I have a tendency to jump on any challenge that is presented to me. No added sugar of any kind for a month? Sure, I’ll do it. Do squats and pushups every day for 45 days? I’m all over it. Pick your favorite 30 items of clothing and wear only those for a whole season? I’ll give it a go. Read my Bible every day? Easy.
These kinds of challenges are meant to help us or better us in some way. Each has its purpose. If your health is struggling then it makes sense to adopt a challenge that will kickstart different habits. If you overspend on clothes you don’t wear, then freezing your clothing budget for a time makes sense. When you can’t develop a spiritual discipline such as reading the Bible or praying daily on your own, then joining in a challenge can hold you accountable to doing these things.
But that’s not why I do it. More often than not, I do a challenge just to prove that I can succeed. I do it to say that I have an unbroken record. I check my box so I can feel good about all the things I did. In fact, I’m not sure I always care about the challenge itself as much as I do about beating it. To me, the reason for the challenge is to beat the challenge, not necessarily to allow the challenge to work a positive change in my life.
I realized this one day as I was running on my treadmill, proving to myself that I could do it even though I really didn’t have it in me, and listening to a podcast. As I listened, I heard one brave woman share that she cares more about saying how she doesn’t use shampoo on her hair than she does about WHY she chose to start that practice in the first place. It became a matter of pride, and her pride soon turned her unbroken record into an idol.
When I realized that this was me, that I had the same mentality, it almost stunned me into stopping midstride. How often have I cared more about being able to say “I don’t do this” or “I only do that” than about the good changes working in me because of those choices? Too often.
And then I made a connection that struck me deep. This mentality, this performance based attitude reeks of legalism. Somewhere inside me is a drive to earn the respect and approval of others, and even of God, by the things I do or don’t do. I need to perform to feel accepted.
Just a few days after hearing this podcast, I was reading in Galatians 3 and the words were convicting. Verses 2 and 3 read:
“Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?”
Trying to become perfect by your own human effort. That’s exactly what I do. I want to be good, virtuous, and I try hard to do that on my own. But all that does is make me a prisoner of sin. Galations 3:22-23 says:
“But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.”
All these challenges I do, all the discipline and hard work is only to protect me from the consequences of sin. And that’s what the law does. God’s commands protect us. Since I want that protection, I try to do good. BUT. Oh, that glorious word. But we don’t need the law to guard us when Christ’s spirit lives within us. Christ is the fulfillment of the law.
Living a virtuous life comes down to drawing ever closer to God and not perfecting my own self discipline. And what is the fulfillment of the law? To love God and love others. 1 Corinthians 13 says it so beautifully, and I will paraphrase it here…
I could discipline myself to read through the entire Bible every year, but if I am not kind and friendly then its message has been lost on me. I could volunteer to serve others every week, but if I do not genuinely care about those whom I am serving, then I am only an actor. I can faithfully correct my children’s behavior, but if I do it with abrasive words instead of kind and gentle words then I am creating an obstacle between them and God.
At the end of the day, God doesn’t care if I checked off every box on the spiritual discipline checklist. He doesn’t care if I said yes to every opportunity to serve. He certainly doesn’t desire for me to break my children’s spirits and turn them away from Him by being strict and unyielding. God would much rather that I humbly walk with Him and ask for help than have me attempt to do it all on my own – full of pride – as I prance around in my Super Woman t-shirt.
At one point or another, we’ve all tried to prove something. Our worth. Our abilities. Our goodness. But true goodness only comes from God and it is only when His goodness overpowers our own will to achieve greatness that we truly taste freedom. And it is only when we are resting in the freedom found in God that we can be genuinely loving and friendly to others. No comparison. No hypocrisy.
Do you need to stop proving yourself and start receiving God’s gift of freedom?
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. – Galatians 5:22-23a
Speaking of good, you’ve got to try these simple but delicious chocolate treats that I keep in my freezer almost always.
2 cups of dark chocolate chips – the darker the better – less sugar 😉
1 cup natural nut butter
Put chocolate and nut butter in a double boiler. If you don’t have one, like me, fill a pan with water and place a glass bowl inside it. Note: The glass bowl should be slightly larger than the pan so it doesn’t fall inside it! Place double boiler over low to medium-low heat and stir until chocolate and peanut butter are melted together. Fill a 5×8 pan with parchment paper and pour the melted mixture into it. Place in freezer until hardened. Pull out and cut into bite size pieces. Store in fridge or freezer and enjoy whenever you need a small chocolate fix.