I’ve noticed myself becoming impatient with some of this year’s newly published books, which seem to be running toward Christianity as a self-improvement project. Scanning the lists from publishers, it dawned on me that there’s no way I can be or do or fix all the unspoken broken that populates our world, the church, or even my own heart. It’s exhausting!
Psychologist Svend Brinkmann calls this “self-optimization fatigue.” When we latch onto our faith as a self-improvement plan, there’s no end to all the work that needs to be done.
And worst of all, there’s that temporary feeling of having “arrived.”
“Just look at me, working on my marriage!”
“I’m sure tearing it up with my self-care routines this week!”
And it’s not long before we fall into the satisfied rut that follows a season of concerted exertion.
A Theology of Restful Exertion
Nearly one hundred years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned the church about “cheap grace,” and we’ve lined up in droves to get our theology straight on this point, which Bonhoeffer has masterfully defined:
Grace is costly because it calls us to follow;
it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It is costly because it cost a man his life,
and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”
God’s grace is muscular and abundant. It will support me even if I were unable to lift a finger to advance the Kingdom of God. (This is good news to me in absorbing the realities of Parkinson’s disease.)
But there is a call to follow, which I am prone to turn into a do-list. I’m supported in this by a culture that deifies organization and full schedules–but we don’t call it idolatry. We call it “efficiency,” and then write a blog post or even a book about how to do it well.
What, then, is our right response to God’s lavish grace?
Rest is Our Right Response to Grace
Psalm 116 records the psalmist’s response to deliverance. God had delivered his eyes from tears, his feet from stumbling. He owed his precious life to God’s great intervention, and this was his response to God’s bounty:
Return, O my soul, to your rest.”Psalm 116:7
He probes this conclusion again in verses 12 and 13:
What shall I render to the LORDPsalm 116:12, 13
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.”
God does not work on a barter system where I take grace and then render to him my service as a Sunday school teacher. He does not require three casseroles per month for the needy.
God is self-sufficient. He needs nothing, so the only acceptable response to his “benefits to me” is humble acceptance. Lifting up “the cup of salvation” to him implies that I know he is the only one capable of filling it. When I “call on the name of the LORD,” I admit that all my own efforts, my self-improvement projects, amount to ashes.
Am I making this sound “simple” or “easy”? On the contrary, we have been enculturated to the practices and values of a self-help culture. Rest is not our default and it’s not an easy posture. I appreciated the work of my friend Lauren Sparks in THIS POST in which she asks, “Can you relate to rest being hard??? Maybe the word “rest” conjures up images of lounging in a recliner or laying out by the pool. But if you are anything like me, rest equals struggle.”
God’s valuable and expensive grace invites us to a life of restful exertion. Let’s admit to each other (and to ourselves) that striving is useless and leads to exhaustion. Rest brings nothing to the equation and relies entirely on God’s power and grace.
Will you join me in this path of restful exertion?
What is our right response to God’s lavish #grace? God does not work on a barter system where I take grace and then render to him my service. God’s valuable and expensive grace invites us to a life of restful exertion. #restTweet
Now, Let’s Talk Books!
I took a couple of weeks off from talking books here. Of course, I’ve still been reading, but at a more leisurely pace, and much of it strictly for personal growth or enjoyment. But I’m back on track again, and I know you’ll be challenged by Lore Wilbert’s new book:
A Curious Faith
Rainer Maria Rilke famously urges readers to “live the questions” and to “love the questions.” That’s a tall order for our answer-worshiping culture, but I want to keep asking questions and, in particular, to leave space for God (and others) to ask me questions. Lore Wilbert invites her readers into A Curious Faith by examining the biblical questions God has asked, the questions biblical characters have asked of God, and the questions we wish someone would ask us.
Wilbert celebrates the vulnerability of waiting for clarity or receiving an answer we don’t want– and she laments the fact that Christ-followers may have a reputation for being suspicious of questioners. It is a gift to remember that the God of the Bible is curious, and we have been created in his image. In fact, “the Bible is a permission slip for those with questions” since Jesus peppered the Gospels with “Who told you?” and “What do you want?” and “Why are you afraid?”
Perhaps the book’s most stunning description centers on God’s use of questions to comfort Job with images of his own timelessness and mighty power. Job needed a God who was more sovereign than he was–and so do I.
In all our wonderings, we can be certain that God has plans and hopes and good intentions for us. He is committed to living the questions alongside us until we see his face and then discover that he was what we were looking for all along.
Holding You in the Light,
#ACuriousFaith by @lorewilbert celebrates the vulnerability of waiting for clarity and laments the fact that Christ-followers may have a reputation for being suspicious of questioners. @BrazosPressTweet
A FREE Resource for You!
What is your concept of God?
I’ve created a new resource for you, a guided meditation based on Isaiah 43 and the truth that we live and work according to our concept of God. What if you began every day with the conviction that God, YOUR God identifies himself as the God who does a new thing, who makes a path through the wilderness, who blots out your transgressions and says, “Fear not!”
I’m committed to the truth that women can become confident followers of God and students of his word, and it’s my goal to provide resources to help you along that path. Subscribers receive them automatically, and you can receive your copy by simply entering your email and then clicking on the button below…
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and an affiliate of The Joyful Life Magazine, two advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books or products I’ve shared, simply click on the image, and you’ll be taken directly to the seller. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Many thanks to Brazos Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.