Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Redefine: Struggle vs. Growth
I often use the word "struggle" to describe the various things I face each day that I find difficult. If I ate one (or five) too many cookies that day, I "struggled" with my eating habits. If I finally dragged myself out of bed after pushing the snooze button four times, I "struggled" with waking up early. If I did not get all the things on my to-do list accomplished, I "struggled" with housework, and therefore "struggled" with some negative self talk as well for the rest of that day. I probably struggle with something every day, and I have a few areas in my life that I would say I struggle with on an ongoing basis.
Struggling brings to mind a mental picture of me trying to wrestle another "person" to the ground. As if, for example, finances were personified and I am trying to win a physical tussle with it. At the end of a good day, I could picture myself with my financial worries pinned to the ground, me triumphantly pushing my foot into its back. At the end of a bad day, that picture could be reversed, with me begging for mercy. And every day would start a new head-to-head fight with this nemesis of mine.
There are two problems with this. If I see it as me struggling with certain issues, it sets these issues up as things that have power over me. And it sets me up as the one who has the power to overcome them. As one in whom Christ dwells, neither of these things are true.
If Jesus is Lord in my life, He has the power and nothing else can take that place. Nothing can overpower me. Money, food, exercise, housework, self-esteem, pride, loneliness - though I am growing towards Christ-likeness in all these areas and encounter them on a regular basis, they do not and cannot take Christs place of power in my life. When I see each day as a struggle between me and these things, I give them power over me that they do not have.
In the same way, if Jesus is Lord in my life, He has the power, and I cannot take that place. Just as nothing else can overpower me because of Christ in me, I am not the one who has the power to overcome these things either. I am in Jesus, and He is in me. His Spirit leads me through these "struggles" and His power is what will bring me to a place of victory and healthy, kingdom living. He fights on my behalf. And who better is there to face the challenges of life than the one who faced and defeated death itself so that each one of us can have life. Now He lives His life in and through me.
In the book of Philippians, Paul begins his letter with greetings and prayers to the believers he is writing to. I feel his prayer can apply to all of us who are growing in Christ. He says,
"And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns... I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God." (Phil. 1:6, 9-11)
God began a good work in me when He brought me to a place of surrender, when Jesus became my Lord. I can trust that God is continuing this good work in my life. I can trust that when I feel like I'm "struggling", it is instead the growing pains of transformation, His Spirit working in me to make me more like Christ. He is transforming my heart, renewing my mind, daily bringing me closer to Himself. He is cultivating the fruit of my salvation. And my heart feels the tension (even pain) of letting go of these things that do not really matter, these things that take away from a pure and blameless life of love. It is hard to change, to let God chisel away at the habits I have built and sustained my whole life. But these things do not have power over me. The grace I partake in because of Jesus death has stripped the power of sin from my life, and He is Lord in me. I am His and He is mine.
Does this perspective shift of who holds the power help you as you think of the hard things you face each day?