When Jesus invites all those who are “heavily burdened” to come to him, he is talking about more than just the burdens of this world. Yes, everyday life can be a heavy burden in itself, with increasing debts and expenses, difficult relationships, and too many things to do within too short a time, but Jesus was also and perhaps more specifically referring to heavy spiritual burdens, as things of the spirit were his specialty. In most cases, if we resolve our spiritual burdens, our worldly burdens are also resolved.
One aspect of a heavy spiritual burden can be found quite literally in the heavy weight of demonic oppression that occurs during sleep paralysis. I have not personally experienced it myself since being born-again 20 years ago, but prior to that, sleep paralysis was nearly a nightly event. The demons that attended on me had a field day all night.
One episode in particular remains especially vivid. It happened a few years before I was born-again. I am quite myopic (nearly legally blind), and when I wake up, I cannot see very well until I put on my glasses or contacts. On that particular occasion, I awoke to find myself in the usual paralyzed condition (sleep paralysis being a regular occurrence with me) but attended by a figure in black. I was laying on my left side. I looked at the clock hanging on the wall across from my bed, noting that I could barely see it but that the hands appeared to be positioned at shortly after 6 a.m. The room was becoming light. Behind my head, just at the fringes of my peripheral vision, I could see a male figure. He was dressed in black and his white hair was fashioned in a bowl-cut. But what I recalled most intensely were his gleaming red eyes. The man (or so I thought) was stroking my hand, which lay frozen next to my face, and chanting my nick-name over and over again in an excited whisper: “Oh, Shelly, oh Shelly, oh Shelly….” I desperately tried to move my hand away from him, but could not. Then blackness descended and I fell back to sleep.
I was an atheist at the time and did not attribute my red-eyed man in black to a demonic visitation. But I knew I was awake when I saw him because I dream in perfect vision, and on that early morning everything was the usual blur. It was not a dream or a hallucination: it was reality.
Jesus’ promise to lift the burdens from our lives is also a reality. When we are converted, sleep paralysis and demonic visitations cease, just as financial issues resolve (we learn to live within our means), difficult relationships ease (we become more patient and forgiving), and time stress becomes a thing of the past (we focus on doing those things that are God’s will, not doing those of the world, and God always makes time for us to do his will).
One of the side-effects of constant sleep paralysis is sleep deprivation. When Jesus tells us he will give us rest from our burdens – whether of this world or the spiritual one – he is also literally talking about deep and restful sleep, the kind of sleep enjoyed by young children deeply asleep in their stroller amidst the noise and hub-bub of a crowded bus, or by Jesus deeply asleep on a heaving boat in the midst of a terrifying storm.
There is nothing more invigorating than waking from a deep and restful sleep. You feel amazingly good, everything around you glows with clarity and beauty, and you feel you can take on any challenge and win. The rest promised by Jesus is both a spiritual one and a physical one, with the spiritual rest enabling the physical one.
When we say “yes” to God’s way and God’s Holy Spirit enters into us, our attendant demons are banished. They no longer have any power over us. The cares of this world also no longer have any power over us, unless we allow them to. We can let them have power over us (not advisable) or we can prevent them from having power over us (advisable). We have that ability, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, just as we have the ability to get a good night’s sleep without the aid of pharmaceuticals, counting sheep, or a warm cup of milk.
The best way to get the physical rest that Jesus offers is to “say your prayers” as you fall asleep. Because I was born again by choosing to forgive the worst of the worst of my mortal enemies, I always pray to choose to forgive everyone for whatever reason. I do this occasionally during the day as well, but at night, as I crawl into bed, I pull that blanket prayer over me like a comforter. Then, while I’m still murmuring the names of friends and family and acquaintances and asking God to bless those people, I fall blissfully asleep. No tossing and turning; no nightmares; no sleep paralysis. Just deep restful sleep, with the Bible always close at hand.
If you have trouble sleeping, you might try doing the same. When Jesus promised to give us rest, he meant “rest” in every possible way.