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)

 

Stay In The Room: on grace with each other that doesn’t give up

While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this, “What a waste!”

…but Jesus, aware of this, said, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”…from that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Matthew 26:7-10, 16

Greed, dishonesty, and theft were already at work in Judas. But here, we witness a turning point. He sees someone freely pour out something precious for Jesus – a treasure wasted, in Judas’ opinion. A loss. A disagreement about how to manage resources. A “That is it!” moment. And Judas heads into the night, in more ways than one.

His story teaches me that I need to be wary when I start to get frustrated with how things are being managed, when resources start to become more precious than people, when the way a decision is handled tempts me to throw up my hands and throw in the towel. May I have the wisdom to hold my tongue and tread carefully when my heart grows angry enough to say “That is it!”

Bad decisions often follow.

In this season of much disagreement – in our nation, in our churches, and in our homes – my need to tend to my heart is greater than ever. It is labor-intensive to weed out the pride, bitterness, greed, and criticism that so easily take up residence within me.

As we work alongside others to manage the time and resources God has given, and as our lives are impacted by the decisions of others – how desperately I need him to give me a gentleness and a calm toward choices that are handled differently than I expect and toward events that may unfold differently than I hoped. We are not called to control our future, or to control each other. We are called to control ourselves in how we think about the future and in how we handle each other.

I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then…you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:2-3, 7

In all that is uncertain, I can be completely confident that I understand God’s mysterious plan: it’s Christ himself. The savior who laid down his life to rescue any of us who place our trust in him from the penalty and power of our sin. The author and finisher of our faith who lives in and through us and leads us forward when things get hairy. The solid rock where we find our firm footing. The vine that produces in us the kind of life that lays itself down for the sake of others, and reaches so far beyond our sad standard of love.

God’s plan and his instructions have much more to do with how I live through the events unfolding around me that it does with what those events are.

…you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives

Colossians 3:12-16

He does not require me to be carefully placed and painstakingly balanced within a very specific set of circumstances in order to display his power. The mystery and wonder of Christ in me is that his strength is enough and I can be thrown to lions, dropped in a furnace, overcome with illness, locked up, chased down or silenced with stones and He will still do exactly what he intends to in and through my life.

My hardships, weaknesses, and circumstances do not limit him in the least. Nothing threatens his plan for my life. And he asks me to fill my life not with questions about the future or a determination to steer it, but with the message of Christ as my firm foundation that gives me the fortitude to face absolutely anything, and to walk through it extending grace to other people.

When it comes to staying encouraged, maintaining unity, conquering evil impulses, and walking in new life – Christ is the secret, the source of power, and the only strategy.

When the pressure dials up, may I be confident that I understand exactly what God’s plan is and exactly where to turn for the help to carry it out. May I learn to sink my roots down deep into him and hang on tight. May I set my eyes on him alone and be renewed as I learn to know him.

Everything is wrapped up in him and to the degree that my life is, too, I live thankful, at peace, and able to extend a grace that doesn’t give up. It is out of that steady place that I can work willingly at whatever I do, forgive anyone who offends me, make allowance for the faults of others, take on his tender-hearted mercy in my interactions, put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking with me, and invite him into my most desperate moments, trusting him to transform what I am helpless to change.

Oh Lord,

When we reach our “That is it!” moments with each other, give us the courage to stay in the room and keep fighting for this to work. Give us the wisdom to turn our back on the night, not on the relationships that have become strained. Encourage our hearts so that we don’t give up on each other.

Take us deeper into an understanding of you so that we are changed from the inside out. Help us to offer ourselves and all we have daily to be used however you please. Remind us that we are united by something so much more significant than the issues that weigh down our relationships and leave us wanting to slam the door. Give us a glimpse of the forgiveness we have been given, and may it soften our hearts toward each other.

Equip us to understand how to walk in your power and display the life and abundance you offer to all who believe – to all who lay aside their pale efforts and revel in what you have accomplished on the cross – to all who trust you for this next step, too.

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...

Isaiah 40:31