I suspect that we can all recognize ourselves in that passage. I certainly can. Paul could be describing my life.
Here is a trivial example that some of you witnessed. Last Friday, Linda brought lemon squares to our Bible Study. I LOVE lemon squares, and I promptly ate two. The good that I wanted to do, was those two lemon squares. The evil I did not want to do was to eat any more. I did the evil I did not want to do.
That happens to me a lot. That kind of thing happens to everyone I know, a lot.
We know what is good, and we want to do it. So we resolve to be more healthy: to smoke and drink less; to eat better; to get more exercise or sleep. We resolve to treat the people in our lives better: to gossip less, to forgive more. We resolve to cultivate our relationship with God: to read the Bible more faithfully or to pray more often.
We want to do what is good. And then, weirdly, we don’t do it. We choose instead to do things that make us feel worse, that compromise our relationships with people we love, that alienate us from God.
Everybody experiences this, and it is a big deal. We live out our faith in all the hundreds of apparently petty decisions we make each day. They are the stuff of the Christian life. They shape our character. They determine who we are in our lives, in our communities, and in our relationship with God. Each moment, as we chose the good or the evil, we are moving towards or away from God.
That is a fact of life. And that can feel pretty burdensome.
But our faith is not supposed to be burdensome. Jesus says, in our gospel reading, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus promises rest. Jesus promises an easy yoke. Jesus promises a light burden.
But how can we do the right thing and not feel burdened by it?
The key is our attitude. Jesus cares what we do. But Jesus cares even more why we do it. If we experience our religion as burdensome, we need an attitude adjustment.
A few years ago a wise friend gave me an attitude adjustment on Morning Prayer.
I have been saying Morning Prayer for a long time. When I began, I said Morning Prayer because it seemed like the kind of thing a good Episcopalian Christian should do. Morning Prayer was the good that I wanted to do. Except that I didn’t really like it. And because I didn’t really like it, I skipped it pretty often. Pretty often, I didn’t do the good that I wanted. Because—this is the point—I didn’t really want it.
The struggle that Paul describes in Romans is a struggle because we don’t really want the good after all, at least we don’t want the good as much as we want the alternative.
One day, I confessed to this wise friend of mine that I felt burdened by Morning Prayer. She pointed out that prayer is not a burden. Prayer is an opportunity to rest in the presence of God. She was saying, Morning Prayer should be a good that I really did want.
At that point, the Holy Spirit swirled around, and I got it. It was like a little miracle. What had been a burden got a lot lighter. I still can’t say I enjoy Morning Prayer every day. But most days I do enjoy it. At least on the issue of Morning Prayer, the problem Paul describes has been solved for me. I really do want the good, and therefore I really do it.
I wish I could say the same for every area of my life. I can’t. But my experience with Morning Prayer has taught me that when I feel the internal struggle that Paul describes, I need to work on my attitude. I need to find a way to really want the good. If I can do that, then the burden becomes light and my behavior gets better.
Here is an analogy.
As you may know, the River of Life Pilgrimage ended yesterday. Pilgrims paddled the entire length of the Connecticut River. Carrie and I joined the pilgrimage for a few days a couple of weeks ago. This evening, everyone who participated is meeting at the Long Island Sound for final reflections.
During our leg of the pilgrimage, we spent one night just north of Carrie’s father, who lives right on the river in New Hampshire. Carrie and I paddled down to his house to say hello. Then we paddled back to our campsite.
I say what is obvious. It is a LOT easier to paddle with the current than against it.
And here is the point. God’s will is like the Connecticut River—it flows in one direction. The Holy Spirit gently but steadily pushes us towards God. And as long as we go with the flow, as long as we keep the Holy Spirit at our back, as long as we follow the current of God’s love back to God, the “paddling” is relatively easy.
But often we try to go our own way. It is as if we are paddling upstream, against the current of the Holy Spirit, and God’s flowing grace, and God’s powerful love. And then the going gets rough.
In those moments, our task is not to paddle harder. That is the burdensome way. That is the struggle Paul describes. Instead, our task is to turn around. Our task is to adjust our will to God’s will. Our task is to flow with the current of God’s love, remembering always that God’s will for us is life and peace and joy.
Last week I was reading a book that makes this point beautifully. The author says, “This is the open secret of how to live as a Christian. It is not about us struggling in vain to become more like Jesus, but about allowing [Jesus], by the power of his Spirit, to come and change us from the inside.”
We will never be perfect. We will always experience the struggle Paul describes, just as Paul himself did. But over time, with God’s grace, we can experience inner transformation that dramatically eases the struggle in some areas.
I invite you to take a few minutes this week to pay attention to one area of struggle for you, one area where you know the good but have trouble doing it. Pray that God will help you truly to want it. Pray, knowing that Christ’s burden really is light, that we can get into the flow of God’s love, that we can grow in the knowledge and the love of God.
But for now, I give thanks to God for Paul’s honesty that helps us to understand our own struggles better, and also for Christ’s promise, that helps us to endure as we struggle and sometimes to overcome. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 John Stott, Basic Christianity, 136