I was straining, instead of abiding for many years as a Christian. I loved God and desired more than anything else to live for Him. But I had the impression that I had to do much to make my relationship with God to work.
Despite every effort I made to make it work, I just couldn’t. There was generalized joylessness, anxiety, unbelief; I battled discouragement and sometimes plain despair.
I knew somewhere deep within, that true Christianity is supposed to be enjoyable, not strenuous; I would read of others’ great experiences with God and beat myself up for not doing enough for God to be so real to me too. So I would think of more fasting, more praying, more resolve to study, more this and more that. Those were my days as a legalist.
I finally got worn-out and I just told the Lord I was tired of the kind of experience I was having with Him and if He didn’t show me what was wrong, “I will quit seeking you”. It was actually an ultimatum and I meant it.
I wasn’t arrogant but I was serious in my desire to see a change. I didn’t mean I will renounce Christ but I planned on only being a nominal Christian at best.
Few days after the “ultimatum”, I just had this phrase “striving, not abiding” lingering in my mind. So I read some about what it means to abide and it became clear to me God had replied. That night I decided not to go to bed until I had laid down all the striving, all the strenuous pursuit of God; I was going to experience “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).
It wasn’t easy letting go. I could not easily see myself resting. But thank God, he came through and helped me.
It’s the lessons I learnt that I want to share here. I discover that many Christians are like I was: having the right desire for God but going about it the wrong way. I have been around many Christians and it is usually almost the same experience I was having with God.
The list I present may not be exhaustive; I give out of my own experience.
Someone who is striving does not know how to be still. In fact, when you choose to start abiding, the first concern you will think of is how to overcome fretfulness. This is the most common sign. Because of difficulty in being still, there is usually confusion on decision-making.
You may pray (sometimes more), but worry takes supremacy and incapacitates your faith, causing you to take decisions out of fear and not a resting faith.
- Unable to “be” without “doing”
A striver does not find his identity in Christ, he can’t easily enjoy God simply out of relationship; rather he feels important and pleasing to God only when he is doing something worthwhile.
He may intellectually know he is God’s child because of what the Lord Jesus accomplished, but still go about trying to be acceptable to God through his own doings. When his day is filled with mundane activities, he finds it hard being excited about God. When he gets busy with spiritual matters, he may get excited because of the feeling of importance he derives from such activity.
- Unnecessary longer prayers
The Lord Jesus said it is not long praying that guarantees an answer. He assured His disciples that the Father knows what they need before they ask, and so they can as well just make a request without repeating words (see Matthew 6:7).
A person who strives does not believe in short prayers. His faith does not rest in God’s faithfulness to His Word, rather he believes so much in prolonged prayers even if the same words have to be repeated over and over again. The truth is, long praying makes him feel good about the prayer and because he feels this way, he then can have confidence that God will answer.
- Fear of missing out on God
This was really a major with me. I constantly was afraid that I may miss out on what God had in stock for me. So I felt compelled to pray more just in case nothing went wrong that could hinder God’s agenda for me.
I have met people like this too. They believe that the longer the better, but that is not true. Prayer is relationship. And a good relationship with the Lord is founded on His love for us. A child who has learned to rest does not fear. He believes God’s love will guide and lead, and the fear of missing out on God simply evaporates.
- “Worship” before supplication
A striver can’t just in the middle of some activity, make a request to God. If He has a burden, a request to make to the Lord, it is almost sacrilegious for him to go straight to the point and cast that burden on the Lord or make the request. He feels permitted to supplicate only after “worshipping” and confessing sin. Instead of pouring out his heart to the Lord, a striver usually goes about eulogizing God (even when he doesn’t actually contemplate on those great words), just so he can feel permitted to make a demand on God. This picture doesn’t look like a good Father-child relationship.
- Not appreciating the growth process
For the striver, there is nothing like growth process. He never takes time to appreciate how far he’s come. It is usually about how far he still has to go. Constantly beating himself up for not being more committed, not doing enough, etc. the striver only helps to hamper his own growth and defeat his very desire to grow and mature in the Christian life
- Straining to make and keep resolutions
The striver, because he is not abiding in the Lord, undermines the ministry of the Holy Spirit by thinking he can manifest holiness in his own strength. So he makes rules and regulations, which he may find hard to keep, thereby bringing in false guilt, condemnation and discouragement. Even if the striver succeeds to be outwardly holy, there’s usually a lack of joy because of the struggle he goes through to produce the results.
I can’t tell how relieving it was to know I should rest, not struggle in relationship with the Lord. It took away a lot of pressure from me. It was during a period in my life that I was making a life changing decision, and I am grateful to the Lord He taught me how to rest, not fret.
That was not the end of the struggle; I would later find myself in moments of striving and not abiding. It seems our natural selves have the tendency to gravitate towards that direction. It is therefore important to constantly keep our relationship on God founded on His love for us, not on what we can do to impress Him.
Are you striving instead of resting in God? You can make a change and enjoy being a child of the Most High. Amen.
Make a decision today to stop striving. Seek to abide