Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was, “Don’t try so hard.”
Sure, we all know the value of effort. There’s absolutely no substitute for hard work. But in certain situations, more effort is the last thing you need.
When I ran track in high school, my coach would tell us to relax while we ran. I didn’t get it right away. See, your first instinct in a race is to tighten up and “try harder.” It’s to out-muscle, out-work, and out-do the guy in the next lane. But that was usually counter-productive. My coach showed us that what we really needed to do was to stay loose and let the race come to us. He knew that the harder we “tried,” the tighter we got. And the tighter we got, the more unnecessary energy we burned. We’d end up beating ourselves by getting stuck in “the trying trap.”
When I played baseball, the same logic applied. Before I learned to hit, my method was to grit my teeth, tighten every muscle, and swing for the fences every time I stepped to the plate, regardless of what pitch was thrown. But Coach told us to relax. He taught us to stay loose, focus on form over force, and wait for the right pitch to come.
Over Before It Starts
I hear Christians talking about “trying harder” all the time. They talk about trying to be more patient…trying to be more loving…trying to be more self-controlled. It kinda makes me cringe because I know their efforts are probably doomed. The reality is that a lot of those believers have been talking about “trying to be a better Christian” for years now…and it still hasn’t happened. Despite all their efforts, resolutions, and will-power, they’re no more loving, patient, or self-controlled than they were when they started.
The problem for a lot of believers is that they’re trying too hard.
Now make no mistake, effort has its place in the life of a Christian. We should be diligent and hard-working servants of God. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. What I’m saying is that true and lasting change in your character doesn’t come from your hard work—it comes from the Spirit’s work within your heart.
A clue to the transformation of life that many of us are still seeking lies in Galatians 5:22–23. Paul lists all of these virtuous qualities that we desire as believers, things we know we should be growing in and showing more of as children of God. But it’s significant that he calls them fruit.
Nothing to DO but BE
Now think about it—have you ever seen a pear tree straining to produce pears? Did you ever hear an orange tree tell another orange tree, “I’m trying really hard to make more oranges this year”? Of course not! Beside the fact that trees can’t talk, you know it’s ridiculous because you know the fruit just comes naturally. There’s no strain. There’s no struggle. The fruit just comes, sometimes even when you wish it would stop! We had this apple tree in the backyard where we used to live that just wouldn’t quit dropping apples, despite my obvious annoyance at the overabundance.
The ONLY thing that’s necessary for fruit is life. There is nothing the tree has to do—the tree just has to be. It has to be alive and healthy. That’s it! As long as that’s the case, then the fruit will come like clockwork every season, and plenty of it.
Paul was telling us that love, patience, self-control and every other godly trait is simply evidence of spiritual life. If you as a believer are alive and healthy, the fruit will come. You won’t be able to stop it! And you won’t have to force it or fake it. It will come just as naturally and abundantly as those apples in our backyard.
Listen, the harder you try, the tighter you get. And the tighter you get, the quicker you burn yourself out. The frustration of trying to force spiritual growth through human effort will build and build until it’s too much to bear. The futility of will-power to overcome the overpowering pull of fleshly lust will leave you discouraged and disillusioned every time.
We so often put the proverbial cart before the horse and try to change our behaviors instead of letting God change our hearts. And it never lasts for very long.
Try It Without Trying
Listen, if you want to be more loving, more self-controlled, more whatever…don’t try so hard. Relax as you run this race. You don’t have to do something. You just have to be something.
Stop focusing so intently on the outward habits and start focusing more intentionally on the inward health.
As long as you’re spiritually alive and strong, love will start flowing from you in ways that surprise even you at times. Patience will become second nature, and peace will just become part of who you are. Self-control will cease to be a non-stop struggle.
So then the obvious question is, where does your life and health come from as a Christian? Well, it comes from God’s Holy Spirit. The Greek word for “spirit” literally means “breath.” Of course you know that without breath, there is no life. That’s why Paul wrote in verse 25 that if we live by the Spirit, we will also walk in the Spirit.
So if you want fruit, don’t seek fruit—seek life. And if you want life, seek the Breath of God. Pursue the Spirit’s presence daily. Listen to Him and learn from Him. Sit still in His presence. Devote yourself to the scriptures. Pray more faithfully and pray more spiritually.
Just focus on cultivating spiritual life through a more intimate relationship with God. Simply make Him your greatest passion and your deepest desire. Just work on getting closer to Him, on diligently seeking your rewarding God. Then all the things you’ve been trying to do on your own, you’ll eventually start to be through the Spirit…without hardly trying at all.
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Be blessed and be a blessing!