Updated: May 2, 2020
When I was around nine, one day my ballet teacher said to me, "don't try too hard and go with your natural musicality". I tried to hide my distress, but my tears must have been obvious as I thought to myself, "but I don't know how to try hard to not try too hard!" I was raised in a just-try-harder culture. Perhaps you'll resonate with me too if you were raised on a what-would-Jesus-do culture. Because in both cases the burden will eventually become too great for us to bear if we don't discover the true Gospel.
Jesus said, "come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). If you are feeling the weariness and heavy burden of keeping your faith alive, obeying God and following Jesus' examples you have lost sight of the saving and keeping ministry of Jesus.
Do you think the vision to see the perilous situation of your own sin came from your own insight? Do you think that the faith that enabled you to believe in the saving work of Jesus came from your own piety? Do you think obedience to God is the fruit of your own efforts? Just like how a blind man cannot see just by trying harder, no human is saved or kept in salvation by our own effort.
I remember the days when I was attending church but struggling to work out how to have faith in Jesus. (I wasn't, however, struggling with the truth that I was a sinner because I just ignored that teaching and kept thinking I was a good person.) I was attending church every week, I was studying the Bible and praying every day, I was serving in ministry. But I knew I wasn't saved. It must have been how Nicodemus in John Chapter 3, or the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30 felt when they sought out Jesus for the answer to the question, "How can I gain eternal life?" The problem Nico and the rich young ruler had was that they were trying to gain salvation with a just-try-harder mindset. They must have felt like my teary nine-year-old self when Jesus responded saying, "you must be born again" to Nico and "get rid of everything you have achieved they're just holding you back" to the rich young man (my paraphrases). Can you sense their distress? "What?! Something that I can't get by trying harder? Then how do I get it?"
The answer is this: we are not in control of getting our salvation. We get it the way we get born - by someone else's actions. We get it the way a blind man gets sight - he can't just try harder. Similarly, our sinfulness so disables us that we can't even muster up the faith to trust in Jesus by our own efforts. I was a regular church attendee, reading the Bible more than others, I couldn't work out why I was still struggling to put my faith in Jesus. God was waiting for me to stop trying harder...
Eventually, I used up all my efforts. I didn't stop going to church or studying the Bible. It's just that I realised that these were not working me towards salvation by my effort in them. It was the truth I was learning through them that mattered. I remembering stumbling on Romans 9:16, " It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy." I wrote the verse on a note and stuck it on my wall. Not my effort... God’s mercy... I was finally starting to get it. I needed to cry out to God to save me, not work harder.
The blind men in the Gospel accounts knew this. They weren't caught up with their own efforts like Nico or the rich young ruler. They cried out as soon as they had opportunity, "Jesus! Have mercy on me!" Hallelujah that we have a God who opens blind eyes physically and metaphorically! After two years of trying too hard, I finally reached a place where I cried out for God's mercy. My blind eyes were opened: I remember the solid realization of my own sinfulness, understanding at last the power of Christ's forgiveness to not only remove my shame but also enable me to live righteously hereafter. I thought to myself "this insight and this faith is definitely not from my efforts".
Brothers and sisters, are you burdened by the thought of keeping your faith going? Are you anxious that you are not like Jesus enough? Stop trying harder. Cry out with me to the God whose mercy your salvation depends on. And having felt his miraculous mercy, have confidence that he who is mighty to save you without your input, is mighty to keep you in his salvation even when you stumble. Have peace and joy in the fact that he is mighty to put in your heart his Holy Spirit who transforms you to be the righteousness of God that you can never achieve by trying harder.