Romans 12: 3 (the message)
…The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
When I lose sight of the verse above, things get ugly. Perhaps I can still act right on the outside but I know when I have drifted internally to that place of striving: things seem hard, everything feels like work, joy is diminished and people start getting on my nerves. Wow…sounds like a breath of fresh air!
The interesting part is that I’ll spend a certain amount of time (hours, days or weeks) trying to figure out what I did wrong or where I got off track…I’ll repent if I need to and still be searching for a reason…the mental checklist: reading my bible? (check), praying? (check), giving my time for others? (check), asking forgiveness/making peace as needed? (check). Can you say frustrating???? Eventually, my faithful God finds a way to get a word in edgewise and leads me to the right verse where I see it and say “ohhhh, I’m doing that. Again.”
“That” being the tendency I have to strive for approval. Even God’s approval. Maybe that sounds odd since it would seem right to strive for God’s approval but I offer up it is not. It is good to strive to please God but it is not necessary to strive for His approval. I think of it like this: you may want to live and behave in such a way that pleases a loving parent because of your love for them, but you can rest assured that even if your behavior is displeasing for a season they still approve of and accept you. Or maybe you cannot imagine that. Maybe your parent(s) were not accepting and did not offer you approval simply because of your intrinsic worth. Maybe you sensed growing up that if you performed the right way they would approve of you but if you did not…well, then you had failed them.
Perhaps we all carry this weight to some degree or another…after all, parents are human, too! It’s a tricky thing. If you perform well then you are tempted to take credit and pat yourself on the back. If you do not perform perfectly you may feel unworthy and unacceptable. On one hand is the weight of pride (which separates us from that free-flowing fellowship with God) and on the other hand is the weight of condemnation (which separates us from that free-flowing fellowship with God!). How can we live freely…lightly? Check this verse out:
Matthew 11:28-30 (Jesus talking) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
What I see as I read the verse in Romans above and then this one in Matthew is just lean into God. Focus on Him. Think about His goodness; not my imperfections. Meditate on His love; not my failures. Sing about His faithfulness; not rehash my let-downs. I just need to focus on the goodness of God. Look and Listen to Jesus. Let Him love on me. Then, and only then, do I live freely and lightly. Then, and only then, am I able to offer up my efforts and He make them good. I am not earning my Father’s love or acceptance. I am not working for God’s approval. I am basking in it and can let Him do what He wants to do. He does it so much better than me.