evening when our son Nate was seven years old,
our family had dinner at one of those nice
restaurants with a bowl of mints at the checkout
counter. As we walked up to pay our bill, I told
Nate that if he wanted mints he shouldn't put his
hand in the bowl, but should use the spoon
provided to get them out. Nate followed my
instructions precisely. After scooping up several
mints with the spoon, he stuck it in his mouth
and sucked them off. He then dutifully placed the
spoon back in the bowl.
I've thought of this incident
often since it happened many years ago, for it
was an unforgettable example of how easily one
can innocently misread instructions. Nate thought
he was doing exactly what I said. But to my
embarrassment, and the amusement of those
standing around the checkout counter, he missed
the point entirely. It certainly can be said that
a major part of maturing for a child involves not
only overcoming rebelliousness, but learning to
interpret the often obscure directions adults
Nate's experience parallels the
Christian life in an interesting way. While
rebelliousness is often our problem, we stumble
at times due not to deliberate disobedience but
naivete. We sincerely believe we're doing what
God wants us to do, yet we're as mistaken as when
Nate stuck the spoon in his mouth. Not that God
is purposely obscure in guiding us, or in the
direction he has provided us in Scripture. Yet we
misinterpret his intent.
Understanding the Challenge
One problem more than any other
is at the heart of most of our unintentional
stumbling. To put it simply: we try to follow
Christ in our own strength rather than his. We
think of the Christian life as requirements
rather than empowerment.
It's easy enough to understand
how this occurs. Scripture presents us with a
seemingly endless list of duties for the godly
life. There are moral commandments we must not
disobey. And there are constant injunctions to
spend our life in the most fruitful way for the
sake of helping others. Yet all too easily we
take these instructions as commands to be carried
out in our own energy. By doing so, we miss the
point of Scripture entirely. We're like the
Galatians, whom Paul admonished with a probing
question: "After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human
effort?" (Gal 3:3 NIV).
The ultimate purpose of Scripture
is not to saddle us with a compulsive lifestyle,
but to liberate us, by putting us in touch with
the very Power Source for living triumphantly. As
the power of Christ invades our lives, the
requirements of the Christian life become natural
to fulfill. To this end we see the example of
Jesus himself who, with the weight of the world
on his shoulders, never seemed in a hurry. His
life had a relaxed pace to it which is enviable.
And he assured us that this same experience can
be ours. "My yoke is easy, and my burden is
light" (Mt 11:30).
But what can we do to ensure that
we are living the Christian life in Christ's
strength rather than our own? Some assume the
answer lies in becoming as passive as possible.
Paul Little writes of a man he knew who, upon
graduating from college, made no effort to find
work. He assumed that if the Lord wanted him to
be employed, he would dump the right job into his
More typically I've known
Christians who deeply want to be married, yet are
uneasy with taking initiative toward that goal.
They assume that faith requires them to wait
passively for Christ to provide someone, apart
from their making any effort to find a spouse.
Yet clearly the intent of
Scripture isn't for us to be inactive. To be
merely passive in the name of faith is another
case of putting the spoon in the mouth. We see in
David, Paul, and other impressive personalities
of Scripture, people who took considerable
initiative to reach their goals. To use Stephen
Covey's term, they were strongly proactive. And
they didn't regard being so as inconsistent with
a life of faith.
Meeting the Challenge
Actually, I believe that the
answer to drawing on Christ's strength is not a
single one. Everything that can be said about
learning to pace ourselves applies here. God has
created each of our lives uniquely, with
distinctive gifts, motivational patterns and
energy levels. Living within his strength
involves respecting his special design of our own
life and learning to function within it.
I'm certain, though, that the
most significant answer to drawing on Christ's
strength lies in our approach to prayer. Prayer
is not a magical guarantee of spiritual power,
any more than eating three meals a day ensures
that we'll be physically healthy. Yet I cannot
imagine that very many of us can have an ongoing
experience of being empowered by Christ apart
from having a regular, carefully-guarded time
alone with him.
Such a time fulfills at least
three purposes. First, we take our hands off of
other things we could be doing at the time,
forcing us to a greater dependence on the Lord.
Second, we have the chance to
make requests of God. As he answers them, our
conviction deepens that he is providing for us.
Finally, and most important, we
give Christ an unhindered opportunity to
strengthen our faith, rekindle our spiritual
passion and clarify his direction for our life.
It's at this third point,
however, that our quiet-times too often fail to
fulfill the purpose they ought to serve. We get
locked into routines which, instead of liberating
us, impose additional bondage. We may try to
imitate a pattern of devotional life which works
well for someone else but is inappropriate for
us. Our devotional time then becomes "a
work"--a legalistic routine that we carry
out in our own strength rather than the Lord's.
We should remind ourselves often
that our quiet-time should result in our being
encouraged in Christ. George Muller put it
perfectly when he said, "I regard it as my
first business of the day to get my heart happy
in the Lord." We should feel great freedom
to experiment and find what approach best opens
us personally to Christ's encouragement.
For one person it may mean
throwing out prayer lists and preset routines,
for another it may mean including them. Muller's
faith was stimulated by reading the Psalms. Paul
Tournier recommends simply being silent and
reflecting on God's work in our life. I know a
woman who benefits by singing during her
devotional time. For me, fresh heart most often
comes through thanking Christ for the events of
the previous day, and not allowing myself to make
new requests until I've done this.
Find what works for you. Then
make it your top priority each day to do what
helps you become refreshed in the Lord.
Jesus spoke of our relationship
with people when he said, "It is more
blessed to give than to receive." But when
it comes to our relationship with him, he clearly
taught that it is more blessed to receive.