Are You Trying Too Hard?
Guest Author: Jonathan Jones It seems that there are two extreme approaches that people take toward spiritual things. Some people don’t try. Others try too hard. Both of these extremes destroy relationship with Christ.
It is easy to see the error of not trying. This extreme is vividly depicted in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). The master rejected the servant who received the one talent because he did not try; choosing rather to bury his talent. The master calls this servant “lazy” (vs. 26) and “worthless” (vs. 30) and the consequence was severe (vs. 30). The servant was “cast out” because he did not really try. Jesus shows that some people in the kingdom will suffer a similar fate.
Yet, we must not miss the opposite extreme—trying too hard. To many serious Christians, the very suggestion that you could “try too hard” in your relationship with God sounds heretical. Yet, this is very much a reality. This error is deceptive and catches many unsuspecting Christians in its trap. We must continually remind ourselves that the gift of God’s grace accepted in faith is what saves us (Eph. 2:8-9). Our works do not save us. The deeds we do in righteousness cannot save (Tit. 3:5). All the good deeds that we do are like “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isa. 64:6). When we trust in our own works, we fall from grace (Gal. 5:1-4). No matter what we may do for God we are still “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10). Whenever we fixate upon “trying so hard” to live for God, we can unconsciously start to trust in our moral or religious performance for salvation. This causes some people to become “self-righteous” (Luke 18:9-14). For others, it leads to despair because we continually are reminded of our inadequacies and how we are not “doing enough.” We are plagued with the constant feeling that we need to “try harder.” Spiritual exhaustion sets in and we begin resenting God. Satan uses this deception to destroy your relationship with God.
The extreme of “trying too hard” is demonstrated for us in an event in Jesus’ life. Jesus visited the house of two women, Mary and Martha, and was greeted with a warm reception (Lk. 10:38-42). Mary sat at Jesus’ feet absorbed in his teaching. Meanwhile, Martha is “working hard” trying to prepare food and serve Jesus. Martha, the hard worker, is distraught over the fact that Mary is not helping serve. Martha wants Jesus to rebuke Mary for not “working hard” to help. Surprisingly, Jesus turns to Martha and says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion….” Martha was so busy “working hard” for Jesus that she failed to relax and relish in the Master’s presence. Martha was “working too hard” for Jesus and it was causing her to miss relational interaction with him. Martha, like many of us, had the best intentions of working hard for Jesus. But the result is a spirit that is “anxious and troubled about many things.” And we miss the better part.
This point can be illustrated by looking at family relationships. A mother can “work too hard” providing for her children that she forgets to be with them. A husband can “work too hard” providing for his wife, that he becomes “disengaged” relationally from her. We can become so consumed with work that we forget who we are working for. We can do the same thing in our faith.
Martha had the best of intentions. She was working for the cause of her Lord. But she was “trying too hard.” When I try too hard, it becomes more about me than it is about Jesus. Mary was sitting at Jesus feet listening to him. Martha was working for Jesus but was not with him. Martha’s words betray her when she says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Martha had begun to focus more on what she could do for the Lord instead of what the Lord could do for her.
Sometimes we need to slow down, relax, bask in the grace of God in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of God’s glory (Rom. 5:1-2). Grace is not a license for laziness and reveling in sin (Rom. 6:1). But grace is a license for relishing in the joy of relationship with God. If you have been “trying too hard” it may be time to slow down and let your spirit settle down. Stop being anxious and troubled about many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord.
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