Written by: Carrie Dahl
A few weeks back I had the privilege of hearing Josh Mathews preach from Deuteronomy 6:1–9. It was an excellent sermon encouraging the body to make the word of God central in our lives by reading it, thinking about it, memorizing it and teaching it to our children. After coming out of a fairly “dry” summer as far as consistent Bible-reading goes, it was exactly the sermon I needed to hear. My priorities needed to be rearranged, and the sermon definitely helped my heart to elevate God’s word into top priority category.
There was just one problem with my heart on Sunday as I listened to the treasure of God’s word being preached.
As Josh unfolded his sermon, my sinful heart started to take the truth Josh was preaching and make it about me. As Josh preached about reading God’s word to our kids, my initial feeling was guilt. I started to imagine my new life (beginning Monday) where I woke before 6 am to prepare a hot meal of eggs and waffles; I would then open my Bible and gently and fervently read the word to my children and help to turn their sweet little hearts to Jesus, a mug of coffee in hand, of course.
In this imagined scenario, I already had my hair done, makeup on and was dressed for the day. Picture a scene from Norman Rockwell minus the heels, apron and pearls (even my imagination is not THAT good). My children were eating their hot breakfast while eagerly asking questions and soaking in all the truth I was heaping upon them.
Insert record-scratch sound right about here….
Oh yeah, reality….
Even before the sermon was over, I remembered a blog post I had read and reposted a few days earlier. The blog was titled, “Dear Mom Who’s Trying”
and was written mainly to moms who constantly feel like a failure as they heap unrealistic expectations on themselves and their children. The blog post wrote about the many ways moms set themselves up for failure by trying to change themselves and their lives by just trying harder. It’s not only women who struggle with this issue, it’s everyone, it’s our human-nature. It’s our default mode, if you will.
I looked around the congregation during the sermon and wondered how many people were feeling guilty even though Josh very clearly spoke graciously and without any condemnation, several times acknowledging the difficulty in leading lives devoted to God’s Word. Our default mode is to make it about ourselves. After the initial feelings of guilt and failure, we then pull ourselves up by our boot straps and silently start making plans for how we will make ourselves better. Thankfully, I remembered the main verse from the blog post before the sermon was over.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).
I had to laugh at how often I forget this very, very important truth. If I am trying to improve myself by being a better wife, mother, friend, etc., if I try, try, try in my own strength, running on empty then, yes, I will always feel like a failure. Or maybe you aren’t like me, with all my displaced self-confidence and zeal to be better. Maybe you stopped listening halfway through the sermon knowing Bible-reading is just one more thing you’ve already failed at and why bother starting when you’ll just fail again after one week. Both these attitudes are rooted in the flesh and not relying on God to complete the good work in us (Philippians 1:6).
In the above mentioned blog post, Ruth Simons writes:
“Today, if you feel defeated before even trying…or if you feel confident and on top of your game….consider if the on/off switch to your bravery is fueled by might and power…your own. Dear friend, if it is, you are in for a roller-coaster. You are strapping in for a ride that can only take you high on self, or low on self-loathing.”
We need Jesus. We need him every day, all the time, which ironically brings us full circle. How do we know Him, how do we rely on Him, love Him, make Him first in our life? Well, the best way to know Him is through His Word!
Now before we start imagining ourselves as champion Bible-readers, let’s pray and ask God to help us to walk in His Spirit. Pray He will give you a desire to know Him, and pray He will help you to read your Bible, not turning it into a task to check off. Ask Him to show you ways you can set up a routine or accountability.
Knowing I had a very dry summer, I decided to join the Good Shepherd Women’s Ministry Bible study. I recognize I’m not prioritizing the Bible without accountability so I’m seeking help in the form of a group Bible study. There are many ways to make the Bible a priority in your life and it will look different for all of us. Learn to rest in the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning. Every day we have a fresh start and another opportunity to know God.
And may I just share a very small victory with you? Yes, a victory on the Monday after the sermon. I did read the Bible to my kids this morning! I read a paragraph of John, in the clothes I wore the day before, not wearing makeup, while my kids shoveled down cereal. It was about 4 minutes of Bible and my kids were barely interested. Will I read to them every morning? Probably not, but I am thankful for the sermon on Deuteronomy 6:1–9, and I’m thankful God used it to change my heart toward Him and His Word. I will continue to pray the Lord will help me to read the Bible to my kids and myself.
So, take a deep breath, brothers and sisters. It’s not about you and improving yourself. It’s about Him. The guilt, the list of to-do’s, the dreams of bettering yourself in your own “might and power” are NOT from Him, they are from your flesh. But the beauty of walking in the Spirit and abiding with Christ is that He does better us! He empowers us to become more like Him. When we stray into “try harder” mode, He gently leads us back and shows us He is the way. He loves us, and He longs for us to walk with Him in freedom and joy!