Trust not try

“You suck. Try harder.” That was the main message Jim Belcher heard in church growing up. After reading that recently, it has been much on my mind. That is probably because I know Jim is not the only one who grew up thinking that is the main teaching of Christianity. “You suck. Try harder” is the basic message a lot of people hear in churches and youth groups and at home. I’ve been to Christian events that were basically an hour of being told to try harder. I’ve left discouraged because I knew I wasn’t doing well, but I didn’t know how I could try any harder.

Many people are trying hard. Some are trying hard because they feel guilty. They hope they can do enough good to make up for the bad they have done. Some are trying hard because they are worried about what people think, and they long to make a good impression. Some are trying hard because, like the Galatians in the New Testament, they say they believe a person starts a relationship with God by faith, but they seem to think staying with him, growing in Him and serving Him is all about how hard you work. “After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? … Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:3, 5).

The call is not to try harder but to trust more. Trust the promises of God’s Word more. Trust God when He says your sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Trust the Lord when He promises to take care of you and keep you safe. Trust God when He says He loves you and wants you to be with Him forever.

It is humbling to have to admit our best efforts at trying harder are never going to be good enough to meet the demands of God’s perfect law. We keep falling short. What Paul said about himself is true for us: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18). We can’t try hard enough, but the wonderful good news is Jesus did enough at the cross for us.

I came home once from a conference where the theme was mostly, “You suck. Try harder.” I wasn’t motivated to try harder. Instead I felt like giving up. But then God reminded me of the good news of Jesus. God’s love for us isn’t based on how well we do. He loves us and wants us even though we keep falling short. Our sin has been paid for by the perfect sacrifice of Christ. My salvation is secure because of Jesus. We try to serve Him, but we won’t always get it right. But we can always trust in the mercy and grace of God.

Jud Wilhite wrote, “… conquering our idols and habitual sins is ultimately a matter of being swept up by His love rather than gritting our teeth and trying harder.” Instead of gritting your teeth, open your heart and get swept up by God’s amazing love.

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100 years ago today

One hundred years ago today, in Luverne, Minnesota, Sven and Marta Larsen gave birth to a baby girl who ended up becoming my mom. One hundred years ago childhood diseases that are treatable now could be fatal. My mom got one of those scary illnesses, but, obviously, she survived.

She survived growing up in the Depression. She survived having a brother who was a prisoner of war in World War 2. She survived when her husband wanted them to leave the only town she had ever lived in to go out west to be a fisherman. Being married to a commercial fisherman means being separated from your husband for long periods of time while he is out at sea, involved in what is often considered the most dangerous profession. Mom survived.

She survived caring for both of her parents during their battles with cancer. She survived the challenges of being a mom and the trials of having loved ones who struggled with addiction issues. She survived when, much to her surprise at age 44, more than 20 years after her last baby, she became pregnant again. She survived a serious heart attack when she was 50 years old and the death of her dearly loved husband when she was 60.

My mom was kind of little and not all that strong physically, but she was strong willed, strong when it came to being disciplined, and strong when it came to showing enduring, sacrificial love. She was strong in spirit, strong in her convictions and strong in her faith in the Lord. She was an example of how God can give us strength that is beyond ourselves.

When she came to the end of her life she was dying but in a way she was still surviving and living. The day before she died somebody from church visited her in the hospital and encouraged her to hold on, “Craig needs you.” Mom’s reply was, “No, Craig doesn’t need me. God will be with him. He’ll be fine.” The next day some other people from church were visiting her in the hospital and I was there as well. They said they’d come by and see her the next day. Her calm, confident response was, “I don’t think I’ll be here.” Three hours later she died.

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from he Lord. We live by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:6-7). By faith in Christ, because of God’s amazing grace, we survive, we thrive, we overcome. We live with hope and confidence because of the promises of God. I’m thankful for the one who was born 100 years ago today who survived by trusting the promises of God, and passed on the good news of the promises to me.