Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Lay Out the Welcome Mat: on how to take pleasure in weakness

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Here it is. The great, paradoxical secret that unravels the way I think.

God faithfully uses the gifting he has given me. He asks me to be a good steward of my strengths.

But his power does not work best in my strengths. His power works BEST in my weakness.


Last month, I had the privilege of contributing as a guest writer for one of Man in the Mirror’s monthly newsletters. I mentioned it (okay, I announced it with celebration and a happy dance) to my dad, who simply said, “Good. I’d like to see what you write reach a larger audience.”

I explained that I’d like to be published here and there, but I would sort of prefer that my reach stay small because I love attention and I’m doomed to become self-absorbed and inauthentic if I ever become well-known.

My dad said this:

“I’d like more people to read what you write because it generally carries a theme of dependence. And that is so needed.”

His words humbled me. It’s not about the writer. It’s about the message. And this is a message worth calling to the attention of as many people as I can possibly summon, because our souls so easily forget:

I need Jesus. I need him desperately. I must depend on Him. For my salvation and for absolutely everything after that.

“Don’t be selfish. Don’t try to impress others…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”

Philippians 2:3 and 3:3

More and more, may this become my hallmark:

Dependence on the Impressive One. Awareness that without him, I have nothing to offer (John 15:5).  An ironclad grip on the truth that he deserves all the honor for anything good in my life (Romans 15:17-18), and that when I start to be impressed with myself, I have become enchanted with a sad lie; because I have absolutely nothing that I have not been given. (1 Corinthians 4:7)

May I learn to be at ease with my weaknesses and with my short supply of resources, stamina, and even the desire to produce what is good.

These are opportunities to invite him to step in, not set-ups for failure. My bad attitudes, short temper, and need for transformation are the canvas upon which he does his best work. And it. Is. Breath-taking.

May I refuse to hide my frailty. May I learn to humbly lay it out and take pleasure in it. It is the welcome mat for his grace to enter in. It is the holy place where my strengths bow out of the way and his power takes the stage. It is the starting place of every good story.

When I see my inadequacy and I decide to I call it what it is instead of hiding or posturing or striving to be enough, that is when his unimaginable endurance, creativity, hope, and light seep into the most desperate places.


Pray with me:

Lord,

You are the unfailing answer to my cry for help.

My inadequacy, my frailty, my weakness: these are your gifts to help a blind heart see how badly it needs you. They are ever more precious than the gifts I so often plead for.

Transform how I view weakness, hardships, insults. Paul learned how to lean into them and take pleasure in them. Teach me how this is possible for my heart, too, because my giving up place is your giving place.

So help me to lay out the welcome mat boldly.

“So now I am glad to boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Not I: a daily diagram for how in the world to navigate this crazy life

“…I do nothing on my own, but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me – He has not deserted me…”
John 8:28-29

I read these words and they flew up against a hard bent within me. The always-trying-to-be-enough bent that drives me to over-achieve and prove myself and never disappoint and never need help and never fall short.

But here it is from his own mouth. The One who calls me to follow his example in all things did NOTHING on his own.

That whole passage instructing us to stay in step with him, abide in him, draw from his strength, LET HIM produce his life in us instead of trying to conjure up the willpower to be good? He lived it before he asked us to follow.

This crazy life where he faced hunger and insult, homelessness and heartache, betrayal and abandonment, loss and enormous pressure to compromise, weariness and stress. He didn’t do any of it on his own. He spoke the words he was given and walked where he was led and received everything from his Father. And it was a day in, day out diagram for how in the world we are supposed do this life.


He does not want me to try it by myself.

He wants me to ask my Father for what I need. To call on my Savior for strength to take on each thing, big or small. To lean hard on his Spirit for the wisdom and guidance for each choice, as enormous or inconsequential as it may seem.

In big steps, tense discussions, inflammatory situations, choking grief, huge risks, daunting unknowns where I have no idea how to move forward. And also in just the challenging, stressful days where a crammed schedule and not enough sleep make me fear that I will give in to my irritable, selfish, harsh flesh.

May I not live in fear of the damage I might do or the damage I may sustain, but may I step forward in confidence that He is with me, giving me everything I need to face what this day holds, and He has not asked me to know all the answers or to handle one single part of it on my own.

I need to remember. I need to remember because when I feel like I’ve lost my bearings, I hang on tight. I cling to my ideas, my ways of doing things, my expectations of timing.

Ugh.

Those are the wrong things to cling to.

Lord, help me cling to you. When I feel a wave of confusion or frustration, may I reach for Jesus rather than trying to rally in my own strength.

You are enough. I don’t have to be enough for this or for what’s next or for anyone else because here you are with me, just as your Father was with you, never deserting or abandoning you.

You are enough for this. You are enough for me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:5

“…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

“God has said, “I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?”


Hebrews 13:5-6

Undivided Worship: on tearing down temples

“Hezekiah…was twenty-five years old when he became king…He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it…”

-2 Kings 18:1-4

My trust in the Lord is a most precious thing. Unseen wars are waged against it, constant messages seek to make it shift, even just a little. 

Reading through 2 Kings, I was struck by how many kings of Judah were godly leaders for the most part, but shied away from the bold actions their nation needed from them. They did not actively turn away from the one true God, but they allowed the worship of other idols alongside Him.

2 Kings 18 highlights one king who set things up differently. He stripped away and tore down any other receptacle of worship – even if it once served a good purpose (the bronze serpent), but had since become a replacement for God himself. 

The worship God seeks from us is pure of man’s ideas, methods, and supplements. 

Only Jehovah. Only his word. Only his way.

One king believed in his God enough to tear all the rest of it down, and when the most powerful empire in the world besieged his small kingdom, he was defended by the Angel of the Lord, who extinguished 185,000 warrior lives in the night and swept away the threat encamped outside his walls as easily as a breeze clears away the chaff. 

The massive Assyrian forces had poured across the land, conquering everyone in their path, but small Judah was impenetrable to them because Jehovah would not allow them to harm her. 

Hezekiah did not forge emergency alliances, come up with a back-up strategy, surrender to spare his people, or lay tribute at the altar of any and every god who might come to his aid. He went to Jehovah over and over and over as the situation became more dire. He held his ground and trusted his God, and his God was faithful to defend him. 

Lord,

In my life, may I be the Hezekiah, the Gideon, the Ephesian believers who burned their magic books.

It is not rare to worship you, but it is rare to worship you alone. And you treasure undivided worship.

Show me what else I add and give me the courage to tear it down.  Show me what else I point people to and teach me to use my voice for one message:
We need you, and you alone. Nothing and no one else will ever be enough.