The Problem with Striving and the Beauty of Abiding
A common enemy rears its ugly head in many people’s lives come spring. It’s the time of year where a spring vacation sounds nice, but often those breaks are crammed with trips, taxes, camps, and more to-dos. People are busy doing a lot of good things—and a by-product is burnout.
But is burnout the enemy? No.
Isn’t Striving Spiritual?
The problem with striving is that it often looks “spiritual” from the outside. Last month I reflected on the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10 with a group of students, and nearly every student, regardless of spiritual background, agreed that they are striving. Many of the non-Christian students had that moment of wondering, What am I even striving for?! while the Christian students sat in the realization that they really do believe they have to earn God’s love.
The truth is that all too often we get busy like Martha doing things for Jesus rather than being with him. We can find ourselves going to Bible studies, church events, our own small groups, community outreaches, and on-campus ministry gatherings and then coming home at night tired, weary, bitter, and not very “spiritual” at all.
We have to realize we’re in a striving mindset—maybe as a result of pride, busyness, or forgetting to be with Jesus—before we can stop striving and start abiding.
Why Being with Jesus Is So Much Better
The Amplified Bible defines the word abide as “to be vitally united to” and dwell as to “live in.” The words demonstrate a relationship and posture rather than effort and action. The beauty of abiding is in the fact that we get to come, as we are, and simply be with Jesus.
John 15 assures us that God is the “gardener” and “vinedresser” as well as the vine. We are intricately connected to the vine as the branches off of it. When we’re striving we become severed from the vine—and Jesus is clear that we cannot do anything apart from him (see v. 5).
God wants to take the withered, weary branches that we are and nourish us, making us strong in him. He wants to trim our rough, spiky, out-of-control limbs and smooth them out with his love by the power of his Spirit. Why? In order that we may produce long-lasting, God-glorifying, kingdom-advancing fruit!
In abiding in him and remaining consumed by his love, our strength, strategy, plans, and efforts are rooted in partnership with God. He wants us to do life and ministry with him! The Creator of the universe wants you to partner with him not because he needs you but because he loves you!
The Goodness of Being Human
Our humanness is a constant reminder that we need God all of the time. As humans we are relatively self-sufficient, but the truth is that we aren’t “all that.” We are limited. We need God not just when we’re defeated, weary, weak, in crisis, or stuck but in every day and every moment.
The invitation to abide in God’s love is like a breath of fresh air to me at this time of the year. Instead of pressing on, working harder, and trying to do everything by my own power, strength, and strategy (which are ultimately limited and flawed), I get to do every day in, through, and with God. Sitting, like Mary, at Jesus’ feet may feel uncomfortable or counterproductive, but it is in this posture that we can truly discover what Martha was missing out on: being with Jesus.
To me, being with Jesus means sharing space with him without any agenda other than spending time with him. Learning how to practice the spiritual discipline of silence, listening to his voice, and learning about his character through Scripture are all ways we can be with Jesus.
The True Source of Life
Where have you stopped being with God in order to do more for him?
In this place of realizing I am limited, I am human, I am weary and maybe battling burnout, God whispers “abide in my love.” This soft and gentle reminder brings me back to the true source of life, and I am humbled as I remember his love displayed through Jesus on the cross.
Every time I think I’m so important to the mission of Jesus, or I think I need to be busier and do more to accomplish his will on earth, I overlook the cross. I forget my limited nature and convince myself I do not need what he has done for me. I grow hardhearted, tired, and angry, and don’t even get to enjoy the life he died to give me!
Instead of overlooking this truth and missing out on being with him, embrace your humanness and sit at the feet of our limitless, powerful, loving God.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.