Why We Can Quit Trying So Hard

I want to receive God’s love so fully that it fills up my own heart and spills over onto others. Yet it’s so natural to do things that are, well. . . unloving.

I see someone at the library I met once before who just had a new baby. Instead of congratulating her and asking how she’s doing, I check out my books and slip past her.

At the grocery store, someone comments on how happy my children are, and I miss a chance to tell her that even though they aren’t always like this, we have a reason to be happy because we have Jesus.

When I’m cooking and don’t answer my son’s question right away, I respond in anger to my son’s impatience with me.


I don’t listen well when my husband suggests an idea for cleaning up my email inbox. I assume that my way is the best, and selfish pride keeps me from even wanting to take the time to understand his method.

These convictions and missed opportunities used to lead me to despair. How could I confess to love Jesus and act this way toward others? Haven’t I been a Christian long enough to know better? Will I ever get it right?

No. No I won’t. And I don’t have to.

Instant Righteousness

Jesus’s death paid for all the guilt and shame of every sin I’ve ever committed and will commit. But our lives don’t become a blank slate so that we have to start all over with trying to be good enough. When I receive Jesus, I receive His righteousness as if I’d acted perfectly. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

As if I truly loved every person in every interaction I’ve had and will have.

As if I gave glory to God in every response to others’ questions and comments.

As if I sacrificially loved and disciplined and responded perfectly in every situation with my children.

As if I always put my husband’s needs before my own.

That’s what Jesus did when He lived this life on earth, and that’s what the Father sees when He looks at me.


I don’t need to impress God because He’s already been impressed by Jesus.

I don’t need to hide my shame when I fail because Jesus bore it on the cross.

Yeah, But What Are We Supposed To Do?

When we sinfully let someone down, we apologize and point them to the One who will never fail them (and who always lovingly listens to every question, comment, and request).

Each time we are aware of our sin, we respond in worship to God, thanking Him for His righteousness given to us.

We spend time reading His Word, getting to know His character and how He cares for His children through the Old and New Testament, and how it’s most fully revealed in Jesus. We learn His ways.

And when our minds are filled with who He is and what He calls us to, His Spirit can lead us to repentance, seeing the crushing weight of our sin not crushing us but crushing Jesus to death, bringing us the peace and healing we long for. (Isaiah 53:5)

“For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:14)


We keep walking toward God, knowing that Jesus walks right in front of us, never faltering or veering off the path. 


And maybe, some of that love just might start to spill over onto those He brings to us.

Why Your Husband’s Love Needs to be Received

Christopher and I usually play violin together for a few weddings each year. Some couples lift up Christ as the One joining them together and giving the strength to keep their vows, and some use Bob Marley lyrics in the ceremony in place of Scripture or say that they will keep their vows, “for as long as love shall last.”

We recently played at a wedding where the bride and groom had written their own Christ-centered wedding vows. As I watched the sincerity on the groom’s face, the Lord gave me a deeper understanding of the way He wanted to love me through my own man sitting right next to me.


But what exactly is love?

What does it mean that God is love? Isn’t love a feeling? Isn’t it an action?

Recognizing the Gift

The apostle John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16 ESV)

Love is a gift from God, meant to be received and shared with those He has placed in our lives.  But we can’t understand how to receive the little acts of love until we recognize the greatest gift of love—God sending His Son to die, paying the punishment for our sins.

Every time we see God’s love in Scripture, how he cared for the Israelites in the wilderness, gave them a promised land, and called them to return to him as they flocked to nations and their idols, it invites us to look ahead to the cross.


When we feel the sunshine’s warmth through orange and yellow leaves, get a little extra time from our baby’s extended nap, or take another breath into a body that functions relatively well, it points back to the cross, and ahead to a future home with Jesus, free from the evil and brokenness that shreds our emotions and darkens our ability to recognize love.

When we get an impulsive hug from a child, feel a baby’s grabby caress on our face, or hear our husband ask what he can do to help after he’s gotten up at 4am for work, it is a tiny reflection of the cross.

All of our loving acts or words are little sacrifices, springing from the greatest sacrifice God planned from the beginning of time.

When we keep going back to the pure love of the gospel, placing our faith in His Son, we invite the Spirit who has chosen to live in us to purify and perfect the love we can give to others—the lost moments of sleep to listen to a husband’s dreams for the future, scooping  baby-turds out of the bathtub, and investing the time to fully answer a preschooler’s “why” question.

