Ceasing Striving

Japanese Garden of Peace, National Museum of the Pacific War

The New Year is barely underway and I wonder how many are already feeling overwhelmed and behind? How many are already feeling like failures on your New Year’s resolutions?

Welcome to reality! This isn’t 21st-century-information-social-media overload. This is life. And where we get caught up is this feeling, this sense, that life is taking off and we’re not yet on board. So we focus on activity and doing more.

Therein lies the issue. It’s not about doing more or fine-tuning more activity. It’s about perspective and “being.” Our ongoing sense of being overwhelmed and anxious, most likely, is not because we’re not doing enough, or not organized enough, or not fast-paced enough. It’s that we’re not still enough. We’re not quiet enough.

Now I’m not talking about being a slug and lazy. I believe we were created to work, to be productive and have a sense of accomplishment and purpose in what we do.

The Psalmist put it this way:

Be still and know that I am God.

Another translation is:

Be quiet and know that I am God.

And yet another translation:

Cease striving and know that I am God.

The Psalm where this verse comes was Martin Luther’s favorite Psalm. ┬áMartin Luther was the great 16th-century priest and theologian who initiated the Protestant reformation. He wrote a very famous hymn based on this Psalm – A Mighty Fortress is Our God. (Your church lesson for the day).

If you’re looking for a truly useful New Year’s resolution, I would make it this verse, Psalm 46:10.

This verse has been a favorite of mine throughout my life. It reminds me of who’s really in charge and what is my best response. It breaks through all the clutter and distraction of life and centers on the simple and effective. It broadens and enlarges the scope of my perspective and yet God’s personal and intimate care of me is not compromised.

Psalm 46 begins by saying:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

The essence of the Hebrew (seminary training does come in handy occasionally) is: God is an immediate source of strength when we’re in a tight squeeze. Or, God is with us when we’re between a rock and a hard place. God is immediately available, instantly present in any situation, and certainly in those times when we feel weak, inadequate, overwhelmed.

The Psalmist sets it up this way because later on we’re going to be told to be still; be quiet; cease striving. In essence, the Psalmist is saying, Quit racing around…relax. Or, to use a common expression: Chill! The point is that God is in full control, so let God handle our situation. As God handles our situation, we are to cause ourselves to relax. God is with us.

Does this mean I slip everything into neutral and do nothing? Hardly. It means that I first enter into the rest that God provides and then face the situation without panic or strife. As we deliberately enter into God’s invisible sanctuary, we’re giving ourselves time to step back and get a perspective. How often do new insights or solutions come to you once you have a chance to step back, evaluate, gain a fresh perspective? I think that’s what the Psalmist meant by trusting God completely for everything.

You’re probably saying to yourself: It sounds so simple. If only it were that easy! Well, it is simple; but it’s not easy. It’s not easy because it requires discipline and getting ourselves out of the way. It’s the “let go and let God” principle.

While many of us are undisciplined, the discipline side of things is not where the real difficulty is. Discipline is just the regular practice, a newly acquired habit. The good news is that it only takes 21 consecutive days to develop a new habit.

The real challenge is getting ourselves out of the way and letting God be God. We want to be the gods and goddesses of our lives. We want to call the shots, orchestrate the scene, and maniple the players. And then we wonder why we’re anxious and overwhelmed! We weren’t created to be God!

We were created to trust God and enter into the sanctuary, that place of rest. God calls us into a place of rest, into a haven of stillness. The world can by a tyrant, pushing and rushing and driving. But we don’t need to yield to its merciless rhythms. God will draw us out of the rush and confusion, and will teach us to enter that rest.

God’s spirit is at the center of our being. It is a fountain of stillness and peace. There, we can be still and know that God is God. But first, we must cease striving.

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