Growing up as an athlete, you learn that nothing comes easy. Hard work, dedication to training, self reliance all play a part in your success. As a coach, I tried to convey these same principles to my players. In order to improve, you must be willing to work very hard. How much you improve and how well you perform is tied directly to how hard you work. Often times a player who may not have the most talent, will succeed where a more talented player fails, just because of his or her work ethic.
As a young Christian, I always thought it would work the same way in my Christian life. If I just worked hard enough at it I would be a better Christian. I would be kinder, more self sacrificing, loving, and less sinful. I would be more like Jesus. The problem was, the harder I tried, the more I seemed to fail. The more I failed, the more guilt I felt. That guilt would drive me farther from the Lord rather than closer to Him. I didn't want to face Him because I thought He would be angry with me. I would just want to give up and forget trying to be a "better" Christian. Have you ever felt that way?
I couldn't figure out why this wasn't working. After all, it worked fine in every other area of my life. I would set a goal, work as hard as I possibly could and reach my goal. Let me illustrate. When I made up my mind that I was called to be a teacher and coach, I set my goal to be a Head Football Coach at the High School level, by the time I reached my thirtieth birthday. I started coaching freshman football for no pay, scouted for the varsity, went to coaching clinics in the off season and learned everything I possibly could about coaching and the game of football. As I gained confidence in my abilities and knowledge of the game, I became a varsity defensive coordinator (the person in charge of the defense) and started applying for every Head Football job that came open. I was willing to go just about anywhere to get that job. At the age of twenty nine, (after finishing second at least eight or nine times) I landed my first Head Coaching position at a school in central California. I had reached my goal.
This made sense to me. If you are willing to work hard enough, eventually you succeed. Why would it be any different in my walk with Christ? Why then, did it seem that no matter how hard I tried, I just continued to fail? Maybe some of you are in that place right now. It is frustrating and demoralizing. You might even be thinking of giving the whole thing up. How many times have I heard people say, "This just isn't working for me?"
If that is you, I have some good news for you. Don't give up, there is a solution and it is not to try harder. In fact, it is just the opposite. You see, we need to understand that we have a power shortage. The truth of the matter is that we don't have the power in and of ourselves to be more Christ like. First of all, Jesus never told us to try to be more like Him. In fact, He said "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."(Matt 11:28-30 NIV) Now I guarantee you that no coach that I ever had, said that to me, nor did I ever say that to any of my players. Instead it would be, "C'mon, suck it up and work harder!"
But in the Christian life, that just won't work. That which works in the realm of the flesh and the world, does not work in our spiritual lives. Why not? Because as Jesus said in John 3:6, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
Paul says in Rom 7:18 "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." For us to become more like Christ is a completely spiritual work. It cannot be done in the flesh no matter how hard we try, so we need to find a different "power source" than ourselves. That power source is God Himself, working through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit.
Let me share some words from the book of Phillipians, which I think will help you to understand this mystery. Paul says in Phil 1:6 "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Ok, look at the verse and answer these questions.
- Who began the work, was it you?
- Who will carry on the work, is it you?
- When will the work be completed? Is that any time in the near future, at least that we know of?
He goes on to say in Chapter Two, to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Notice the term is work out, not work at. He does not mean that we do the work because in the very next verse he says, "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."(Phil 2:13 NIV) The word used for works here is energeoon in Greek. It comes from the root word energeo, which is where we get our word energize from. God, the Holy Spirit is our energy source. He provides all the power we ever need to live the life worthy of our calling. What we must do is tap into that energy source by just spending time with God in worship, prayer and study of His word. God is so good that He even provides us the energeo to do that!
Now I don't mean this in some mystical sense. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third Person of the triune God. But the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, providing us the power to live a Christ like life. (Ro 8:9-11)
We do have one part to play in this. We must be willing to surrender ourselves to the working of the Spirit in our lives. We must allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit and then let Him do the work. When Paul was discussing his inability to do that which was good, he concluded this way, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 NIV) What a wonderful Savior we have, who not only saves us and calls us to a holy life, but then furnishes the power to live it. Praise His mighty name!
- Begin a reading plan in the book of Acts. See how many times you can find examples of the Holy Spirit empowering the believers.
- Ask the Lord to empower you through His Holy Spirit each morning for one week and see what the Lord does.
- Thank Him for your salvation and power in your life.