
However, like I misconstrued the advice I received about church searching, sometimes we can take this beautiful idea of selflessness and twist it until we feel like we are doing something wrong if we do something that benefits us, even if it helps the world be a little better, too.
To that I offer two simple ideas:
You will serve your God and your neighbor better if you yourself are taken care of.
And far more importantly, cast your burdens upon the Lord.
When we take on the role of self-sacrificing martyr for our friends, our church, our families, we too often take the weight of their problems on our shoulders. To have the bandwidth to truly and fully serve our neighbors as ourselves, we first need to acknowledge that our shoulders cannot carry that much weight! We are only able to serve them through the help of Christ, which means offering our problems and concerns (read: burdens) up to Him first. If we do not take this critical act of submission before, during, and all around our service of our neighbors, are we allowing the Savior to work through us, or trying to be a savior ourselves?
Since Christ is your savior, your redeemer, your Messiah, allow Him to play that role in your life and offer Him those burdens you hold to so tightly. Resilient as it is, the human spirit was not made to carry the weight of the world, so offer that which burdens you up to Him who wants nothing more than to carry it for you.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church