Stop It! But How?

I'm a product of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. This movement was characterized by the common saying, "It's not about religion, but relationship." It is a relationship based on trust, trust in Jesus. Trust, an implicit, all-encompassing trust, is another way of expressing the idea of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

A couple weeks ago I looked at the dilemma many Christian believers have with trying to be good Christians.

It requires a lot of self-effort to do so, but is counter productive to walking by faith, that is, trusting in God. And so, there is a struggle with how a believer can grow in faith and spiritual maturity without a good measure of self-effort.

Self-effort is often mistaken for self-discipline. They're different, at least in a spiritual sense. The first puts great emphasis on external actions and behaviors, while the other focuses on internal strength.

Where does this internal strength come from? It is only with this internal strength that a believer can overcome the struggle the apostle Paul spoke of—

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

Many personal struggles in life can be both disturbing and difficult. This is abundantly clear from working with abandoned and abused children and young women. It is what every pastor contends with in caring for people within the church. Many painful and unjust wounds are complex and resist simple solutions.

But not all personal struggles are complex. Most are simple and are tied to our universal, and inherent selfish nature as humans. They can be more readily resolved, but as Shakespeare said—"Aye, there's the rub!"

Overcoming struggle with sin, selfishness, laziness, greed, lust, and so on, requires a willingness. A willingness to not be pulled into the same paths of deliberate or mindless behavior, and the internal attitudes and mindset that propel them.

Human will is powerful. I am, however, not a believer in the "you can do anything you put your mind to" pop psychology. In the end, it is a set up for failure. I believe God is more sovereign than my own free will. And yet, I know God honors the free will He created in me.

On the other hand, God is sovereign enough to bring even the most powerful to their knees, as the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar found out (for a great story see Daniel 4).

Now, back to the question of how to "stop it." How can a person move forward towards spiritual growth and maturity, yet without relying on self-effort? Let me go back to the scripture mentioned a couple blogs ago [Stop It!]—Hebrews 12:1-3 GW.

At first glance it would seem the focus needs to be on what we might call self-effort—

We must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. (Heb 12:1 GW)

And that is what we as humans tend to do, especially within a culture that prides itself on self-determination and built an industry around doing it yourself (DIY). That's how we are wired.

But further reading and observation reveal the key—

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up. (Heb 12:2-3 GW)

To overcome daily personal struggles, the focus needs to be on Jesus. This is where faith comes in. Again, the basic element of faith is trust. Trust requires the surrender and submission of our will to God. "Aye, there's the rub," that is our dilemma.

However, Jesus has shown us the way in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father if He could avoid going to the Cross (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus also struggled with His self-will, but after three requests He submitted Himself—His self-will—to the Father.

Even with the most complex struggles and personal issues, this is what's needed. It is the only true solution to "stopping it"—to be set free from the things that entangle us and seem to hold on to us.

It's easy to over think all of this. But it is relatively simple. It is also a daily struggle every believer will live with until we see Jesus face to face (in heaven). The struggle with self-will is the struggle of life, even a life of faith. Will we give in, or resist? Will we remain a victim, or be an overcomer?

What are you struggling with on a daily basis? Is it something recent or something that has plagued you for years? Whatever it is, entrust it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet, so to speak, as a dog might drop a ball at his master's feet. This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30 GW—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”