He Will Complete It

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Are you ever going to finish that meek book, Abigail? Give birth already. It’s been six years since you started.

Kate was blunt. But she was not the first one to mention my unfinished book.

Not Complete

Do you have piles of unfinished projects? I do.

A glance at piles of notebooks with unfinished drafts reveals I start a lot of projects I do not complete. Which, in the writing world, need not be a bad thing. Those idea notebooks belong in Jeff Goins’ bucket #1. Many are best left there.

There are also piles of baggies of bugs on the top shelf in the pantry part of half-finished 4H entomology project—only half the insects are pinned. But since it was my son’s 4H project, I’ll only take half the blame.

But my biggest piles of unfinished are mounting bedside. They are pictured bove. I counted. Of the 25 books there, I’ve finished 11—in fact, I’m re-reading a few. Still, that means I’ve only completed 44%.

But I rest in these words from Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books—a book that I did in fact finish.

Often readers don’t stop reading because they don’t have “permission” to stop. You have permission. The only book you should read entirely is the Bible. All other books must prove their value along the way. Don’t allow unfinished books to pile up in a mountain of guilt.

Tony Reinke, Lit!, p. 115

Side note: You do have permission. No guilt. You don’t have to finish that book.

What Is The Good Work?

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Those are Paul’s much loved words from Philippians 1 verse 6. But what is the good work to which Paul refers? Does it mean that every

Is it when an unsaved friend comes to church or when a family member watches The Chosen with you? Does that mean that he will be with you in heaven forever? Or even that my book will make it to print or your home remodel will finally get done?

To answer that we’ve got to see the Philippians 1 verse 6 in context. Paul had just called his readers saints in Christ Jesus. They were of the faith in Christ Jesus.

God finishes what he starts. He’s even called the starter and finisher, or perfecter, of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God “started” and gave us faith ( 2 Peter 1:1Philippians 1:29, and Acts 3:16). Since our faith in Christ is a good thing, we can be sure God will complete it.

In other words, Philippians 1 verse 6. The context shows us that the good work God will complete is the faith of believers. It doesn’t promise any less, or any more. Because he completes all of his good works.

Or Does He?

But what about Jeremiah’s field trip to the potter’s house? You can read about that in Jeremiah 18. Does God ever give a project up? Didn’t God show Jeremiah that he might just rework that lopsided pot? That the potter has the right to return the partly formed pot back into a lump?

He does. Which means that you might be asking, “So doesn’t that negate Philippians 1:6—that God always finishes what he starts?”

Actually, no.

Because Paul wrote those words to Christians, individuals, and “fellow partners in the gospel.” But the context of Jeremiah 18 is nations. When nations go bad, God declares the right to do with them as he wishes. (That’s not the point of this post, but if you want me to take it up, please do let me know.)

God reserves divine prerogative to let rebel nations them go their own way. The good work in Philippians 1 verse 6 is a work of faith, which is the gift of faith (Phil. 1:29). This means it is a work that God will complete.

The unbroken chain of Romans 8 relates: Whom God calls, he also justifies, and whom he justifies he also glorifies. No one falls out. The chain will be completed. The circle will be unbroken. The good work starts with faith and is finished when we—perfected and complete—see Jesus face to face.

God will complete it.

Why It Matters

It matters because we fail. We lose heart when we make the same mistakes and break every resolution by January 18th. It matters because perfectionism paralyzes some of us. We want to be perfect, but when we fail, we freeze.

But we can rejoice knowing that if we are in Christ nothing is wasted. Nothing includes everything now imperfect and incomplete. Because God’s ways, his word, and his works are perfect (Psalm 18:30, Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 12:6).

As far as I can tell, perfect means a thing can’t get any better. There is no improving on it. When God undertakes a work, it will be as good as it is possible to be. It will be finished, perfect, complete.

Everything will be pulled together. There are not any dangling, unseemly threads from God’s vantage point, from the top of the tapestry.

Take that to the bank next time you mess up. Or at least consider “The Talking Teacup.”