Preparing Your Heart to Receive

Reaching for Christopher’s hand during that wedding, I was overcome with the treasure of experiencing faithfulness, kindness, protection, and a peaceful spirit through the way Christopher treats me. All the good that I experience from him is a reflection of the way God loves me.

I was also pricked with memories of times Christopher has wanted to delight in me through a lingering hug, sharing a funny story, or inviting me to watch something the kids were doing together, but I was too busy to engage fully. I’ve often had my own idea of how I should be loved (basically, what I think should get done), rather than paying attention to the love already offered to me.

Many times I struggle under the weight of my own expectations of the meals, dishes, laundry, and emails I feel I should get done in a day, not to mention how I should be making all the right decisions in training my kids and making sure they get enough iron in their diet.

When I’ve convinced myself that it’s all up to me, I need someone to shake me enough to see that  I’m trusting in myself, what Christine Hoover in her book, From Good to Grace refers to as the “goodness gospel,” trying to be good and do good apart from God.

Sometimes, I think I’m doing so well, being patient and understanding, until I reach the end of my limited patience and don’t want to adjust my expectations anymore of what should get done before everyone arrives for our son’s birthday supper at our house.


Sometimes I feel that unless my expectations are fulfilled or I force myself to act a certain way, I don’t even deserve to receive love. I forget that I could never earn God’s love, and that I don’t have to.

The God who is love, is living inside of us, covering us in His righteousness so that we don’t have to fear the day of judgment. When I let fear of people invade my relationships, and think that what I write, how I respond to my children, and how much I reach out to others determines my value, it’s an indication that I’m not resting in God’s approval and love.  I fear the “punishment” of people’s disapproval or reactions instead of repenting and being in awe of the God who punishes evil completely. (see 1 John 4:7-19)

When my days are focused on entering into giving and receiving sacrificial love through Christ’s power, I can invite Him to enter in to whatever fussiness, diaper blowouts, or nose-wiping my circumstances bring.

A Woman of Faith

One encouragement God brought recently was through a biography about Sarah Edwards, the wife of the 18th century church father Jonathan Edwards. Most men of that time valued “getting their hands dirty” in their work, but Sarah cared for her home of 11 children while her husband spent many hours studying Scripture.

She often had to set extra places at meals, since pastoral interns, missionaries, and others would come to learn from her husband. Many times, Jonathan would eat his supper quickly and retreat to study some more, leaving Sarah to interact with the guests.

Some of her letters and journal entries revealed that she was often concerned about what other people in their church and community thought about her husband, especially since he was not like many pastors of that time who made “social calls” in addition to visiting members when they were in need.

When their daughter Esther’s husband died, leaving her with two little children, Jonathan traveled to assist at the College of New Jersey, replacing Esther’s husband as president. He contracted small pox after an inoculation, and his last words were about Sarah:

“Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever.”

How might God be inviting you to open yourself up to love and be delighted in?

Why the Trinity is Essential to Motherhood

How do you think God views your role as a mother? With His arms crossed, thinking you need to do better at being patient and loving, not to mention get more vegetables into your toddler, keep the house picked up, and hold your baby more?

Do you think God gave you the family He did because He thought you could handle it, and when you don’t seem to be juggling it all so well, He is sitting back, rubbing His temples because you’ve let Him down again?


If we served a single-person God, these responses would be much more likely. His feelings toward us would be based on our performance.  If we were expected to be a good parent in our own strength, we’d fail every time.

But that was never the plan.

An Eternity of Love

If a single-person God didn’t have anyone to love until humans came around, He couldn’t be eternally loving. . . because who would there be to love? Himself?

Glen Scrivener, in his article, “The Trinity Saved My Life” said, “You loved me before the foundation of the world” – that’s how Jesus describes eternity in John 17:24.

“Before there was anything, there was love.  The Father, by the Spirit, has eternally poured His love onto and into His Son.  In other words: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“God is this loving communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

So why would He bother with us, knowing that we’d choose evil and fail each day in loving others completely?

I often have the best intentions to treat Christopher with love when he comes home from work, but then petty annoyances and selfishness in wanting to be served slithers in, poisoning my time with my family.

