When Striving for Better Makes it Worse

Everyone wants to be better. In fact, we believe the Lord calls us to perfection. But sometimes striving only makes things worse.

This post comes from reflections on a devotional in this book by Holley Gerth. The book was a Christmas gift from my husband and reading it daily has helped me curb negative thoughts and lean into the Lord.

Available here

The first reason devotional number nine from this book jumped out at me was because the verse for the day was my life verse.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

As I thought about the devotional and the essence of the verse, I realized I wasn’t doing a very good job of reflecting the verse in my life. What was the point of claiming it as a life verse if I wasn’t going to keep it front and center so it could guide my life?

Ironically—or probably not—the gist of the devotional was that we need to stop striving. The world says we should eat more healthfully…or else. We should exercise regularly…or else. We should spend more time reading and less time watching TV or else our brain cells will implode.

Okay, I might have exaggerated that last one, but I know you’ve seen all these mandates to “optimize” our lives.

We get into a cycle of constantly ‘fixing’…with the ideal horizon constantly receding

Emily Lehman “Optimize Now: The Never-Ending Pursuit of the Perfect Lifestyle”

Work harder. Do more. Be more like Jesus. They sound like great ideas for self-improvement.

Gerth cautions: “But if what we thought would improve our lives has become and obstacle to our peace and joy, then it’s time to let it go” (What Your Soul Needs, p.45).

Wait! What? If self-improvement steals our joy then we must be doing it wrong.

Except…maybe not.

Too often we let legalism reign in our hearts. If we act a certain way, God will be pleased. If we keep this list of rules, God will bless our lives.

But if I’m confident that God is the one working in me to make me more like Jesus (see life verse mentioned above), then my life should be more about abiding in Christ not striving to do more or be more.

What I am is enough. When I surrender to his will for my life, he can mold me.

But it isn’t a list of rules, regulations, and accomplishments that make me more like the Lord.

True transformation comes not from working on ourselves but from giving ourselves fully to the God working in us

Gerth, p. 45

There seems to be a fine line between striving and serving, doesn’t there? And most of the time we cross over into the no man’s land of working as if that wins us favor with God.

And it doesn’t. What he wants is our faith. Our reliance on him to do the work in us so the work we do for him results in glory for Jesus and benefit of the kingdom.

What shoulds are running your life right now? Write them on slips of paper. Surrender them to the Lord and then toss them in the garbage.

Yes, if we love the Lord we keep his commandments but how many of those shoulds on those slips of paper are specific commands from the Bible?

And even when we should pray daily, if we do it because we should rather than because we love talking to the Lord, the benefits for our soul and the promise of answered prayers will get further out of reach.

How does this thought of striving versus serving settle into your reality?

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