Stop Trying Harder

Today is Saturday, the 21st of January, 2023, in the season of Epiphany.

May the peace of Christ enfold you today!

Day 23,690

I suppose the next “big thing” coming up is Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22, this year. That’s 32 days from today. I’m looking forward to observing Lent at my new church.

I made it through my work day pretty well, yesterday. Some coughing, used a few tissues, but it was okay. I’m feeling better, this morning, but still not quite 100%. I will “mask up” at work until my symptoms are gone. I’ll be at the library from 9:30-6:15 today, working at the circulation desk. We never know what Saturdays are going to look like at the circ desk. The last Saturday I worked, two weeks ago, was one of the busiest that I can remember. But yesterday was really slow, at least in the computer center.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

Oh, how I love your law!
 It is my meditation all day long.
(Psalms 119:97 NRSV)

Father, I thank You for Your Word. I confess that I do not make it my “meditation all day long,” but I do, at least, remember to come back to it, during my day. I keep praying for a united heart, that I might properly fear Your name.

Dear Father in heaven, we rejoice that you are our Father. We rejoice that you rule and guide each of us so that our path in life leads to what is good and genuine and we do not get stuck in this or that concern. Lead us, renew us, and again and again free us to go forward, finding new courage and joy for ourselves and for our fellowmen. Then we can praise you, your strength and power can be revealed to us, your heaven come down to earth, and your will be done on earth. Here on earth your help shall come to the poor, the weak, the lowly, the sick, and the suffering. May your name be praised! We rejoice in your name. Amen.

Daily Prayer from Plough.com

In my distress I called upon the LORD; 
to my God I cried for help. 
From his temple he heard my voice, 
and my cry to him reached his ears.
(Psalms 18:6 NRSV)

Today I am grateful:

  • for God’s Word; may it be my meditation all day long (Psalm 119:97)
  • that the Lord hears me “from His temple,” when I cry out to Him.
  • that the Spirit guides us to what is good and genuine
  • that life in the kingdom of God is not about trying harder
  • that because the Lord is my light and my salvation, my stronghold, I have nothing to fear (Psalm 27:1)

Seek the LORD and his strength; 
seek his presence continually.
(Psalms 105:4 NRSV)
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" 
Your face, LORD, do I seek. 
Do not hide your face from me. 
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. 
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
(Psalms 27:7-9 NRSV)
But you indeed are awesome! 
Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?
(Psalms 76:7 NRSV)
I sought the LORD, and he answered me, 
and delivered me from all my fears.
(Psalms 34:4 NRSV)

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10 NRSV)

You will only look with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. 
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, 
the Most High your dwelling place,
 no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 
For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 
On their hands they will bear you up, 
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone. 
You will tread on the lion and the adder, 
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.
(Psalms 91:8-13 NRSV)
Lord, have mercy on us
Christ, have mercy on us
Lord, have mercy on us
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your Name. 
May Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, 
on earth as in heaven. 
Give us today our daily bread. 
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; 
for Yours are the kingdom and the power 
and the glory forever and ever. 
Amen.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(The Divine Hours - The Prayer Appointed for the Week)

"Now we cannot . . . discover our failure to keep God's law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is every going to bring us home. All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this. I can't.'"
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in The C.S. Lewis Bible, in regard to Leviticus 14-16)

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; 
for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
(Psalms 23:4 NRSV)
Of David.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; 
whom shall I fear? 
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
(Psalms 27:1 NRSV)

But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.
(Colossians 1:22 MSG)


The book of Leviticus is arguably the most difficult book of the Bible to read. I have never known anyone who has enthusiastically approached this book, and declared it to be their favorite book in the Bible. I have heard it said that you can find Christ on every page in the Bible. I’m skeptical about Leviticus.

I mean no disrespect or dishonor. It is part of what we have before us as God’s Word, and, therefore, has some purpose for us. And I believe that at least part of that purpose is illustrated by the quote from C.S. Lewis, above.

I started reading through the Bible, again, this year, starting with Genesis, in the new NRSV that I got for Christmas. This week, I arrived at Leviticus. I’m reading five chapters a day, so I don’t have much more to go . . . maybe another day or two. Or three. I have twelve chapters left.

It is, essentially, nothing but laws about this and that. Most of the five chapters I read today are about what to do if leprosy appears on one’s body or one’s clothes or in one’s home.

We are no longer under the law, as we have moved into the era of grace, because of Jesus. As the verse in Colossians says, Jesus has brought us “over to God’s side,” and put our lives together. We are, in Christ, “whole and holy.” Or, as one of my favorite Mercy Me songs says, “The Cross has made you flawless.”

We have a choice in our lives. We can keep on “trying harder and harder,” as C.S. Lewis said, or we can stop that nonsense and come to the correct conclusion that, “You must do this. I can’t.”

We can try our best to live by the Ten Commandments, and all of that Levitical Law, but then we must accept what was said in Paul’s epistles, that, if we fail at even the smallest point of the Law, we have violated the entirety of it. That should be most discouraging to anyone.

Unless that “anyone” has become a Christ-follower. Christ kept the Law for us; He fulfilled it. He did not abolish it, but He fulfilled it, which means we don’t have to. All we have to do is follow His commands. And His commands are short and sweet. They sum up the entirety of the Law and the Prophets. We simply must love God and love people.

This is not as easy as it sounds. I know this from experience. God is easy to love. Most of the time. Except for maybe when things don’t go quite the way I want them to. But people? People, especially some of them, are really hard to love. I imagine I am pretty hard to love, to some people.

But here’s the thing. Way up there, close to the top of this post, are some verses from Psalms that give great advice, advice that is very helpful in this journey of faith. I’ll repeat them.

Seek the LORD and his strength; 
seek his presence continually.
(Psalms 105:4 NRSV)
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" 
Your face, LORD, do I seek. 
Do not hide your face from me. 
Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. 
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
(Psalms 27:7-9 NRSV)
I sought the LORD, and he answered me, 
and delivered me from all my fears.
(Psalms 34:4 NRSV)

Seek. Seek the Lord. Seek His face. Expend as much energy as you can on this, and the rest of this stuff will align itself. I’m not pretending that it will not still be difficult to love some people, but if we are seeking God, constantly (Frank Laubach, in his “game of minutes,” opined that it is possible to think about God at least once per minute, throughout our day), His love will channel through us and shove our own unloving thoughts to one side, and maybe even eliminate them altogether.

It’s not about trying harder. Remember what Moses said to the Israelites, when they saw Pharaoh and his army coming after them at the Red Sea?

“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”
(Exodus 14:14 NRSV)

They didn’t have to “try harder.” They just had to stand still and watch the mighty hand of God take out their enemy.

So stop trying harder and start seeking.


Father, I praise You for Your Word and what it means to me. I thank You for the truths contained therein. I pray that You will help us to take these truths and incorporate them into our lives, that we might fully love You and then love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us to stop expending so much energy in trying to be “better Christians.” We can’t do it. I can’t do it; You must do it. I surrender.

I thank You that, in Christ, I have nothing to fear. You are my light and my salvation, the stronghold of my life. I may not always live like I believe that, and I pray that that would change as I continue to seek Your face. As I go through this day, may my mind, soul, and spirit be drawn into Your presence, to know You more, and to contemplate You and Your presence even more.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!


Grace and peace, friends.