Scrivener goes on to write about the Trinity that “this relationship is the explanation for everything else.

“Their love was too good to keep to themselves.  From the overflow of their life together, the Father has created a world, through His Son and by His Spirit.

“We have been birthed out of love and destined to share in it.”


The Verdict Is In

So what does that mean for our nose-wiping, food coaxing, band-aid giving days (and nights)?

You will never get it right. And you don’t have to.

The love of the Father and Son flowed onto us when Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, paid for our sins by His death, and rose from the dead to daily intercede for us to the Father on our behalf.

The Father delights in us because we have been covered in the Son’s righteousness, and no amount of sin or failures can change that.

Mike Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, wrote, “This God makes no third party suffer to achieve atonement. The one who dies is the Lamb of God, the Son. And it means that nobody but God contributes to the work of salvation: the Father, Son and Spirit accomplish it all.”

Lifting Our Eyes

So when we think that we have to be more loving, have more faith, or trust more, we need to shift our focus.

I can’t force myself to become more loving. Love is a fruit of the Spirit, something that can only flow out of us when we’ve received the love the Father wants to lavish on us. .

We can’t squeeze our eyes shut and decide to have more faith (even if Hollywood would lead us to believe differently). That, too, is a gift to be received from our Father who longs to draw our hearts to Himself.


Even trusting God is not something that I can purpose to do any more than I can say I’m going to trust a friend—either I do or I don’t. Trust comes from being in a relationship. When we struggle to trust God, we can choose instead to meditate on the One who is trustworthy.

Salvation and grace aren’t perks thrown at us by a benevolent dictator God. They are part of enjoying the relationship we’ve been adopted into by a loving Father.

He is salvation.

He is grace.

Reeves goes on to say, “For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.”

Just imagine if we could begin each day (or wake up each night) remembering and delighting in our loving Father, salvation-giving Jesus, and empowering Spirit?

If, when the discouragement started seeping in because of the half-folded laundry and crumbs sticking to our bare feet, we reminded ourselves of the future hope of a perfect world with Jesus that each sunrise brings us closer to?


Teeth-gritting resolve will only bring failure when our strength is spent.

Why not use that energy to focus again on the One who delights in being our strength?

*If you’d like to hear more thoughts from Mike Reeves, you can check out his soul-filling book, Delighting in the Trinity or listen to his series of three audio talks on Enjoying the Trinity.

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying Jesus

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusDuring our first two years of marriage, we lived in a neighborhood for married students. In our trailer, the rooms had been painted crimson, navy, light blue and orange, but the most unique area was the kitchen.

It was yellow with red, orange and green chili peppers stamped on every inch of the walls and cupboards. Someone had even made curtains out of fabric printed with chili peppers.

On the side of our fridge, I would stick pictures of friends serving overseas or quotes I had read. I loved the one by Ruth Bell Graham that said, “If a husband and wife agree all the time, one of them is unnecessary.”

But I also got the idea of writing a note using the words from 1 Corinthians 13.

It said,

A wife is patient.

A wife is kind.

A wife does not envy.

A wife does not boast.

A wife is not proud.

A wife is not rude.

A wife is not self-seeking.

A wife is not easily angered.

A wife keeps no record of wrongs.

I thought that since I had vowed my life to my husband and loved him, I should be doing what that famous chapter mentioned.

But the more I tried, the more aware I was of how I was failing in every one of those areas.

My thoughts would go something like this:

“How could you have just. . .”

“I can’t believe you decided to. . .”

“Did you really just do that again?”

I thought I could shame my way into behaving more like a godly wife should.

It wasn’t until God reminded me that He never expected me to do it on my own, that I threw away the paper and tried to ask the Spirit to love through me each time I felt like I was failing.

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusUnfortunately, some of those self-effort patterns left a residue on my thoughts, like a shower that will never be free from years of grime.

It has taken daily practice to look away from the stains of failure and let the clean water of God’s grace flow over me.

When Shame is the Name of the Game
My mentor Natalie recently recommended a book called, Tired of Trying to Measure Up, by Jeff VanVonderen.

His premise is that shame often keeps us from living in joyful dependence on God. We are so preoccupied with trying to do good works in our own strength (and failing), that we ignore the freedom and forgiveness He offers because of His death on the cross.