The Talking Teacup

I read about an American couple, both connoisseurs of pottery and fine China who celebrated their 40th anniversary in Sussex, England. There in a little antique shop, their eyes landed on a lovely teacup on the top shelf.

Here I beg your pardon for this uncharacteristic, Disney-esque twist.

As the man gently strokes the teacup, it begins to speak.

“You don’t understand, I haven’t always been a tea cup. There was a time when I was red and that I was clay. My master rolled me, then patted me over and over and over. I yelled, ‘Let me be!” But he smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then I was placed on a spinning wheel. Suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy,’ I said. The master nodded and said, ‘Not yet.’

Then he put me in an oven where I’d never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me and I yelled and I knocked on the door. I could see him through the opening. He nodded his head as I read his lips. They said, ‘Not yet.’

Finally the door opened and he put me on a shelf where I began to cool. But suddenly he grabbed me again and brushed and painted me all over. I thought I would suffocate, the fumes were so bad. But he just smiled and said, ‘Not yet.’

He put me back into an oven, not the first one but one twice as hot, and I knew that I was going to suffocate. I begged and screamed, and all the while I still saw him through the opening, smiling and nodding his head, repeating, ‘Not yet, not yet.’

Work Complete

I was just ready to give up when the door opened and he took me out and he put me on a shelf. An hour later he came back and he handed me a mirror. “Now just look at yourself.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes.

He continued, ‘I know that it hurt to be rolled and patted but if I had left you, you would have dried out. I know that it made you dizzy to spin you around on a spinning wheel but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. And I know that it was horribly hot in the oven but if I had I not fired you, you would have cracked. I know that the fumes were awful while I painted and brushed you, but if I had not, you wouldn’t have hardened or had any color. Had I skipped the second oven. you wouldn’t have survived. Your hardness would not have held.

But now you are complete. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.'”

What His Grace Has Begun, His Strength Will Complete

“We are confident of this very thing: that He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus.”

That last phrase is both encouraging and wee bit disconcerting, isn’t it? This process of becoming like Jesus, called sanctification, will be completed. But it won’t be finished until the day of Christ Jesus.

Which means strap in. Get ready for more rolling and patting and spinning and more fumes and fires. God is still working on us.

But it also means we can take heart. Because God will complete us. One day will look like our brother Jesus (Romans 8:29). We will be perfect. Perfect.

Bible commentator F.B. Meyer wrote,

We go into the artist’s studio, and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvas and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death.

But as we go into God’s great workshop, we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficient power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete.

The word perfect means complete. God is going to complete those things that concern you. He is going to complete that work of His Spirit, that faith, even if it be small as a mustard seed. But He is not hasty.

Jesus Christ will complete it, because he is the author and the finisher of our faith—our faith. He doesn’t promise I’ll get a single book written, project completed or bedside pile read.

But he will perfect that which concerns me. His mercy is more. He will not forsake the work of his hands.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands
.

Psalm 138:8

Optics Matter. So Smile.

Smiling car driver
Taking Elizabeth’s Smile & Drive Challenge

Optics matter. 

As much as it hurts a no-pretense, country girl like me to admit it, they do. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, optics means how a thing looks to an outsider. The word is often applied in the worlds of politics and business. A politician playing golf as his home state is declared a disaster or a Starbucks barista holding a Dunkin’ mug, as examples, would create bad optics.

Image, if not everything, means a lot. It can make or break a cause. And I don’t just mean on Wall Street or in Washington.

I mean for you Christian, driving along in your automobile. 

Elizabeth’s “Smile & Drive Challenge”

My friend Elizabeth has got a thing for joy. And for smiling while she drives. I’ve seen it. We’ve passed in Burlington’s streets and parking lots and it’s striking. 

Elizabeth has a gorgeous smile to begin with, then add to it that she sports it while weaving her black, 12-person van around the one-ways in our town and she stands out.

Let me tell you how the challenge came about. Our ladies’ group was discussing what more than conquerors and “not somehow, but victoriously” mean and how sometimes it’s all we can do to crack a smile. 

Which is when Lizz looked at us with a twinkle in her eye and began:

So,  I’ve been trying to smile while I drive. Even when I stop for a red light or a train.  

