The year 2009 was one of deep hurt for me. I was involved in a divorce that I didn’t want and left wondering how to move forward as a single dad and an active duty military member. During that time, I had also recommitted to following Jesus and was trying to figure out how to answer God’s call to pastoral ministry. I had a lot going on. It was a season of great hurt, even greater healing and so much learning.
One of the things that God did to help walk me through that difficult time was surround me with a community of people that loved me. They were gracious and welcoming. But, more important than loving me, they loved Jesus. Because of their love for Jesus, their encouragement, wisdom and counsel were essential to my healing process. Along with the wise counsel that came out of those I was in Christian community with, came other “counsel” from goodhearted Christians that didn’t actually know the depth of my circumstances. One of those pieces of counsel that always frustrated me, more than it helped, was “Just give it to Jesus.”
I feel like this is one of the most misused pieces of Christian advice that can be offered by well-meaning Jesus followers. Unfortunately I’ve been on both ends of this misguided attempt to provide “wise council”. Somewhere along the way Christians turned King David’s song lyrics and Peter’s encouraging reminder into a solve all, catch phrase that carries very little actionable application. Here’s three reasons why it isn’t helpful.
1. It isn’t Biblical.
We’ll at least the way that we’ve interpreted it isn’t. The idea is built out of David in Psalm 55:22 and Peter’s reiteration of it in 1 Peter 5:7. Psalm 55:22 tells us to cast our burdens or, when Peter says it, anxieties on God. The problem isn’t with the word “cast,” which literally means “give” or “toss”. The issue is with the words “burden” and “anxiety”. People have taken these to mean any problems or negative circumstances that we experience, but what these words refer to isn’t that simple.
Both words mean something far deeper. The original Hebrew translation of “burden” is actually “gift”. That’s a bit unexpected. In this case “gift” also means affliction, trials, and troubles, but it can mean things that are agreeable and pleasing to us. While that may be confusing, understanding this clearly reveals a far more important purpose behind why David says it. David is saying that no matter our portion from God, we “commit [it] to His custody, and use [it] to His glory.” It’s about our ability to trust God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to us. Likewise, the word “anxieties” doesn’t mean that you aren’t concerned for our circumstances, but is more about not letting circumstance divide our heart between God and other things. We are to give over difficulties to God so that our heart would not be divided and we are not drawn from Him who sustains us.
If “Give it to Jesus” isn’t exactly biblical, what is? In Galatians 6, Paul tell, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The appropriate response to a brother or sister’s heavy burden is that you bear it with them. While Paul was in prison and in dire circumstance, he continued to have hope and comfort in Christ, but he still asked for people, like Timothy, to come be with him. He still needed the comfort and encouragement of fellow believers to help bear the burden. While it may be difficult to carry your burdens by yourself, it becomes easier the more people you have to help carry it.
2. It is Dismissive.
It’s like asking someone, in passing, “How are you?” and they proceed to actually tell you how they are doing. Obviously no one told them that the standard response is, “Busy. I’ve been really busy.” Now you’re forced to respond to them. Because it’s often difficult to know what to say and potentially requires a significant time investment on your part, most of us respond with the standard Christian “deflect and evade” counter-measure, “That’s tough, bro. I’ll pray for you.” While you might believe that they actually need someone to pray for them, really what you’re communicating is you don’t know what to say and you want to leave. As well-intended as it may seem, when you tell someone to “Just give it to Jesus” you’re actually telling them that you have nothing to offer them. You’re essentially saying, “That sucks that YOU’RE dealing with that, but I’m not and I don’t plan to.” If you’re a Christian, you don’t get off that easy. If you want to honor Jesus, you have to bear burdens with others.
3: It’s Not Tangible.
Although you’re not there to make the situation go away, real love does eliminate burden if it’s within the person’s ability to do so. Using those five words and leaving the person to sit in their despair isn’t very Jesus-like. The burdened brother/sister needs comfort, wisdom, insight, encouragement, and maybe someone to just be with them. Chances are that God has gifted with something from the list in Romans 12. If we have the ability to lighten or eliminate the burden of another person, we ought to. Real burden bearing is tangible.
Bearing others’ burdens has everything to do with our heart. If you’re seeking Jesus and allowing His Holy Spirit to transform you, your heart will change. We have to be willing to recognize that we get to choose to be like Him and when we do, He starts and completes that work. Sometimes, we just don’t know how to respond to another person’s difficult situation. That’s okay and that’s where Christian community comes in. What’s not okay is to never grow out of that.
“…by gently reproving them, by comforting them when over-pressed with guilt, by sympathizing with them in their sorrow, by praying to God to manifest his pardoning grace to them, and by forgiving them themselves, so far as they are faults committed against them…”
We can do things like praying with them in that moment, giving words of encouragement, taking there kids for a couple of hours to let them have a moment to think, buying their groceries, making them a meal, being with them, crying with them, hugging them… I imagine if you thought about it, you come up with better ones.
Christianity doesn’t exist for our own purposes and as means of getting out of doing life with others. It exists as a means of glorifying and loving God, though the loving and embracing of others, especially those who are hurting most.
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