We don’t live from our accepted position as children of God, which keep us blind to the things that the Spirit wants to do through us.

Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jeff shares that “Many of us have heard a ‘death to self’ teaching, based on a misinterpretation of Galatians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 15:31. It says that every time one of our “unspiritual” human elements (feelings, drives, needs and likes) raises its ugly head, we are supposed to look at it with disgust and shame it out of existence. If you like something, it is probably wrong or selfish.

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying Jesus“The reason this teaching is totally unhelpful to those who feel a sense of shame in their lives is that in its effort to deny self, it actually results in focusing on self.

“People who are trying to bring about their own death to self are really preoccupied with self. And they are constantly looking at themselves to make sure they are “dead” enough. What a tiring way to live!” (p. 130)

When my husband and I had conflict over money or what a Saturday afternoon should look like, I would get so frustrated with my feelings of impatience that my focus became how I was performing/failing as a wife rather than resolving the conflict.

At other times, I’d evaluate my roles as a homemaker and mother. I’d often ask myself, “Am I doing enough?”

In my mind, I’d separate what I thought were “good deeds” from the rest of my cleaning, cooking, and childcare responsibilities. Then I’d measure what I accomplished aside from my normal tasks.

If the dryer broke or a glass shattered on the floor, it was one more interruption from the good things I was trying to do.

Jeff addressed these feelings in much of his book. He said, “I think the more good works we have going, the harder it is to know, or to remember, that our only hope is God. It’s not just that ‘things go better with Jesus.’ Jesus said, ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)

“[The apostle] Paul discovered that real life comes from continuing to depend upon, draw life from, receive our value and acceptance from the Spirit. It comes from learning that what is natural, whether good or bad, is dead and has no real life to offer.” (p. 145)

How often I’ve considered the world’s measure of success as proof of a job well done.

One moment it might be wishing I could write a bestseller novel.

The next, it might be hoping for people to tell me I did a good job on the worship team at church, or the meal I cooked was fantastic.

I’ve pictured God doing the same thing, saying, “You worked pretty hard today, so I’m pleased with you.”

Fleeting Pleasures
The problem was, those warm feelings I felt from people’s words were disintegrated by thoughts of insufficiency and needing to keep up with the standard of good I had set for myself.

I was trying to gain approval through works, instead of remembering what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Our position before God is a gift. He created us in His image and has special works He wants us to join Him in. And if I can’t accept His grace, how can I extend it to others?

When Shame Keeps You From Enjoying JesusJeff reminded me that “Having healthy relationships does result in “fruitful” lives. But the difference is that the fruit is no longer the means by which we try to establish, earn, or protect our value and identity.

“When we learn to be consistent with who we are and with what is true about us because of Jesus, bearing fruit no longer means producing. It means capable of holding the weight of the fruit He produces.” (p. 159-160)

One of the first verses my parents had us memorize was Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

There was a time in my life when I felt discouraged because I couldn’t make myself feel joyful, and I certainly didn’t have peace. Every time I’d try to feel peaceful, I’d worry.

Jeff referred to these verses in Galatians when he said, “Notice that this is a list of the fruit of the Spirit. Paul isn’t saying, ‘Try hard to love, act joyful, keep the peace, be patient, be kind, etc.’

“It is what God’s Spirit produces in and through people who boast in, rejoice in, fix their hope on, build their house upon God, or ‘walk by the Spirit.’ It is His fruit, not the result of your efforts to do good.” (p. 167)

Isn’t it refreshing to know the burden isn’t ours to bear? The God who created the universe by mere words certainly has the power to keep doing beautiful deeds in His world.

Our job is to look to Him and ask for Him to work through us every step of the way.

Jeff quotes Philippians 1:6, which says, “‘And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. . . .’ We are in a process. Now, let’s remind ourselves of whose process it is. God is the one in charge of bringing the work to completion, of perfecting you. He will do it.

“Another reminder is found in Philippians 2:13. ‘For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.’ God is right now doing the work in you to change you. It’s an inside job.” (p. 168)

Is there an area of self-effort you need to mentally take off your fridge and rip up?

In your marriage? Parenting? Other relationships?

Jesus, we want to bring You glory and enjoy You and the lives you’ve called us to. We can’t do anything of value without you. Use us today any way You wish. We are Yours.