I’ll never forget the message I received loud and clear one day as I was driving home from work some 5 years ago. I was listening to a Chip Ingram message from his Living on the Edge broadcast about the pressure we put on ourselves to just try harder and do better. See, I’m one of those people who is very critical of myself (and unfortunately of others…I’m working on that…), and I get into this mentality that when I mess up I should just try harder. I should beat myself up over not being perfect. I should feel really ashamed and wallow in it for a while. Ridiculous? Absolutely.
What does that even mean? To try harder? To be a “better Christian”? What does trying harder even look like? More self effort? More tears from failure and frustration? Or does it look like the Pharisee? More pride in self effort?
I’m thinking I want to stay clear of all of that. And you should too, frankly.
In his message, Chip mentioned that he was working with one of his sons on lifting weights. This event came after he and his wife were helping him through some life difficulties, including the son feeling like he was failing in some serious ways. The son was having difficulty with lifting the weights (because he had just started and wasn’t very strong yet), and Chip kept yelling to him to “try harder!” “try harder!” The son would strain with all of his might, but the results were the same. He just couldn’t try hard enough.
Chip, being the wise father he is, had a great moment with his son at this point because he was able to lovingly direct his son that trying harder is not the answer. And trying harder in your Christian walk isn’t the answer for any of us either.
Let’s get one thing straight. There are definitely passages in Scripture that direct us to work out our faith with fear and trembling, to be good stewards of what God has given us, to run the race with perseverance. There’s nothing in my Bible that says we should just coast through this life being lazy bums because we don’t want to confront sin in our lives. Faith without works is dead, says James, the brother of Jesus. But there is a balance and a small twist to all of this.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. Acts 1:8
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Let this soak in. Let it pour over you like a refreshing stream of life. Read through the lines and see the grace in this. It is Christ’s power in you that allows you to do any good thing, to overcome any stronghold of sin, to run this race of life to His glory. It has absolutely nothing to do with you trying harder to better at this whole Christian thing. It is getting to the end of yourself, realizing you can’t do it, and watching God pick up and do beyond all you could ask or imagine. It’s when you can’t explain how it happened because there would be no reason for it to happen by your own power. It’s abiding in Him.
When Christ spoke to the people about who He was, at one point He makes a statement about being the Vine. And we are the branches. We can’t ever be the Vine. And these branches can’t ever produce any grapes apart from being attached to the Vine.
Think of it, a piece of a grape branch lays on the path right next to the vine. It has no fruit on it, but it has a lot of PASSION to bear fruit. It DESIRES to be fruitful. It really wants to have a beautiful cluster of grapes growing on it, but try as it may, it just can’t seem to make grapes. Oh, it tries very hard. But the fact remains that it’s not connected to the vine.
You and I must realize that we have to ABIDE in the Vine, drawing from the POWER of Christ and the Holy Spirit, in order to conquer that habitual sin, to do any good thing, and to truly run the race set before us. Stop trying harder and go before Him with completely honesty that you can’t do it, and then ask Him for His power to be made perfect in your weakness. For when you are weak, then you are strong.
Will you or I get it right immediately? Probably not. Most likely not. Abiding in the Vine is not a one time event though. Chip Ingram went on to tell of the long hours he spent with his son in weight training. Eventually, his son could lift those weights that were impossible for him in the beginning. But it took time, and it wasn’t about him trying harder so much as it was trusting in the process of strengthening those muscles little by little (and being disciplined to stick to it). So, be weak and proud of it.
Take care to give Him the glory by boasting in your weakness.
Then watch Him go to work and amaze you.