THE BURDEN OF THE SPIRIT
There is a difference between the burden of the spirit and the weight of the spirit. The weight of the spirit is from Satan, and its purpose is to cause believers to suffer; Satan uses the weight to suppress them. The burden of the spirit, however, is from God. Its purpose is to make known His will and secure the believers’ cooperation. The weight of the spirit has no other purpose except to suppress. As such, it is useless and fruitless. The burden of the spirit is a burden from God, and its goal is to cause men to work, intercede, and preach for God. Such a burden is purposeful, reasonable, and profitable. Believers must differentiate between the burden in their spirit and the weight in their spirit.
Satan does not give any burden to the believers; he only surrounds the believers’ spirit and oppresses the believers with the weight. Satan’s weight causes the believers’ spirit to be bound and their minds to stop functioning. A person who bears a burden only has to bear the burden itself; but a person who is oppressed is bound in his whole being. Once the power of darkness comes to a believer, he loses his freedom immediately. However, a burden from God is not like this. No matter how heavy God’s burden is, it will never be so heavy that a person cannot pray. The freedom of prayer will never be lost under any kind of burden. But the weight imposed by the enemy takes away the believers’ freedom in prayer. In fact, except for some wrestling and withstanding prayers, this weight cannot be removed. God’s burden is removed once we pray. But this is not true with the weight from the enemy. Moreover, the weight of the spirit creeps in secretly, while the burden in the spirit is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our spirit. The weight of the spirit is painful and suppresses the believers’ life; the burden in the spirit is joyful because it cooperates with God (cf. Matt. 11:30). (Of course, the flesh does not feel joyful about the spirit’s burden. Furthermore, this burden is also painful if one does not meet its demands.)
All real work begins first with a burden in the spirit. (Of course, when we do not have a burden in the spirit, there is the need to exercise the mind.) When God wants us to do something, say something, or pray for something, He first gives us a burden in our spirit. If we know the laws of the spirit, we will not rashly continue on with the work in our hands, allowing the burden to become heavier and heavier. (Perhaps when we allow the matter to go on for a long time, the sense for the burden may be lost.) We should drop everything and study the burden. After we understand the meaning of the burden, we should walk according to what we know. When everything is accomplished, the burden will be gone from us.
Ordinarily, a believer’s spirit must be free and unsuppressed before it can receive burdens from God. Only a free spirit can sense the move of the Holy Spirit. A spirit that has been filled with weight is no longer keen in its intuition and cannot be a good vessel anymore. Many times a believer receives a burden from God, yet he cannot carry out the requirements of the burden. As a result his spirit suffers for many days from the burden, and he is not able to receive any fresh burden from God. Hence, it is very important to find out the meaning of a burden in prayer by the Holy Spirit and through the exercise of the mind.
Many times the burden in the spirit is for us to pray (Col. 4:12). Actually, we cannot pray more than our burden. To continue to pray without a burden is surely ineffective, and it comes from the self-will. The burden of prayer that comes from the spirit can only be relieved through prayer. Actually, all burdens are this way. If God burdens our spirit with a certain burden, we can only relieve the burden in our spirit by fulfilling what God wants us to do, either through prayer or through proclaiming His message. Only when we have a burden in our spirit to pray can we pray in the Holy Spirit, and only then can we pray with groanings which cannot be uttered. When there is a burden in our spirit to pray, nothing can alleviate this burden and nothing can release us except prayer. When the things we pray for are accomplished, the burden is immediately lifted from us.
Many times believers have accumulated too many burdens of prayer in their spirit. When they begin to pray, it seems to be a very painful task. But the more the believers pray, the more their spirit will say amen. We must try our best to thoroughly pray out what is burdening us in our spirit, until the burden is fully removed from us. The more we express our life in our prayers as well as everything we have, the more comfortable we will become. But there is a temptation in this kind of prayer to stop praying before the burden is gone. Most believers think that as soon as they are somewhat relieved in their spirit, their prayers are answered. Actually this is the time when proper spiritual work begins. If we turn away to do other things at this juncture, the spiritual work will suffer.
Believers must not be misled to think that all spiritual works are happy and joyful; nor should they think that once there is some kind of burden, they have lost their spiritual experience. It is very unfortunate that believers do not realize that the burden in the spirit is the source of real spiritual work. Only those who suffer in this way for God and men truly do not live for themselves. All the other ones who seek for joy in their feelings and who are afraid of taking up any burden for the church are living for themselves and are soulish. Hence, when God gives us a burden, we should not think that we have fallen or that we have committed some errors. Satan loves to see us think this way, for this kind of thinking spares him from our attacks. We should not misunderstand ourselves. If we listen to Satan and think that there is something wrong with us, we will come under his accusations even more and suffer.
Genuine spiritual work is an assault on Satan and a travail in birth for the believers. There is indeed no joy to this! This requires one to die to the self in the deepest way. For this reason, no soulish believer can truly participate in spiritual work. Having a happy feeling all day long is not a proof of a believer’s spirituality. The right kind of believers advance with God without caring for their own feelings. Many times when believers are burdened in their spirit to fight with the enemy, they prefer to be alone and cut off all fellowship with the world, so that they can concentrate in their warfare with the enemy. At the end of this warfare, it is difficult to find any trace of a smile on their face. Hence, all spiritual believers should welcome the burdens from the Lord.
Believers must know the laws of the spirit and the way to cooperate with God. Otherwise, they will neglect such burdens and consequently suffer. Soon they even lose their burdens and do not participate in the most glorious co-labor with God. Therefore, every time there is a burden in the spirit, they should immediately find out what the burden is in prayer. If it is a call to fight, they should fight. If it is a call to preach the gospel, they should preach the gospel. If it is a call to prayer, they should pray. They should seek to work together with God. They should move the old burdens out of the way, so that the new burdens can come.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 13: The Spiritual Man (2), Chapter 9, by Watchman Nee)