“Escape the ‘Try Harder’ Trap”
“Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.” –Hebrews 4:9-10 (HCSB)
It has been said that the last 2,000 years of teaching and preaching on how to successfully live the Christian life and please God could be encapsulated in a simple two-word exhortation: “Try Harder!”
You keep stumbling over the same sin or habit? –Try harder.
Struggling to love unlovely and obnoxious people? –Try harder.
Failing time and again to rise an hour early for prayer and Bible reading? –Try harder.
Not giving enough, serving enough or witnessing enough? Not attending church services enough? –Try harder—try harder—try harder!
You know the instructions. Bear down. Double up. Lather, rinse, repeat—in an endless, frustrating, shame-soaked cycle of defeat and failure that robs you of your confidence before God and keeps you feeling like the only Christian in the world who isn’t properly “doing all the right things.”
None of that sounds very restful, does it? Yet, as our Scripture reminds us, rest is precisely what we are called to in Jesus. Particularly rest from striving and straining to earn God’s approval. God wants us to enter His rest. The fact is, God sent Jesus so we could become restful human “beings” … not busy human “doings.” God paid an enormous price and lavished His grace upon us to restore us—not to good behavior but restore us to Himself.
For Christians, it is peace with God now and eternal life on a new earth later. We do not need to wait for the next life to enjoy God’s rest and peace; we may have it daily now! Our daily rest in the Lord will not end with death but will become an eternal rest in the place that Christ is preparing for us (John 14:1-4). By reconnecting us to the source of life and love for which we were always meant to live in connection with.
When you live and rest in that connection, all those other good and noble things overflow out of your life organically, naturally, and effortlessly. Your life will become a witness to others you encounter on your journey. The peace, joy, and confidence that will shine from you becomes an irresistible beacon to the lost and hurting souls of our world. You will be an example of God’s absolute love. When you become secure in God’s love and acceptance, you become unoffendable, and naturally capable of more patience and grace than you thought possible.
If Jesus has provided for our rest through faith, why must we “do our best to enter that rest”? This is not the struggle of doing good in order to obtain salvation, nor is it a mystical struggle to overcome selfishness. It refers to making every effort to appreciate and benefit from what God has already provided. Salvation is not to be taken for granted. To acquire the gift God offers will require decision and commitment.
Busy people often work especially hard the week before vacation, tying up loose ends so they can relax. Students usually have their final exams right before semester breaks. When we know a rest is coming, we often will put extra effort into finishing our work.
Healthy Christians love the work God has given them, doing it with passion and gusto, putting all their strength and care into it. But Christians love God’s promise of heaven’s rest even more and look forward to God’s rest with great joy. Today, renew your effort to work hard for God. Rest is coming. Relish that thought.
I suppose we have all tried the “try harder” approach before only to realize utter failure once again. Perhaps we were even told that we failed again because we didn’t try hard enough. So, again we “tried harder”, thus the cycle continues. The fact is that it just does not work. But the great news is that “Grace” does. Grace works. Forever and always. Grace works.