Don't Live in Despair Because of Your Failures in Following Jesus!Friday, December 16, 2005
One of the most frustrating things for me as a Christian has been trying to get a grip on how grace functions with my good works. Having been raised with a works-centered, performanced-oriented type of Christianity, there was the extremely helpful sense or attitude of due diligence formed within me through those years. Work, and work hard. I thank God for that kind of mindset my parents instilled in me. It pays off in all kinds of other areas in my life.
Yet because of the very nature of this system it does not and cannot pay off in Christianity. It creates massive problems. How? Because if it is about performance, about saying the right thing, doing the right thing, living a certain way, etc. then a standard has been created before a motivation was ever there to do it. And without that cross-centered motivation, one cannot help but to live his life with an effort make others happy. You see, the works-centered, performance-oriented Christianity (which I and every other parent should recognize and fight against in our parenting) leads to heartache. It is okay and even necessary to teach our children to please us as their parents, for in so doing they are building a picture in their minds of what it means to please their Heavenly Father. But what is not okay is when that picture frame only has humans in view and not the Heavenly Father. That is why the cross must be put before them and ourselves at all times, because without it we will not make the right connections between the way we are teaching our children to live and the cross-centered motivation behind it. The cross must always be in view when expectations are set.
I don't know how I got off on that subject, because it wasn't even the point of this post. But the words seemed to roll of the keyboard so I'll let 'em stay. But back to my main point, as I was pondering in this morning's shower time, maintaining the right connection or understanding of Jesus to my good efforts is really essential. The reality is that thinking any other way is damning; it is damning in that it is this kind of thinking that sends people to hell.
I may do the very best that I can to please the Lord. And it is only by God's grace that I even try as often as I do to begin with. But you know what? I fail, and I do so just about every single time. I fail to please God as wholly and completely as He deserves. He is worthy of 100% perfection in my efforts to please Him. All my efforts are at all times mixed with both holy desires and sinful desires. Trying to separate them is the spiritual Gordian knot. It cannot be done. Our hearts are so deceitful that we cannot even know them.
The gospel, however.... I just have to stop and medidate on those words before going any further. THE GOSPEL HOWEVER!!!!! The gospel however, changes everything! Praise God for that!
Here's the picture to consider. Thinking about your child putting together a 10,000 piece puzzle on a dinner table. Then think of the top of the dinner table as being the very same picture as the puzzle. Now think of the puzzle and the picture on the dinner table as being the exact same size. How easy it would seem to match up the pieces of the puzzle with the pictures on the table. Right? Not even. This is a 10,000 piece puzzle. And your child's ability to put that thing together at 10 years old will be drastically immature in comparison to his efforts at 18 years old.
The Christian life is like that puzzle. We try each and everyday to match our efforts with Jesus' pattern, living in a way that pleases Him, obeys Him, loves Him, worships Him, follows Him, etc. Some days we may spend every waking hour trying to match one piece. Other days we may find success in matching two or even five pieces. Some weeks we may go without making any matches at all.
Now here's where I was caught in the grind for so many years. My response to my failure to match the right piece usually resulted in discouragement, despondency, and depression. Much off that was built into me from my childhood years, however. Without the cross always set before me, what other option was I faced with. How can I possibly do any better? And if I try and perhaps succeed by some fluke, it wouldn't be perfect. So when works-centered, performance-orientation is set before us, we will always fail, and we will probably end up in the pit if despair.
Here then is the gospel: Jesus is the table. And no matter how bad my efforts at matching those puzzle pieces end up, Jesus is still the picture on the table. I can't mess that up or get that wrong. It's already done for me. The picture has already been formed and created for me.
The gospel continues then: our Heavenly Father is pleased with the picture on the table, that is, Jesus, His Son. It is a picture of perfection, for it is a reflection of the Heavenly Father.
The gospel moves forward then in this: every piece of the puzzle which we match to the picture on the table pleases our Heavenly Father, despite the thousands of other pieces which lay in a pile unused or mismatched. Why is that? How is that? Again, the Heavenly Father looks at the picture on the table and not the picture I've put together. Unlike most parents, He doesn't focus on the pieces we haven't used or the ones we've mismatched. He focuses on the ones we got right. And these please Him. These efforts please Him not because of we did it, but because those pieces lay on top of the one underneath.
The gospel means that when the Heavenly Father looks at our lives, strangely, mysteriously, divinely, and mercifully He somehow is able to see only the picture underneath, the picture of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is not that the other pieces that are mismatched or unused somehow escape His attention. That is blasphemous, for that is to say God ignores our sin. No, it is to say that because of the picture underneath, God can and does forgive our sins. By choosing only to see Christ my efforts which follow Christ, by His grace, please Him.
What joy should this bring! I'm a screw-up! I am such a huge screw-up! But God sees Jesus. And He is pleased with my successful efforts to please Him because of the One who lies beneath my motivation and successes. Please don't miss what I'm saying. Jesus is not the caulk that fills in my cracks of my wall. He is the wall. Jesus is not the last tile or two that completes my floor. He is the floor. He is not the pages that completes the book. He is the book. He is not the spare tire that keeps our car driving. He is the car. He is not the bush or flowerpot that completes our flowerbed. He is the flowerbed. He is not the working light bulbs that finish my string of Christmas lights. He is the whole strand. He is not the finished sentences that are lost in my mobile phone calls. He is the whole phone call. He is not the properly keyed notes in the songs I play. He is the whole song.
In everything I do, He does not finish what I start, nor make up what I am unable to do. He is the whole work from beginning to end. And anything I get right in the process is due to His grace and is pleasing to Him. But it is pleasing to Him because of the Pattern and not because of my efforts to match the Pattern.
Praise Him for His grace this day. Rearrange your thinking around the cross, around the completeness of Jesus, the superiority of His work and ministry above anything you could ever offer. And do not be discouraged or despair at efforts which will always fall short of the perfection the Heavenly Father requires. Rejoice, rather, in the perfection the Heavenly Father has already provided in place of your failed efforts! Stare more at the picture on the table rather than the pieces you fail to match up. God is pleased with you because of Christ!
At Christmas time, refresh your life with the worship the angels gave to God before the shepherds while they were watching their flocks. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:14).