Then she threw down the gauntlet:

I challenge you. Smile while you drive. 

I don’t know if that sounds easy to you. But I ca. assure you, it does not feel natural. Smiling while I drive feels odd. 

So why does Elizabeth do this? 

Optics Matter

Elizabeth cares about optics. That’s why. 

Or, to be precise, Elizabeth wants to attract unbelievers to Jesus. And there’s nothing like a radiant smile to attract people. 

As much as I’d like to believe that it’s virtuous to be authentic and let it all hang out so no one can charge me with hypocrisy, it’s not. If we want to influence others for Christ, we must dress up

Because, as Steven Cole has said, Our job as believers is to give good press to our good God, not by spinning or bending the truth, but by conveying by our demeanor and words how excellent He truly is.

Or again, reflecting on Psalm 67:1, John Piper asks, How can you say to the nations, “Be glad in God!” if you are not glad in God?

Optics and gladness and good press for a good God. That’s why I took Elizabeth’s challenge. 

Smile: Make God Look Good

I love Alexander MacLaren’s description of adorning the gospel, of making God look good. Even though he wrote it 150 years ago, it sounds like he was describing optics. 

[M]en do quite rightly and legitimately, judge of systems by their followers...It is just as fair, when a creed comes before our notice which assumes to influence men’s conduct, to say: ‘Well, I should like to see it working…”

So when we Christians stand up and say, ‘We have a faith which is able to deaden men’s minds to the world; which is able to make them unselfish; that is able to lift them up above cares and sorrows; which is able to take men and transform their whole nature, and put new desires and hopes and joys into them’; it is quite fair for the world to say:

‘Have you? Does it? Does it do so with you? Can you produce your lives as working models of Christianity? 

So, dear friends, this possibility does lie before all Christians, that they may by their lives conciliate prejudices, prepare people to listen… to the message of God’s love, win over men…and make them say: ‘Well, after all, there is something in that Christianity.

The Smile & Drive Challenge is a cheap way to improve optics. Smiling while wait for in the pick-up line after practice now this is a “working model of Christianity.” 

Smile: Make Yourself Feel Good

The goal of the Smile & Drive Challenge is to make God look good. People may see you smiling as you drive and put 2 and 2 together and think, “She’s a Christian and she’s smiling. Her faith must make her happy.” Smiling Christians are more likely to draw others to Christ than grumpy Christians. 

But God is so good that he made us with creature features to promote our own health. Smiling is one of those. Mother Teresa said, We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do. 

Intentional smiling can improve not only your mood but your body’s stress response. Think of smiling as free therapy. Apart from the stress release, smiling has been found to lower blood pressure and improve immune function. Truly, a joyful heart is good medicine (Prov. 17:22). 

Joy will bring out our smiles, but smiling can also bring out joy. Even if you’re not feeling the joy, do what joy to would do. It might just be enough to ignite the spark of joy so that you feel it too. (Read this for 10 more reasons to smile.)

Good Press Or Bad Press? 

But the biggest reason to smile is because our God is good. Psalm 100 is a call to make a joyful noise and give thanks and be glad and the last verse tells why. It’s a good one to memorize if your joy well is dry:

For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

I’ve asked myself and I ask you: Does your life give God good press or bad press? If you’re doubting His goodness and grumbling about your trials, it’s not good. Why would onlookers be interested in your God?

But if those around you notice your joy and glad submission to God, they just might be drawn to the Lord who whose joy is your strength; who is so good that you smile while you drive. 

That can be hard.

Smiling Through Spilled Gazpacho

God wants to keep me honest so he has me write. You see, when I started writing this post earlier this week, life was peachy. Literally peachy. My friend Jen had just brought me a box of those juicy Georgia peaches and, my, were they sweet.

But two days later a few got bruised, a son got grumpy and a row with Jim ensued. The rats in the cellar all broke loose. To top it off, en route to dinner group, the precious peach gazpacho spilled. 

