“If one could run without getting tired I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.” – C.S. Lewis
It was like any other day in my classroom. Students were knee-deep in homework. The concentration was tight. Except for one student. The tension in this kid’s face was obvious. I swear I saw a vein pop in his head.
I walked over and pulled a chair next to him. “Are you ok? How can I help you?” He informed me this homework must be finished. He had a big test the next day. You could tell the studying was getting to him. His eyes almost looked like mine when I would pull an all-nighter in college.
I offered him a chance to take a break or I could sit with him to help. The student dismissed all the choices I gave him. As I checked on the other students, I kept my eye on him.
About 10 minutes later, his chair went over. A blur rushed out the door. I saw the student dart into the bathroom across from my classroom. Suddenly, as I stood in the doorway of my room, a smell told me what happened…
Our Spiritual Homework
How many of us have left church, small group, youth group, or another Christian gathering with something we had to do? We had a chapter to read, questions to fill out, Bible reading to do, prayer time to get through, etc.
When you’re a Christian, there is always something to do or something to work on.
I remember in college, when I went to see the Dean of Men for help, I was given a list of things I needed to work on in my life and a list of ways to accomplish those things. I felt overwhelmed. In fact, my school work began to slide as I focused my attention on my spiritual life. I had to get an “A” in my spiritual life. I had to do better. I had to…
Have you had a similar experience?
We all have been given spiritual homework. Some of it is easy. Some, though, feels worse than writing a grad-project. Our focus is on how bad we want to see change in our life. We work and work and stress over seeing change that what happens?
The same thing that happened to my student…
We end up with a “spiritual upset stomach.”
Are we supposed to live this way?
Frustrated With Fruit
One of the clearest examples of this way of thinking is in regards to the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). We have heard plenty of sermons on this passage. Usually these sermons end with a call to practice the Fruit of the Spirit.
What happens afterwards? We begin our homework to practice them. We force ourselves to love, have joy, be patient, have more self-control, etc. Sometimes it is through gritting our teeth we force ourselves.
But, does fruit grow at the will of the farmer? Does a farmer do all the work? Or does he prepare the field for fruit to grow? A farmer cultivates an environment to grow fruit, but he doesn’t force the fruit to grow on his timetable.
Ecclesiastes 5:11 tells us we cannot fully know how God works. We see the effects of God working, but sometimes we do not know the details of how he is working.
If we take the Fruit of the Spirit in context (Galatians 5:16-26), we see the truth in this passage. We are never once told to practice these fruits. We are only told to walk in the Spirit. That is the main call to action here – walk in the Spirit. The Spirit will produce these things in our life, but we have to cultivate the field by walking with the Spirit.
Is there something for us to do? Yes, walk with the Spirit. What part is not for us to do? Produce the Fruit of the Spirit inside us. That is the job of the Spirit.
Yet, how many of us still end up with a “spiritual upset stomach” as we try to produce the fruit in ourselves?
That Stubborn Struggle
Let’s look at another example…
How many of us have that one struggle that will not leave? We go to small group, pray at the altar, rededicate our life to Christ, read Scripture, pray on our own, read every spiritual book on the topic… Yet, it still will not go away!
We look at Jesus as say, “Behold, all that I have done for you. Why are you not taking away this struggle?”
I have had way too many upset stomachs over the struggles in my life. There were days I felt sick to my stomach, because I could not completely conquer that struggle. Have you felt the same?
But, doesn’t this ring a bell to a similar story in Scripture? It is the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus arrived at their house. Martha was all about their place cleaning, cooking, dusting, adjusting furniture, and everything else that could be on that hospitality list. We know she loved Jesus, but why was she doing all of this? Was she hoping for a blessing, wanting to impress Jesus with her gratitude… what could it have been?
Eventually, she gets frustrated. He explodes in front of Jesus demanding her sister, Mary, help her. Jesus, probably after telling Martha to take a deep breath, calmly says, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
The one thing Mary was concerned about was sitting at the feet of Jesus. She did not need to do anything except be in his presence.
