Try harder ? NO!!
by Brenda Kuseski
(From Brenda: This essay fits with Pastor Brian’s sermon from last week on loving God rather than trying to impress Him with our efforts) In Beautiful Outlaw, John Eldredge discusses two reactions when sincere Christians encounter the life of Jesus: I can’t possibly do that, or, I want to try to live like Him.
I can’t possibly do that: This first camp may be thinking, “Well, sure, c’mon—we’re talking about Jesus here. Of course He was amazing. I can’t hope to live like that—so why even try?
This is self-doubt posing as humility; it can even feel noble, in an odd way, because they feel that by not trying they are at least “being honest”; if they make no grand attempts, they won’t do the damage they’ve witnessed hypocrites doing. Theirs is a sort of laid-back spirituality. Matters such as Scripture, sacrament, community, and service are optional: Just live your life.
I want to try to live like Him: The second camp, on beholding the beauty of Jesus, summon a massive internal rally to try to live like Him. These folks provide most of the army for Christian activity, the heroes held up in church, the ones fighting for justice across the globe. Bless them, they are engaged. But truly, few things can mess you up as badly as trying to do your best. For the tender heart, the earnest heart, it is so discouraging to give all you have trying to do what you think Jesus would have you do, and find yourself falling short, sabotaging your own efforts at every turn. Discouragement and shame settle in like a long Seattle rain. And this is what most Christians experience as the Christian life: try harder; feel worse.
When our attention turns to maintaining personal righteousness, this seems noble and right. Jesus told us to keep his commands. But most Christians interpret this as “try harder; do your best.” The symptoms: exhaustion, discouragement, unnamed internal distress, irritation. We think that to love Jesus is to give my very best in living for Him. On the one hand, that’s true—to love Him is to obey. But out of what resources? From what fountain of inner strength? Our faithfulness? Our integrity? Our sacrifice?
Of course these choices matter. But didn’t Jesus warn, “Apart from me you can do nothing”? (John 15:5) The good news is this—you were never meant to imitate Christ. Not if by that you mean doing your best to live as He did. The secret of Christianity is something else altogether: the life of Christ in you. Allowing His life to become your life. His revolution is not self-transformation: it’s his transformation of us, from the inside out, as we receive His life and allow Him to live through us. Vine, branch. Anything else is madness. —Adapted