My smile was AWOL until two miles west of the gazpacho spill. That’s where the Spirit called to mind the words in this half-finished post. And you know: Today if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 

So quick as a ripe Georgia peach disappears, my frown turned upside down.

When Your Smile Is Worth Double

Peach  gazpacho cleans up in a jiffy, but some of you face troubles that won’t go away. But here’s the good news: your smile is worth more. 

Because your smile is a sacrifice of praise. Your praise is so precious because it comes from a faith tested by fire. Anyone can smile and sing God’s praise when he’s living like he wrote it, but lips that praise God’s name in the hard times command attention.

I recently read a story about unconverted John Wesley. A conversation with the the luggage handler at his college impressed Wesley deeply. Somehow Wesley had learned that the porter had only one coat and had not enough money for that day’s food. But the man overflowed with praise. Wesley said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon! What else do you thank Him for?”

“I thank Him, answered the porter, “that He has given me my life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.” (A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze [Eerdmans], p. 100.)

That poor man gave his good God good press and God used it to bring John Wesley to saving faith. Steven Cole concludes, God is good, so we who belong to Him should give Him good press by being people of exuberant joy, glad submission, and thankful praise. 

In other words, optics matter. 

Will You Take the “Smile & Drive Challenge”

If you’re still on the fence about taking Elizabeth’s challenge, consider this: God’s reputation and honor are at stake.

“If we do not rejoice — if God is not our treasure and our delight and our satisfaction, John Piper says, then he his dishonored. His glory is belittled. His reputation is tarnished. Therefore, God commands our joy both for our good and for his glory.” Optics matter.

I know that smiling and joy are not the same. But I also know- I mean from experience know- that I cannot smile without feeling honest to goodness joy in the Lord.

So, if you happen to see me driving around town and I’m not smiling, please honk. 

And smile.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Where do the saints get their joy from? If we did not know some saints, we would say– “Oh, he, or she, has nothing to bear.” Lift the veil. The fact that the peace and the joy of God are there is proof that the burden is there too. The burden God places squeezes the grapes out and out comes the wine; most of us see the wine only..If you have the whine in you, kick it out ruthlessly. It is a positive crime to be weak in God’s strength.

-Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, “Inspired Invincibility

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

-Jesus to his disciples, in John 15:11

When Your Pain Is Real And Pressing

Some weeks we feel it more. Some days strung in a row, it’s heavy and it clings. Our pain feels real and pressing.

Some springs we just feel the fall more. Paul wrote: The whole creation groans

Last week, when April showers were snowstorms that dampened weddings and canceled ballgames and delayed burials and postponed buttercup plantings, I think I heard it groan.

Grandpa On Monday

It was Grandpa’s burial that was delayed last Monday.

Not that it that day so much when I heard the moan.  Because we’d watched him fade and Grandpa was blessed to make 98.

Two days before his last, we stopped to say our thank-you’s and good-bye. Grandpa’s head was a little bloodied and bruised from a nasty night-time tumble.

All creation groans.

Grandpa was thirsty. I swabbed three times with water- no hyssop, no wine. Then I leaned in to the “good” ear that could maybe hear a.  We love you Grandpa. He winced and softly moaned.

All creation groans. 

Still- or so?- we sang- Youtube and I- into that one good ear. 

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear, No more sickness, not pain, no more parting over there. And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be! What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And on and on we sang for 4 or 5 more songs.  Until the troops got hungry and restless. For all creation groans. 

His funeral was Monday. I heard it then.

Groaning the Rest of the Week

But, got louder- it felt heavier- as the week wore on.

On Tuesday when a tearful friend detailed a long-standing heart-wrenching marriage ache. And Wednesday, I heard it when another friend described her pain as she wrote the hardest word on her son’s tax return- “deceased.” He would have been 18.

All creation groans. 

Thursday, I felt it when a newly widowed friend explained how a court and a judge are needed to unravel wrongs from before her husband died. And I heard it Friday when another friend requested more prayer for a heated custody battle her son is in.

All creation groans. 

