A single word that continues to float to the top of my consciousness over and over again these past few months.
Dictionary.com defines the word “strive” as
1) to exert oneself vigorously; try hard,
2) to make strenuous efforts toward any goal,
3) to contend in opposition, battle, or any conflict,
4) to struggle vigorously, as in opposition or resistance,
5) to rival.
Striving can be a very good thing. The Olympics are a wonderful example of striving for excellence. We rejoice with those who stand on the podium as the champion sings along with their country’s anthem. It is a well deserved time of recognition and praise for their years of effort and determination. We see in those athletes something that we all desire for ourselves. Greatness. The courage to rise above mediocrity—to stand above the crowd.
Striving can be a good thing, but striving can also be a bad thing.
There are times when we need to strive, to work through the pain, to oppose the difficulty, to fight for what is right. But there are also times when God calls us to rest. For example, God desires for us to enjoy a time of sabbath–a break from the hectic pace of life to rest and reflect on His goodness to us and His ability to run the world without us. We can get so attached to our schedules that we feel it is impossible for us to take a break or the whole thing will fall apart. The truth is that a failure to come apart to rest and reflect is nothing more than a manifestation of our pride. We think that the world revolves around us and our ability to keep it in motion. To continue in that mindset guarantees that not only will our schedules fall apart, but eventually we will too.
God intends for us to rest in Him physically by taking an actual space of time to rest, but He also desires us to rest in Him spiritually. Taking time to rest physically is something that I am better at than taking time to rest spiritually. I often feel that it is up to me to make God’s plans come to pass. It is true that He expects us to work hard and do our best, but there are times that He wants us to step back and let Him do the work. Sometimes things will be going smoothly and falling into place when all of a sudden all of my plans and efforts seem to be thwarted at every turn. Answers to prayers cease and circumstances turn dark. My natural response to these times is usually to work harder and to worry. To strive. This is when striving goes from good to bad to ugly.
I think God brings these seasons of quiet into our lives to remind us that it isn’t about us. God invites us into His plan, but He doesn’t need us. His plan isn’t going to go south because of anything we do or fail to do. He’s bigger than that.
There is a song called “Holy Spirit” written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. It is a prayer to the Holy Spirit seeking His reviving work, His presence and His power. The end of verse two says, “Turn my striving into works of grace; Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.” Those words speak right to the core of my soul. We can do nothing for Christ apart from His grace. Even when I stand to sing a song of praise to Him, I need His power and grace and strength to form the words, to support the breath, to vocalize the notes, and to do it all without seeking the praise of man and stealing His glory for myself. We can truly do NOTHING without the Holy Spirit. If we try–if we strive when God desires us to rest in Him–all that will be shown in our works is ourselves. But that isn’t what our goal should be. As the song says, it should be our prayer that Christ be glorified in all we do.
And so I close, begging the Holy Spirit to please “turn my strivings into works of grace.” Spirit, help me to surrender my will to yours in every thought and deed and attitude, so that He may increase and I may decrease. “Breath of God, show Christ in all I do.”
Listen to Kristyn Getty beautifully sing “Holy Spirit” by clicking here. If this resonates with you, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.