Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
July 5, 2015
Give up trying to impress God
When I was a young man my pastor suggested that I choose Philippians 4:13 as my life verse. I liked the verse and memorized it. It felt good to repeat the words daily: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Though that verse was often on my lips, many years passed before I began to understand how to draw upon the strength of Christ for my life. In my late twenties I realized that I was trying to do everything in my own strength. I had no clue about how to allow Christ "strengthen me.” The harder I tried to imitate Christ, the less peace I felt in my soul.
Actually my effort did produce something – stress and frustration for me and the people around me. There was little joy in my life because I was trying so hard to “be” a Christian.
A friend with whom I worked confronted me angrily one day. In love, and without anger, he said, “Walter, you are like a bulldozer trying to move a mountain of work. You run over people as though you are trying to prove something to God.”
His stinging words drove me to my knees. I took a new look at myself. I had to admit my colleague was right. My “work” was the focus of my life. I had little concern for the people around me. Caring about the needs of my colleagues was not on my agenda. I was working hard to succeed, to prove that I was smart and capable.
This new awareness of myself was humiliating. I realized I needed help, the Lord’s help, so I prayed earnestly for the Lord to change me.
One day while praying I heard the Inner Voice say gently to me, “Walter, why don’t you stop trying to impress me with all your hard work. Just relax in my love and start enjoying being my man. Do your work but find new ways to love and care for the people in your life.” I knew that was a "word from the Lord" for Walter! So I began trying to achieve a new balance in doing my work and building relationships with the people around me.
I began to experience a new joy, the joy of realizing that loving others is more important than completing "a mountain of work." I am still learning how to relax in his love every day so that I don't miss the opportunities to share his love with others.
I am not there yet but I believe I know the way. The secret is in being willing to be a "branch" and allowing Jesus to be the "vine." Life-giving power surges through this connection. I need often to reflect on his words and find new meaning in what he said: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Scholars use different words to translate the key word in this promise. The NIV translates it “remains.” Older versions employ the word “abides.” One of the best translations is the word “dwells.” We think of living in a home as “dwelling” in it; it is our dwelling place. Jesus’ meaning is quite clear: “If you dwell in me and I dwell in you, you will bear much fruit.”
Fruitfulness and joy flow naturally out of our lives when we learn to dwell in him and let him dwell in us. Apart from him there is no fruit and no joy. Dwelling in him we become like healthy branches producing the fruit that proves we are his disciples.
The branch has no life without the vine. As Christians we draw our very life from Jesus. Without him we are dead. So we must remain vitally connected to Jesus for the life of God to be in us.
The Spirit produces fruit in our lives not because we “try hard” to bear fruit but because we remain securely attached to Jesus. The gracious fruit of the Spirit is not then something we do, but something Jesus does as his power flows through us. That is what I think Paul meant when he said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I know now that I was slow to admit the truth of Jesus’ words: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” My ego got in the way of my growth in grace. Foolishly I thought I could do everything in my own strength. So I had to fall flat on my face before admitting I needed the Lord’s help. Today I am so thankful for the change that took place when I stopped trying to impress God. + + +