Then, Saturday, I felt it in myself. In a struggle in my mind that comes and goes but may not end, I think, till I die, (And that’s okay- suffering is fitting.) And Sunday, Jim and I heard it when our friend’s sick lungs kept him in bed, even on the sunny day when spring came.

The whole creation groans. But He knows.

God knows what He’s about. 

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I’d heard this (anonymous) poem before. But when I woke up Friday last week – that string-of-days week – to hear Joni read it, it meant more.

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

Hammers and hurts, converts. Bends, but never breaks, when his good He undertakes. For sure: amazed, by God’s methods and ways.

Which may include pain.

When Your Pain is Real and Pressing

But this blog is called Joyfully Pressing On and Philippians 3:8-14 is my theme.

I know this suffering, this all creation groaning, is not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us. I believe this. The pain and pressing now is not worth comparing to the glory then.

But more.

Our suffering now isn’t merely to be endured. In a sense, it’s to be a source of joy. Yes, joy! Because our groans, our faithful groans, our I-believed-and-so-I-spoke groans, are actually achieving glory.

Our real and pressing pains are some of the God’s means to prepare and produce and achieve this splendid glory. To try his splendor out.

When you see this, says Joni Eareckson Tada, you’re a Rumpelstiltskin weaving straw into gold; like a divine spinning wheel, your affliction works a far exceeding and eternal weight of glory (When God Weeps, p. 210)

Glory will be so glorious not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

Eternal Weight Of Glory

Let’s don’t doubt it, friends: Our suffering is productive. If we’re in Christ, it’s working for us, even as we groan. 

While we waste away, God is preparing an eternal weight of glory– from our real and pressing pain.

Earlier this snowy, groany month of April, a friend gave me a new Wendell Kimbrough CD. I listened to track nine over and over last week. And if you’ve had your own string of days- if you’ve felt the fall this spring- you might enjoy a listen too.

So I’ll leave you with the lyrics to track number nine- Eternal Weight of Glory- since it’s high time I say good-bye.

Because the snow finally melted and I’ve got some buttercup bulbs to plant.

Eternal Weight of Glory 
Now the days and hours and moments
Of our suff’ring seem so long;
And the toilsome wait and wond’ring
Threaten silence to our song.
Now our pain is real and pressing
Where our faith is thin and weak,
But our hope is set on Jesus;
And we cling to him, our strength.

Oh eternal weight of glory!
Oh inheritance divine!
We will see our Lord redeeming
Every past and future time.
All our pains will be transfigured,
Like the scars of Christ our Lord.
We will see the weight of glory,
And our broken years restored.

For behold! I tell a myst’ry:
At the trumpet sound we’ll wake

“Death is swallowed up in vict’ry!”
When we meet our King of Grace
Every year we thought was wasted
Every night we cried “How long?”
All will be a passing moment
In our Savior’s vict’ry song

We will see our wounded Savior.
We’ll behold him face to face;
And we’ll hear our anguished stories
Sung as vict’ry songs of grace.

Words and Music: © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough.

Still Struggling? (And why that might just be a very good thing.)

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is… You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. –C.S. Lewis

Something MUST be wrong, she said. I still struggle with the same sins that I did ten years ago. I struggle to forgive the same old things and sometimes I still get so mad at the kids. And just when I think I’ve got my discontentment nipped, a new envy blossom buds. 

No matter how hard I try and how much I pray and try to rely on the Spirit, I just can’t seem to master these things. Something must be wrong. This stuff should be overcome by now. 
Has a friend ever confided that sort of frustration to you? Or maybe you are that discouraged friend? And you- or your friend- have wondered, If Christ made me new and lives in my heart wouldn’t these battles be over? Shouldn’t the struggle be done? 

I should be over this.  

Not so fast, Sherlock. Who says your struggles should be done? 

Chesterton knew: A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it. Paul, knew too, that it’s only when the Spirit brings life that the struggle comes: The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would” (Galatians 5:16).

The point? Real Christians experience real struggle. Even when we’re converted, new creations, there is such a thing as indwelling sin. John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, also knew the reality of clingy, indwelling sin.

