Years ago I preached what I thought was a pretty good sermon. One of my more faithful members came up to me afterwards, however, with some apt criticism. “You were trying too hard,” she told me. “You were trying to be funny and entertaining and your illustration took my attention away from the Gospel.” As we ended our conversation, she offered some encouragement: “You really only have to do one thing in a sermon and that’s remind me that I am forgiven through Jesus Christ. Don’t do anything that takes my attention away from that.”
My sermon that day was more of a performance than a proclamation of the Gospel. I wanted to come off as witty and incisive and relevant. My friend that day reminded me that the preacher can become a distraction if he is trying to impress people with his communication skills. For her that day, I drew more attention to myself than Jesus.
Sometimes in life we just try too hard and make things more complicated than they need to be. Parents, wanting to get close to their children, may try to be their best friend and lose track of their parenting role. Or, going in the opposite direction, parents may push their children to achieve with so much pressure that the children can never live up to expectations. Spouses may slide into the habit of criticizing rather than trusting the other’s way of doing things. We may fear outcomes and get lost in obsessive attempts to control the people and events around us. Wanting success so badly, we may devote our lives to projecting a certain image. Wanting others to love us, we may cling to them in unhealthy ways. Athletes learn that trying too hard can ruin endeavors on the court or field. The same is true with the rest of life. When we are relaxed and natural, something emerges that we simply cannot produce when we are pressing too hard for accomplishment. Letting things come to us rather than forcing them is a matter of wisdom and faith.
Sometimes the Church tries too hard. We try to offer a statement on every issue, big or little. We panic when culture tells us we’re irrelevant and we change to suit the culture rather than sticking to our mission. We let go of traditions which are uniquely ours. We force unnecessary change rather than waiting for the Holy Spirit to guide us. We build gymnasiums and family life centers, trying to be all things to all people. As if being a beacon of hope through Jesus Christ is not enough for us to do!
Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). There he exhibits that trusting nature which enables him to live into the work of salvation he is called to do. Though fearful and perhaps questioning the overall plan, he allows such feelings to pass on, and chooses to trust that all things needed shall be provided. He doesn’t try to change the plan, nor does he try to force the plan. He simply is faithful to the moment.
Often in life, we get ahead of ourselves. Thinking ahead is a necessary component of healthy living. Those who cannot imagine what their actions may lead to are destined to make huge mistakes. But thinking of what may come does not need to cause us to obsess over how to make desired results come about. Identifying what we want and then trusting God to bring about what is best, that is faithful Christian living.
There’s a lot out there to be afraid of. But there’s even more out there to trust. God promises to care for us and bring about what is best. Repeatedly we learn that our efforts, and those of others, aren’t all that trustworthy. Yet life keeps spinning forward with positive new developments. Things turn out better than they should, given the human components.
Let the good things in life come to you. Our ability to make things happen is actually very limited. Trust that through the grace of Christ Jesus, all things are being led to a good and perfect end. You don’t have to try so hard all the time. God is doing all the hard work and we’re simply called to participate in his providence. Salvation for the children of God has been procured through the cross. Let it play out in your day to day living.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.