Titus 2:11-12 gently reveals the role of the grace of Jesus. His grace teaches us to reject ungodliness. So often we focus so much on killing sin in our life, that we end up killing grace. It is in the presence of Jesus that we receive the grace we need to turn from sin and turn to Jesus. We cannot fight and kill sin with our own efforts. Otherwise, Jesus would have died in vain. We can avoid the bars, put up the internet blockers, memorize Scripture, etc. But, if we are not sitting at the feet of Jesus as his grace begins to transform us, then we will never see our struggles as he sees them.
Jesus sees our struggles. He sees our efforts to conquer them. Yet, he hushes our busied hands. He stills our frantic feet from going from one thing to another. He holds our gaze and says, “Spend time with me. Let me take care of your struggle. In your weakness, I will show myself mighty in your life (II Corinthians 12:7-9).”
Stop what we are doing. Stop giving yourself a “spiritual upset stomach,” and spend time in the presence of Jesus.
The Contentment Conundrum
One of the most annoying phrases I have heard from Christians is – “You need to find your contentment in God.”
How many of us have heard that phrase? Be honest, it caused us so much frustration as we pursued and fought to find contentment in God. When we ask how to do that, we are told to read our Bible, pray, attend church, or given yet another book to read.
I will tell you trying to find contentment in God is quite frustrating. I have done all the work, but there are still days I find myself shaking my fist at God wanting to know why. Be honest, we have all been there.
It wasn’t until I came across this verse that I realized the secret of being content in God. I began reading through The Passion Translation this year. Romans 11:36 stuck out to me like a big neon sign:
“For out of him, the sustainer of everything, came everything and now everything finds fulfillment in him. May all praise and honor be given to him forever! Amen!”
– Romans 11:36 (The Passion Translation)
So often finding our contentment in God is about working it up within ourselves. It is something we must muster inside our soul. Yet, Paul is saying that everything finds fulfillment. Contentment isn’t about a feeling. It is about fulfillment. Everything we need, want, desire is found in Jesus. It all flows from him like a cascading waterfall into our soul.
All we have to do is spend time with him to see this truth. It is not about our grit that awards us this contentment. It is already there. It is like a treasure hidden in a field. When we find it, we sell everything in order to have that treasure (Matthew 13:44).
Running Not Fainting
When the student returned to the classroom, I sat next to him. I brought him a cup a water, and, together, we worked through his homework. He spent all that time working himself sick to his stomach, but all he had to do is ask for my help. I was willing to help him. He just had to sit next with me, so we could walk through the work together.
It is the same with our Christian life. So often we try to do it all on our own strength. There are church cultures who pride themselves on their image of perfection. They read the right books, listen to the right music, attend the right church, and fulfill other such lists. But, guaranteed, the surface makeup will only hold for so long.
I was in a similar place. I worked myself into such a “spiritual upset stomach” that I attempted suicide. My works were not getting me anywhere. The place I was at still promotes this works-based mentality of the Christian life. It is all about the next thing to do, the next book to read, the next time to be at church, the next checkmark, the next prayer. It is all about trying to do the right thing, in hopes, he will notice us and, we hope, to be used by him.
This will only give us a “spiritual upset stomach” ending in spiritual vomit. It is not good, and it is not what God intended for us.
We can do a lot for him, but it has to start with us being like Mary. We cannot give into the temptation to work harder. All Jesus desires is for our presence. He will change us, transform us, and show us things we’ve only dreamt of.
Our fainting is because we have stopped trusting in God. We have begun trusting in our strategies, our works, and our doings in order to get where we want to be. God promises us in Isaiah 40:28-31, that when we trust in the everlasting God, he will give us wings like eagles. We will run without getting weary. We will not faint. We will walk confidently, because he is our strength for everything in our life.
Are we tired of giving ourselves a “spiritual upset stomach”? We need to repent. We need to lay our vulnerabilities before Jesus. We need to walk with the Spirit, and allow him to do the work.
Don’t force it.
God’s already at work in you, and he will finish what what he start (Philippians 1:6).
That is his promise to you.
Suggested Song – Make Room by Community Music