It is inseparable from us, as the shadow from our bodies when the sun shines upon us. The holiness of a sinner does not consist in a deliverance from it, but in being sensible of it, striving against it, and being humbled under it, and taking occasion from thence to admire our Savior, and rejoice in him as our complete righteousness and sanctification.

So don’t let a flawed description of the Christian life bring you down. A Christian isn’t someone who doesn’t experience bad desires. No- a Christian is a person who struggles with those bad desires by the Holy Spirit’s power.


Or, as only John Piper could put it,  

Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!

The Spirit has landed. But the road to victory is not easy.

The Long Hard Road

For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. Romans 7:15

The author of Hebrews wrote that we who have believed enter that rest, and verses later urges, Let us therefore strive to enter that rest. The same Paul who wrote that blessed verse we love to quote, If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. Behold! All things are new. (2 Corinthians 5:17) also wrote, I discipline (or pommel) my body and keep it under control (1 Corinthians 9:27).

That’s boxing-ring, fight talk, not victory-lap chat.

Even when Jesus called the weary and heavy-ladened to come to him for rest, he calls them to take up his yoke and burden. These are easy and light, because they are borne with Christ, I think. But still, Christ calls them yoke and burden (Matthew 11:28-30).

Another verse we sheep love to quote, I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly, is followed by the Good Shepherd’s reference to laying down his life. And that was laced with bloody-tears and struggle (Luke 22:42-44).

In “The Cross of Least Resistance,” (Touchstone, March/April 2017) Robin Phillips asks,

If Christ himself struggles to be obedient to his Father’s will (Matt. 26:36-44), why should we as his followers expect anything less? On the contrary, if we want to be Christ’s disciples and experience abundant life, there is only one way: we must embrace the struggle, take up our cross, and follow him.

In other words, if we’ve been in the “struggle-is-bad” crowd, we’ve got to get out.  We’ve got to see that perseverance in the good fight with the steadfastness of Christ is cause to rejoice. Rather than seeing struggle as bad, we’ve got to see struggle against sin as evidence of spiritual life.


Maybe, we even praise God for the war within!

Let Go And Let God?

Let go and let God is not a Bible verse. I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, and Take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and We take every thought captive to obey Christ, and If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live- those are.

Oh, sure- to be fair, we are definitely called to come to Christ, and lie down in green pastures and rest. And to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that entangles. But why? So that we may run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Christ. But perseverance and running sound a lot more like struggle than let go and let God and give up the fight.

But, okay. In a way we are called to let go. To let go of our selfish desires, to put off and put away all manner of sin (Ephesians 4:22-32, Colossians 3:8-14). We are to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Hebrews says, there is a Sabbath-rest for the people of God (4:10). But the following verse says, Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.   

And if by let God, we mean, Keep in step with the Spirit and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, which incidentally is followed by,  and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14)- well then, Amen!- let God. Let God control you. Or like Paul wrote, the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).

All the warfare and athletic metaphors in the New Testament and Paul’s own example of fighting the good fight and finishing the race point to this one thing: the Christian life, the normal Christian life necessarily involves struggle. Until the mortal is swallowed up by life, there will at least some level of Spirit-flesh fight.

No, whatever letting go means, biblically it does not mean struggle-free. To the Philippians, Paul wrote, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is Christ who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (2:12-13). He put it this way in 1 Corinthians 15:10, But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 

Work is involved. Struggling and wrestling are not abnormal. Far from it. They are the precise means God uses to grow strong saints. And to magnify his sufficient, glorious grace.

Why Struggle Is Good

1. Growth.

The language of the New Testament describes the Christian life as a life of growth and increasing spiritual strength. We’re born again as infants. But Scripture says we grow. We’re called children and young men or older women, even fathers in faith. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, Peter wrote.

It’s in our struggle we grow and build our stamina. That’s why I used an Asian style math with the boys. I wanted to see them persist, to struggle a bit, in their work. They did the kind of problems that take 10 minutes of trial and error. Of fight. These same behaviors that American regard as failing, the Japanese think of as learning.

Persevering through setbacks sets us up for future success and spiritual strength.

