A number of times lately I’ve seen memes or quotes on social media telling me that God can sort my life out if I knuckle down, keep at it, or work hard. Transformation, it appears, is totally in my hands. But this just isn’t true, because, here is something a little shocking to some: the work ethic has no place in Christianity. That rocks our insides doesn’t it, that place deep down that’s been brought up on “God helps those who help themselves”? What I have found, both in my own spiritual journey and in my reading of scripture, is that one of the things most likely to get in the way of our maturing in the faith is our own striving. Striving absolutely negates the power of grace in our lives. It’s not that God wants us to be lazy, this too is to miss the point. He wants us to understand that anything we try to do out of our own power and capabilities is doomed to failure, or will simply lead us further into the mire. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus tells us (John 15:5).
One of the Parables Jesus tells that most confuses and upsets people, including those he told it to originally, is the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. We find it unfair and unjust that someone who has only done five minutes work gets paid the same as those who have been slaving away under the hot sun all day. It grates. But this is to misunderstand the nature of mercy, and the quality of God’s generosity. It is part of his loving perfection to give without counting, to bestow without expecting anything in return. He gives, and we receive. That is the only heavenly transaction. For what do we have to give that can enhance the maker of all things? And what do we have to offer that didn’t first come to us by his hand? We only choose to love him with hearts that he fashioned, and to work with time and effort that were originally given to us. All of this is flow, and it begins in love, moves in love, has its being in love and returns home to love. Talk of rewards and wages, of deserving and entitlement have absolutely nothing to do with it.
“Trying is the first step towards failure,” Homer Simpson famously said, and he is, in so many ways, spot on. We don’t become more holy, more in tune with God, more like him, by any effort of our own, but by giving ourselves up to him. We grow into God by letting go, not by grabbing hold. We must decrease, he must increase, just as John the Baptist described. And so, it is not about trying, but focussing on the one needful thing, setting our eyes, hearts and minds on the threefold unity that is our Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To sit and gaze adoringly, to learn at his feet, to let her move us to her tune. If it were solely about putting the hours and the effort in to reap kingdom results, then pastors and ministers would not suffer from burnouts and breakdowns.
We must learn to live in the flow of God. If we give him our empty cups, he will fill us to overflowing, though probably not in any way we were expecting. If we are only pouring out from our own resources, there will be no abundance, only exhaustion. Think of how this applies to prayer. If we screw up our eyes as tightly as we can, and really try hard, will that get us any closer to the Lord? We are more likely to give ourselves a headache. Better to relax, to say, “Your will, not mine,” and surrender to the gift of his presence. Hearing the still, small voice is not about straining to hear, but about becoming open and aware enough to notice it beneath the roar of the world. When we release all our neediness, we will find the one thing we truly need.
© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture from Pixabay