The two are not the same. The Scriptures have much to say about both. I need ears to hear how the Lord will direct me.
By definition a BURDEN is a load or weight or encumbrance; something you carry or bear with difficulty. It seems to have a negative connotation. Some burdens are necessary; some are unnecessary. There are burdens to take up and those we are meant to lay down. At times people put burdens on each other without reason and cause them to go on guilt trips. Some people are burdens to each other.
There are different kinds of burdens: burdens (in the sense of concern, compassion, or prayer) which God gives us for others; burdens that we are meant to bear alone; burdens that are meant to be shared with others; burdens God wants us to help others bear; burdens we have no business taking upon ourselves; burdens that others have put upon us; and the burdens or responsibilities of life we are all meant to bear as part of common life on this Planet.
A CROSS has a God-aspect. Some use the word in the sense of a misfortune or trouble. When used as “bearing one's cross,” it may mean to accept trials, burdens, misfortunes, or troubles patiently. Burdens are not necessarily crosses and not every cross is a burden. We need God's wisdom and discernment to differentiate between them.
Galatians 6:2 and 5 seem at odds with one another in instruction when referring to burdens. “Bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” “For each one shall bear his own load.” In Acts it is recorded that the Jewish converts were attempting to lay a burden on the Gentiles by insisting that to become Christians they must fulfill certain aspects of the Jewish law. In Romans chapter 15 the strong are exhorted to bear the burdens of the weak. At the same time, it doesn't mandate that the weak are to stop bearing their own burdens as if they were off the hook. There is danger of co-dependency.
Contrasting a cross with a burden, Jesus was “saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'” Then again, Jesus invited those who labor and are heavy laden to come to Him and He will give us rest. “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” On one occasion Simon of Cyrene was singled out from the crowd to help Jesus bear His cross on the way to Calvary. There are God-given crosses we are to embrace and not shun because God is doing some sanctifying work in our lives. Saint Paul was apparently carrying some heavy physical infirmity-burden about which he anguished and wanted to be rid of, but God revealed to him that it was a cross he was to continue to bear. His unwelcome and distasteful burden turned into rejoicing as God's grace was meant to prove sufficient for him and the power of Christ was to dwell. (2 Corinthians 12)
In a lifetime we experience both burdens and crosses. We are burdened in our spirits for others who ask us to pray for their burdens. At times we literally have the privilege of helping others bear their burdens, thus lightening their load. We would be overwhelmed with such burdens if we didn't, in turn, roll those burdens on the Lord. “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there” as a hymn writer declares. Then the burdens become light because He assumes them. We have intimate burdens of our own that God expects us to bear alone with Him. In His love, God also gives us crosses of various kinds that He wants us to embrace. We take up our crosses daily as we live outside of our comfort zone and even suffer for His sake as we witness of His life and truth and way as His disciples.
But I should not take upon myself burdens that are not mine to solve. A friend in a previous season of my life who worked in Afghanistan told me about an Afghan saying that called a person a thief if he tried to assume responsibility for matters that were none of his business. He would be robbing the other person of the obligation and opportunity to deal with the burden or cross that God had given him. I could be in danger of getting in God's way. That may not be your problem but it's mine—I'm so prone to try to be a “universal fixer.” I'm not supposed to worry about matters that are beyond my control unless I've been invited to share someone's burden.
There is a time to help and a time to refrain; a time to embrace my own cross and a time to lighten someone else's burden. Lord, give me wisdom and discernment to tell the difference between burdens and crosses.