Monday, July 20, 2009

the trouble with Effort

I listened in to my church service in birmingham over the internet this weekend. My pastor spoke about tuning in to God, learning to hear Him speak in our lives. And it got me thinking.

I think we're all good at different things. Some people are really good artists. Some people are really good at making things and then fixing them. Others are good at sports. It goes on and on. And I think the same is true, to an extent, with our dispositions and attitudes. Let's face it, some people are better at comforting than others. Case in point: I wouldn't want my track coach in the room if i had just found out some terrible bit of news. But, on the other hand, he was really great at motivating and encouraging, and i'd sure want him around if i was given an incredibly difficult task that i didn't think i could complete.

But whether or not we're disposed to being more encouraging or more compassionate or whatever, that's not really the point. I'm re-learning (and i think it's a lifetime education) that effort alone does not produce the fruits of a life connected to God. More times than not, effort just produces temporary results and ends in a frustrating failure.

Knowing God is more important than my efforts to try to serve God. I keep thinking of John 15, about the vine and the branches. Too often I rush off to go and try my best to fight the ills of the world or to convince people that this or that principle is right or wrong. When this happens, I forget that the most important thing I can do is just seek after God.

There are boundless depths in learning who God is by being in relationship with Him, by spending time seeking after Him. His Words promise me that if I spend myself entirely on seeking Him, THEN will I bear good fruit. THEN all these things shall be added unto me.

I don't become a better listener or turn into a more compassionate person by trying harder, because that's like drinking sand when I'm really thirsty for water. All of those things proceed from a heart and mind and strength that is learning how to be in relationship with God. God has not called me to change the world or to try harder to help Him bring people into His Kingdom, even though those are noble goals. Instead, He is calling me to a deeper relationship with Him, to trust in Him instead of my own efforts. And out of that relationship with Him will flow grace, mercy, and love, because how can you come into real contact with the ferocious love of God without being changed?

I wouldn't become a great impressionist painter by just seeing a Monet painting in a museum and then trying really hard to paint like him. I may learn a few things if I cracked open a "how to be a better impressionist painter" book, but I still wouldn't be a great impressionist painter. But think about what would happen if I went and lived with Monet and learned from him, day after day, watching him plan and paint, learning the process of being a impressionist painter. I couldn't help but become a better painter.

It's hard for me to take an "effort siesta" when i look all around me and hear those voices in my ear telling me to try a bit harder, or that, no, what you really need is THIS"....

The path I need to follow is well-worn, but it is narrow and treacherous and difficult. I'm called to seek God, to walk with Him by faith, trusting and learning from Him. He knows the way. Maybe John 15 is a good place to start.

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