2. Grace.

Paul pleaded three times for his thorn in the flesh, his harassing messenger of Satan to be removed. You know what God said: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Paul got it. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).

Do we get it? Or do we think being in Christ on this earth means that we get to shed all our weakness and let go of our struggle? That comfortable here is our right? That grace comes better when there’s no indwelling sin left to fight?

Do we know that groaning and grit lead to spiritual growth? That struggle and stress and strain are God-ordained means to rely on his grace? 

The Burden That’s Lifted When You Don’t Let Go

Can we be clear that spiritual struggle is not out of place for the Christian? That, quite possibly, if by Spirit, we’re struggling against sin we’re right where God wants us to be, on the high road to holiness where God’s grace strengthens us weak, struggling saints?

Realizing then, that spiritual struggle and facing ongoing temptation are God’s normal means to growing us up into Jesus and getting us more dependent on Christ– actually lifts the burden.
We don’t see struggle as sign that something is wrong with us anymore, but as confirmation that something is quite right. When we see the struggle as part of the growth and grace process we’re able to reframe our daily temptations and inner battles as opportunities to grow spiritually. We stop struggling against struggle.We see that rather than being a sign of failure and futility, our struggles might very well be evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. After all, if God’s grace was not at work, strengthening us, we would surely have given up.

So you’re struggling. That just might just be a good thing. Because it’s not only the force of wind we feel when we stand against. We feel the power of God’s sufficient grace, too.

Looking To Christ’s Sufficient Grace

In Newton On The Christian LifeTony Reinke presents a beautiful and compelling portrait of a man who reveled in God’s sovereign, sufficient and boundless grace. To all of us who would despond in our ongoing sin struggles Newton (via Reinke) writes:

To not feel the sting of sin is a form of sickness, a deadness, a leprosy of the soul. But to feel the sting of sin is a mark of health, a sign of life, and a necessary experience if we are to appreciate the sin-conquering work of Christ (p. 123).

Our struggle, then, against sin is good insomuch as it makes us,

[W]onder how such a weak sinner’s faith has been sustained. Indwelling sin should cause us to marvel when we awake each morning with a remaining spark of hope and faith in Jesus. The faith-sustaining grace proves the power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love of God toward us. How can it not? Faith survives in the most unlikely of places: within us! (p. 115)

Like a spark burning in the water. That’s how Newton sized up Christ’s power in maintaining us-his own work- in the midst of such opposition, such struggle. Opposition which includes our pesky, clinging indwelling sin.

While Newton is most famous for the phrase amazing grace, he much preferred the phrase sufficient grace (p. 42). In fact, he actually wrote another song about grace titled, aptly, “My Grace Is Sufficient For Thee.” 

Reinke describes this song as a “micro-look into how grace gets applied to warfare in the Christian life.” I can’t think of a better way to close.

Oppressed with unbelief and sin,

Fightings without, and fears within;

While earth and hell, with force combined,

Assault and terrify my mind:

What strength have I against such foes,

Such hosts and legions to oppose?

Alas! I tremble, faint, and fall;

Lord, save me, or I give up all.

Thus sorely pressed, I sought the Lord,

To give me some sweet cheering word;

Again I sought, and yet again;

I waited long, but not in vain.

Oh! ’twas a cheering word indeed!

Exactly suited to my need;

“Sufficient for thee is my grace,

Thy weakness my great power displays.”

Now I despond and mourn no more,

I welcome all I feared before;

Though weak, I’m strong; though troubled, blessed;

For Christ’s own power shall on me rest.

My grace would soon exhausted be,

But his is boundless as the sea;

Then let me boast, with holy Paul,

That I am nothing, Christ is all.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

1 Corinthians 12:9

I found each of these resources to be rich sources for biblical encouragement on spiritual struggle:

1. Robin Phillip’s March/April 2017 Touchstone article, The Cross of Least Resistance

2. Tony Reinke’s biography of John Newton, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ ch. 5,12

3. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ sermon, addressing “Let Go and Let God,” Who Does The Fighting?

4. Pastor John Piper’s sermon, How To Kill Sin- Part 2