The other day I was sitting outside a local coffee shop, enjoying a steaming cup of coffee, and talking about life and faith with one of the women in my small group. I happenedto glance over to see a woman enjoying the beautiful weather while walking her dog. As she leisurely strolled by, I laughed at the sight of her short-legged dog straining with all his might against the leash, his feet slipping on the concrete sidewalk. Where did he think he was going in such a hurry? For all his tugging, pulling, and straining, his pace remained the same; dictated by the one in control of the leash… The one who knew where they were going, and when they needed to get there. As I chuckled at this sight, the reality occurred to me; often times this is a picture of my own life.
I’m a perfectionist. At any given time I can rattle off a list of things that I’m working on; things about myself that I want to improve or change altogether. I’ve spent much of my life in a state of frustrated striving; tugging, straining, and trying to gain traction as I run full speed toward the version of myself that I think I need to be. Time and time again I find myself exhausted, overwhelmed, and discouraged, wondering why all my efforts keep coming up empty… like I’m running in place.
Over the past year, I’ve experienced incredible growth in my walk with God, and it has been exhilarating, rewarding, and at times, terrifying. Yet, during a season of huge growth the most common theme that God keeps communicating to me is to slow down, to rest, and to stop trying so hard. You see, I’m prone to living a life of self-effort; dependent on my own strength and abilities, convinced that if I roll up my sleeves and try hard enough I can accomplish my goal. While this mindset and lifestyle can be beneficial in certain areas of my life, it has disastrous effects on my spiritual life.
After identifying as a Christian my whole life, I finally started truly walking with God at the age of 22. The turning point in my life was when I finally admitted that my own efforts fell short, and that I couldn’t do it on my own. In that moment I finally surrendered my life to God’s sovereign control and asked Him to take the lead. But I can be stubborn and and strong-willed, and it seems like God constantly has to rein me in, reminding me that my own self-effort gets me nowhere fast; instead of running in my own strength, I need to walk with Him and live out of His power, not my own.
“Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” (Galatians 3:2-4, MSG)
The bottom line is that I am a work in progress. That’s really hard for me to accept sometimes. But no amount of striving and self-effort is going to get me any closer to the plans God has for me any faster than He intends… in reality, it will only hold me back. In fact, I’ve been repeatedly humbled by the realization that God has a purpose for my current imperfect condition. The very things about myself that I consider failings and weaknesses have actually been the things that God has used to reach people and accomplish His purpose. I am continually being sanctified and made more and more into the likeness of Jesus every day, but it’s God who is in control; only He knows where we’re going and when we need to get there.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)