Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘trying harder’

I do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting!

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Rowing or Sailing?

Transformation into Christlikeness and the Christian life in general seem like a lot of work to many people.

They may even think: 

There must be more to this life than trying;

God must be disappointed in me;

It feels like I live a double life (a public Christian life and a secret life of pain, disappointment, or failure);

No matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to measure up to the standards I know are right and good.

In fact, most of us have experienced the weight of knowing all the things we should be doing and not doing, and the exhaustion of being behind where we think we ought to be. Giving more and trying harder seem to be the only alternatives. As a result, a lot of people give up hope of becoming more of what God wants them to be, because they have no idea how to add any more to what they are already doing.

With that approach, the spiritual life is like rowing a boat (by yourself!). You do your best to persist, even when it is hard. You go to conferences, study, and get involved in serving. You try to do the right things, but never get as far as you think you should.

At times you may even feel as if you were issued only one oar and so you keep going in circles. Some find themselves rowing against the current and going more backward than forward. When they ask for help they seem to hear: “Row harder” or “Do more” or “You are not dedicated enough.”

There is another way in which the wind does most of the work. Sailing. In sailing we learn how to align the sail with the wind and let the wind take us places we could never get to (or imagine) on our own. As we learn how to interact with the sail, we see forward movement because the wind (the Spirit) is doing the hard work.

The sailing approach is spiritual formation, which works from the inside out, relying on the Spirit. Instead of forcing myself to say the words, “I forgive you,” I learn how to engage with God so my heart truly forgives. I can then express the forgiveness from my heart. Instead of only acting as if I love my enemy, I interact with God so that God can change my heart so I actually love them. I demonstrate the life of God because of who I am, not in an effort to override who I am. This changes where I focus my efforts. My task is to learn how to let God work on my heart, rather than trying to do what I think is the right thing to do.

We no longer depend on willpower to override contrary feelings and inclinations, with repeated cycles of repentance and re-dedication: Stability/Failure/Repentance/ Stability. Instead we participate with God to move our inner life forward in ways we cannot manage by our own willpower and effort. The results? Deeper intimacy and trust in God. Scripture comes alive. Internal healing and growth become our normal everyday experience. Life is increasingly seen the way God sees it (through the eyes of heaven).

Formation is then relational.

It is, as many of you have heard me say: You do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting.

The connecting occurs as we glimpse that vision of life in the kingdom of God where I live in companionship with God and rely on God every minute. I use spiritual disciplines (as God invites me) to connect with God. The change in my character then flows out of living a life with God that is rich and full, challenging and adventurous.

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Much of the above is adapted from David Takle’s excellent DVD course, Forming, (www.KingdomFormation.org) with his kind permission.

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This “try, try again” approach will ruin you.

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Try, Try Again?  No.

Maybe it starts when you make a mistake: yelling at someone you love or not doing what you promised to do.

Or it starts when you see someone who seems light-years ahead of you: they grin at people who dismiss them; they praise someone who beats them out of a job. You feel so far behind! Your lack of character really shows.

Then we think: When am I going to get it? When am I going to stop being lazy, stop showing off, quit being depressed, no longer withdraw from the people I love, stop worrying over something that didn’t happen or cease trying to control my co-workers or family members? It’s easy to sink deeper into it: Why can’t I overcome this? Especially if our shortcoming is considered a “big” sin among the people we hang out with.

These questions keep our thoughts spinning and often lead to despair and hopelessness. We believe the answer is: Try harder. We’ve heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try – try again!” No. If I’ve lost my way back to my car, I don’t keep going back to the same space, thinking my car will magically appear. I pause. I stop and think. The saying should be: If at first you don’t succeed, ask God for help. I consider that God will show me a wiser, (usually) gentler approach.

First, we ask God for a “next step,” which doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, a smaller next step usually works better and leads to many more. A wise friend or spiritual director might suggest a better and different next step we haven’t thought of.

But we also look deeper. We ask the Spirit to show us the source of the problem (anger, exhaustion, boredom)? What am I afraid of? What (perhaps wise) caution is blocking me? These questions usually have to percolate with the help of the Spirit. Out of these questions may come a few small “next steps.”

This “try, try again” approach will ruin you.

Such spinning of thoughts is (I believe) a favorite method of the enemy to divert our attention from focusing on the Indwelling Christ. Going over and over our performance (How am I doing?) focuses us on ourselves, not God. When we focus on ourselves this way, we make ourselves the “star” of our spirituality instead of letting God be the “star” of our spirituality. Instead of asking, How am I doing? we ask, What, O God, are you leading me to be? To think? To do? Show me. Walk with me.

True humility involves relying on God all day long, moment by moment. “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me” . . . for the next ten minutes (Philippians 4;13, altered).

My inadequacy in this situation or my character flaw is clear to me and I’m not disturbed by it. I can’t overcome sin. “I do nothing on my own,” said Jesus (John 5:30). So I ask god, What are you leading me to be? To think? To do? Show me. Walk with me.

In humility we accept that growth is about progress, not perfection. Abraham journeyed on by stages (Genesis 12:9; 13:3). Israel was led “day by day continually” (Exodus 29:38). As we also do this, we can embrace the One who accompanies us on this journey, who loves being with us, who invites us to abide in Christ as Christ abides in us.

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