April 30, 2015

Trying harder is not the answer. . .

Joshua 22:10–24:33; 2 Corinthians 13:11–14; Psalm 60:1–12

I used to tell my children ‘try harder’ but that was not a good way to teach them about faith. Finally I learned that repentance does not mean ‘try harder’ either. Yesterday my course professor reminded me, “Never tell God of your resolve to serve Him; tell Him of your inability and ask for grace and help.”

Experience with New Year’s Resolutions ought to be enough to convince anyone. Years of trying to do things in my own strength ought to be enough to convince me. However, God already knows that He must give me challenges that I’m absolutely sure I cannot do without His grace and help.

While learning this takes far too long, I’m not the only slow learner. Israel went into their promised land by the grace of God, fighting and winning battles because He was with them. The Lord reminded them . . .

“And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” (Joshua 24:11–13)

This reminder didn’t sink in though. Within minutes Joshua challenged them to serve the Lord. Here is what he said, followed by their confident response . . .

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (Joshua 24:14–20)

Joshua was right. These people resolved to serve God, but resolve does not work, only humility and utter dependence. God hears and answers humble cries for help. I wonder if He just smiles kindly at confidence as He takes me back into the classroom of life to learn again where my strength really is.

Paul knew this principle. He said God’s strength was perfected in his weakness. He reminded Christians many times to obey, but do it in faith and relying on the Lord. He ended 2 Corinthians with this prayer: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)

David, Israel’s song writer, said it even better: “Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (Psalm 60:11–12)

My ‘foes’ this week are three assignments that are to be submitted in a certain style. I’ve no clue how to do it, so I’m asking the Lord for grace and insight. I can say “I can do all things” but must not forget the ending of that verse. Those ‘all things’ can only be done “through Christ who gives me strength.”

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