I’ve been a believer since Jimmy Carter was president, but still haven’t graduated from the school cooperative of sanctification. I’ve had and continue to have struggles. In recent years, I’ve battled with a caffeine addiction, with sticking to our budget, and with saying ‘no’ to unnecessary items on our calendar. I guess you could say that I’ve struggled to say ‘no’ to myself and others. By struggling, I mean that I knew exactly what I needed to do and simply didn’t do it. In other words, I wasn’t really struggling in the true sense of the word. I wasn’t resisting the temptation to have poor boundaries. I wasn’t winning any battles. I was just suffering the consequences and alternating between moments of self-pity and self-loathing.
Take my caffeine addiction for instance. I knew it wasn’t good for me to drink 3-4 cups of coffee a day and I told myself to slow down and drink more water, but I felt so tired and foggy-headed. I just needed to survive the day! So, I’d pour another cup. It wasn’t until I developed a miserable case of adrenal fatigue that I was able to kick the habit. And by ‘able’ I mean motivated. It wasn’t until the pain of staying the same outweighed the pain of change that I began to truly struggle.
I’ve noticed that we use this word ‘struggle’ a lot, but I don’t think it means what we think it means. According to the Oxford Dictionary, to struggle is to “make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction”. So, when we say we’re struggling with something, are we exerting great effort to rid it from our life and soul? Because if we aren’t risking life and limb to get free, we’re just sitting in it. We may hate the consequences, but we’ve chosen them over the arduous process of getting free.
This isn’t a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ pep talk. I promise. None of us have our flesh dialed in. None of us win every battle. But let’s be clear on this. None of us can do this business of sanctification without a consistent habit of scratching and crawling our way to the throne of grace. Surrendering to God and putting our flesh to death is painful. It requires a good bit of effort. Fortunately, that effort will be more than matched by His sustaining and strengthening grace. After all, He is deeply invested in our sanctification.
I know. I’ve offered an innocuous example, haven’t I? A little caffeine addiction is nothing compared to what bombards us day in and day out. Feelings of profound inadequacy, resentment towards our in-laws, grief over our marriages, guilt over our parenting, fears about the future, doubts over the love and goodness of God, and the compulsion to be a good girl. Are these a little closer to home? Indeed, I’ve understated the daily barrage that has all but taken us out. But it is possible to wade through those murky waters and come out victorious.
According to the flesh, we have nothing at our disposal, but behavior modification. According to the world, there is nothing new under the sun and all history is deemed to repeat itself. But, the promise of the gospel is transformation. Our hearts of stone have been permanently altered and become hearts of flesh, hearts that are capable of change. It is not without difficulty, not without effort, but it is possible.
I suppose it’s expected that I produce a formula for you to follow here, but I can’t. Oh, I could reduce my own success stories to three simple steps, but you’re gonna need more than someone else’s story to get through this life. Besides, my story is just an illustration, just an example of who He is and what He can do. He is infinite and therefore His methods are infinite. More importantly, they are also deeply personal and intricately connected to what He desires to reveal of Himself to each of us. He gives each of us a slightly different experiential understanding of Himself. In this way, our little formulas sidestep the sovereign goodness of God. He is the Way out of every trial and temptation. He is the Truth that sets us free. And He is the Life we’ve been longing for. He, my friends, is enough to get you through this life and the next! So, drag your struggles to His throne of grace today.