Burdens are something that most of us have either carried in the past, or something we are carrying in the present. We are all familiar with the concept of ‘carrying a burden’. While some burdens are legitimate, many are not. Illegitimate burdens stem from human attempts to manipulate or control people or situations. Illegitimate burdens are also rooted in our attempts to keep law based religious teachings, as well as our fleshly desire to strive and accomplish a great name for ourselves. Legitimate burdens, however, are quite different as they stem directly from the Lord sharing His heart with us about a specific person, cause, or situation.
With all the confusion that exists today surrounding ‘missional’ and caused oriented living, I have been ‘burdened’ to share my heart regarding the characteristics and nature of legitimate burdens & causes. I have discovered these characteristics over time as I have lived most of my Christian life carrying illegitimate burdens, yet also carrying a few legitimate ones along the way. The contrast between the legitimate and illegitimate burdens have taught me much.
From time to time, people will approach me and ask whether or not I think a specific endeavor (relating to a specific burden) is legitimate. While it would be easy to simply make a list detailing what I think are legitimate or illegitimate burdens, that itself would be illegitimate:) With that said, however, I would like to talk about what I have found to be three characteristics of legitimate burdens.
1. Legitimate Burdens Are Involuntary
Of all the people whom I have known or studied who have carried legitimate burdens, none have chosen their specific area of burden. As a matter of fact, in moments of weakness, many have expressed that they wish they did not carry their burden. Legitimate burdens originate in the heart of God, not mankind. Like anything that comes from Spirit, our flesh stands opposed. Carrying a legitimate burden from the Lord comes at a high cost. Because carrying this burden goes against the natural desires of the flesh, the flesh has to be reckoned as dead to truly embrace the burden. Of course the flesh is bent on self preservation and self glorification, and as a result, our own flesh suffers great loss because of the burden.
For example, I experienced this personally a couple of years ago. Due to a set of extraordinary circumstances, I found myself in the position of being an advocate for a friend who was in the midst of a very heated legal battle. The case was quite serious and became a national news story. Instantly, I was thrown into the mix of doing local & national news interviews and dealing with high powered political attorneys.
I did not ask, nor seek out, this situation. I had never acted as an advocate for anyone before, nor had I experienced such incredible pressure and intensity. I wanted to run from the situation on several occasions. To be completely honest, I even wanted to die as I asked the Lord to take the burden from me several times. It simply seemed too much to bear. Nevertheless, this difficult season lasted almost one year.
The Lord powerfully used this situation of being an advocate for my friend to show me how insufficient my own flesh was and how often I naturally turned to my own flesh to respond to situations. He also used this season to reveal to me my need to draw from the ‘wellspring’ of Christ’s life for the strength to carry this burden that He gave me. It was His strength and life that sustained me during this season that involved much loss and personal attack.
2. Legitimate Burdens Are Connected To & Reveal God’s Eternal Purpose
Again, I cannot stress the importance of this point, especially in light of the ‘missional’ subculture that exists today within evangelical Christendom. The Father only has ONE mission…the revelation and expression of His Son! All His ‘eggs’, so to speak, have been put into the ‘basket’ of His Son. All other legitimate causes and burdens will be deeply connected to the Lord’s eternal purpose of revealing and expressing the Son of God. As you may know, this Son is now expressed by and through the church. Because of all the confusion regarding what the ‘church’ is, we should define what the New Testament church of Jesus Christ actually is:
The New Testament church was a group of people who were discovering how to live by Christ’s life together. -Frank Viola-
(Hint: the words ‘people’, ‘Christ’s life’, & ‘together’ are really important)
As I have mentioned before, I am convinced that most situations which occur in the natural world are simply a picture of a greater spiritual reality. For example, the human trafficking epidemic and exploitation of women that occurs globally is merely a shadow of a greater spiritual epidemic. ( I have written about this very topic here ) Most who have adopted a ‘social justice’ cause / burden seem to be completely unaware of this all important reality.
Without getting into too much detail in regards to the legal case of the young lady I was an advocate for, I realized later that this specific case was simply a physical example of the wider spiritual struggle involving the bride of Christ!
The young lady involved in this legal battle had been rescued out of repressive religion, and into faith in Jesus Christ. Because of her family situation, this decision for Christ put her life in physical danger. Although she had come to faith in Christ, in many ways, she was actually being held captive by the institutional religious system that was trying to ‘help’ her. Because of the national exposure of the case, there were those with political agendas who were trying to exploit & control her during this critical period in her life as well.
Although I did not see this at the time, the Lord has since used the ordeal with my friend to open my eyes to the greater tragedy that has befallen the precious bride of Christ. Although the bride of Christ has been rescued from the fall, much of the church is still trapped inside the prision of institutional religion & is being used, exploited, and corrupted by mankind’s political & economic systems as well.
3. Legitimate Burdens Lead Us Into, Not Away From, Christ’s life & Romance.
When the Lord gives us His heart about someone or something, it is simply too heavy for us to carry in our natural flesh. I have found that many times the Lord will even cause these burdens to ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’, so to speak, so that we are not crushed by the continual intensity of the Lord’s heart. Although legitimate burdens naturally flow from Christ’s life, these burdens were never meant to become our life and focus. There simply is no substitute for beholding and living by the life of Jesus Christ among a group of believers. The key to romance is continual discovery, and there is much discovery of Christ available to us through our brothers and sisters whom we are living in community with.
Again, legitimate burdens flow from Christ’s life, but the moment they become our focus, or the moment they become the ‘mission’, it becomes illegitimate and unhealthy. The discovery & expression of Christ’s life is the only legitimate ‘mission’ that exists. Because this is not reality for most evangelicals, a huge void is present. Many evangelicals know that something quite profound is missing and, as a result, they are desperately trying to fill that void with a plethora of important causes and good religious activities that are mostly done in the name of ‘obedience’, or ‘making disciples’. In time, this kind of living leads us toward emotional & physical burnout.
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a few questions that may be helpful for you in regards to evaluating whether or not the burden you are carrying is legitimate or illegitimate.
1. If your burden was taken from you today, would your identity in Christ be affected? Do people relate to you, or do they relate and know you mostly by the function and role that you perform?
2. Does this burden negatively affect your reputation among those in the world’s system (including the world’s religious system) ? Does your flesh suffer loss or gain as a result of this burden?
3. Does this burden increase or decrease as you behold Christ in your spirit and in the body of believers you are living in community with?
4. Does this burden take you away from resting in Christ and living in community with others in the body of Christ, or does this burden come FROM resting in Christ and dwelling in community with other believers?
5. Does this burden leave you continually drained and physically exhausted? Is your physical health improving or decreasing? Do you suffer from chronic pain and a weakening immune system?
6. Does this burden point to a greater spiritual reality that you can see? Is this greater spiritual reality connected to God’s eternal purpose of discovering and expressing the Son of God?
For further reading about this, consider this article as well: Missional Confusion & The Amway Gospel…An Assessment Of A Movement