Be Strong or Be Still?

Several years ago, I sat down to answer a basic question: What does it look like for me to be a good Christian, wife, mom, friend and neighbor? Not broadly, but specifically. What could I be doing today and in the coming years to grow in these areas?

I searched scripture to find out what God says about these life roles. I gleaned from sermons, conferences and wise friends and wrote down my highest priorities in each area. Then I broke these down into specific goals and tasks, and even calendared some of the tasks to make sure I remembered to do them. And I prayed for God’s help.

This exercise did some amazing things for me and my family.

Oh wait. No it didn’t.

Not really, anyway. The plan didn’t transform my life. It’s not that it was bad, but I think the biggest thing it did was help me practice the art of accepting forgiveness for my failures.

If you’re a Christian, and if you’re anything like me, maybe you’ve struggled to figure out what it looks like to walk the line that threads through two big truths:

First, Jesus did it all. We’re hopeless sinners, saved only by his grace, and not because of anything we did to earn or deserve it. Without Jesus, even our best works are meaningless. With him and through him, a holy God sees us as pure. We are free forever from all condemnation. (Hallelujah!)

But second: “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2)

How indeed? I know I still sin. So in between saved-by-grace and home-at-last is the rest of my life. During that time, however short or long, I’m meant to live an increasingly godly life. I’m meant to be sanctified.

I know God is in charge of my sanctification. It’s his gig. He’s directing the show. But I have a part, right? I can’t sit back and do nothing, which means I must do something.

What something?

For most of my Christian life, it’s been hard for me to revel in the freedom and rest offered by grace while still striving hard after the post-conversion godly life described in the Bible.

Aren’t we supposed to strive? Aren’t we supposed to look in the Bible for answers to important questions like: What does God want me to do? How should I live? How do I love?

I’m not so sure. At least, I’m not so sure that’s the best thing we can do. And I’m not sure those are the best questions we can ask.

In my experience, we Christians are much better at encouraging each other to be strong than to be still (translated “cease striving” in some versions). What if instead of “how” questions, we approached the Bible with questions like: Who is God? Who is life? Who is love?

I think when Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and Martha scurried around working, Mary was doing more than just learning from Jesus. I think she was enjoying him. I think she was delighting in his company, his voice, the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed at shared jokes. I think she saw more in his teaching than its substance and application; I think she saw him – his heart, his motives, his longings, his passions.

She was beholding him.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all … beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image … For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 4:9)

Maybe I really don’t have a part in the show. Maybe I’m supposed to be in the audience, drinking in the wonder. Maybe I’m supposed to come to the Bible for a relationship with the living God, not rules for godly living.

After all, it’s not up to me to become the person God wants me to be; it’s up to him to make me into that person. A seed doesn’t plant and tend itself. It just basks in the sun and drinks in the rain, and it becomes exactly what it was designed to become.

If this sounds passive to you, it’s not. Transformation is never passive.

We will gaze at God, and he will send us into battle. He will call us to deny ourselves. He will convict us of sin. He will upend our priorities. He will make us more like himself. And even as he does mighty things in and through us, we will be at rest from our own striving, anxiety and condemnation.

Amen and Amen!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Be Strong or Be Still?

  1. Meg Constable

    Contented sigh…..Amen and Amen

  2. Anna

    I wrestled with similar questions for a long time. But they disappeared like the sun melting the fog away the moment I met Jesus. I think that I was a Christian before meeting Jesus, but meeting Him changed everything. Reading the gospels after that was like experiencing some sort of time warp… yesterday He was sitting right next to me…. and today I’m reading about Him in a 2,000 year old book, and suddenly it feels like yesterday all over again.

    Love changes everything. Love sets us free!

    – Free from fear of judgement and punishment.
    – Free from a need to keep up appearances.
    – Free from the fear of man’s opinion.
    – Free from the fear of failure.
    – Free from perfectionism.
    – Free from self-righteousness.

    Bible verses that I had heard my entire life suddenly and unexpectedly made me cry. “Perfect love casts out fear.” “We love Him because He first loved us.”

    Jesus doesn’t release us from striving – He frees us TO strive – it is our motivations that change. His love banishes the fear of failure and in its place gives us joy and delight in obedience. His love doesn’t excuse us into complacency and self-comfort or excuse us from stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing in the face of drastic obstacles… the fact is, we no longer have a need for excuses or self-justification. Rather, His love ignites a passion for serving Him and for fighting for and loving whom and what He loves. His is a love worth living and dying for. His love allows us to step off a cliff, knowing that He will catch us – whether we die or not. Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.

    Will I fail? Of course! Will I look foolish? Absolutely!

    But Jesus freed me not to take myself so seriously. 🙂 It’s not about ME anymore at all!

    Will I fail to love Him and others as I should? Yep. But I have absolute confidence that He will never stop loving me, will never stop pursuing me, and will never stop helping me to be more like Him. And I know that one day He will free me from this body of death and take me home where there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain, or death and God Himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

  3. Anna, good comment! You should write about the moment you met Jesus. It’s neat to get to know him better through his relationship with other people. 🙂

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