Spiritual Effort – Lenten Season 2021
“5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-15 NIV).
The Holiness Project – Day 5 “Spiritual Effort”
I’m not sure that I have ever heard a sermon on Spiritual Effort. It’s like we are so focused on a “salvation” perspective of the Christian life that we lose sight of the “discipleship” expectations that this salvation has created in us.
I call these verses the “make every effort” verses of the Bible. I quoted the main one above (which we will study in more detail later) but here are three more…
Spiritual Effort in the Bible
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV).
“3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV).
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11 NIV).
It appears that “making every effort” is the normal expectation of the Christian life. How do we reconcile that with the teaching that it is not by our effort or good works that we are saved (Ephesians 1:17,18)? Simple. There is no conflict. Salvation is without works. Discipleship expects us to “make every effort.”
Just like in Marriage
My marriage is similar in that respect. Love is freely given but, precisely because love is the foundation of our relationship, it is expected that I would “make every effort” to please my wife, to help her, to provide for my family, to balance work and life, to lead us into spiritual maturity and effective ministry. “Making every effort” based on a relationship of love and grace and acceptance is a very liberating concept. Not that the other is expecting it from me but that love expects it from me, the relationship expects it from me. And that is as it should be.
In fact, if my attitude is to not make any effort, to watch TV and drink beer every night instead of taking care of business, fixing up the house, spending time with the children going over their homework, praying for my family and encouraging us all to enter into the “rest” that only God’s love can give us in this storm of life, well, then, I think that says something about my relationship with my spouse and family (and God), doesn’t it?
It isn’t just a question of accepting the love of the other (and God), it is also about responding in love, and that means to “make every effort.” Love responds to love – that is the normal process – even though my love doesn’t compare with His love for me. My love may be weak and insipid in comparison, but I still can “make every effort.”
That attitude is foundational to everything else. Don’t worry right now about what you need to do. Rest assured that it will make you uncomfortable, it will cost you something, it will require the limiting (and freeing) of your will and what you want, all in the name of love (if love is truly there). Of course.
How many times in my life I have declared that I am “trying my best.” Hundreds. It has become such a normal part of our lives that it comes out naturally. We expect nothing less from people than that they “try their best.” That is the right attitude, most certainly. But it is a lie.
Trying my Best vs. Spiritual Effort
Yes, it is a lie. It has always been a lie. Mostly because we don’t have any idea of what “our best” really is. Our potential is so great that it is doubtful that we have ever even gotten close to “trying our best” at anything, much less our relationship with God. But there is something else that needs to be said. How can we say that we have “tried our best” if we have no metrics to measure that very thing. We all say it, quite glibly, in fact, but how do we know that we have “tried our best.?”
Is it just about having a good attitude that says that we will try hard or is it better to have some clear metrics. Lately, I have been working hard at a particular goal to move back to Canada (specifically Vancouver) by August 1, 2021. It seems impossible from our point of view here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The peso economy is imploding and every day it is harder and harder to get enough dollars together to make the move. Still, I believe that it is God’s will for our family to make the move, impossible as it might be. And I am convinced that I need to “make every effort” to fulfill what I believe is God’s will for our family.
Yes, I believe that I can do all things (that are God’s will) through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). No doubt. That is the starting point. That is why this post is called Spiritual Effort. Our foundation in Christ must be rock solid. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to “make every effort” to make it happen. After all, what good is it to have God’s strength if I’m not going to do anything with it. We hear all sorts of sermons on the first part of the equation but what about the second part. The part that requires effort.
Everything is spiritual. Remember. Effort is also spiritual. Once I know God’s will for my life (and my family) and I am convinced it is part of my Life Purpose and fulfills God’s vision for my life, then the work begins.
Metrics for Spiritual Effort
Now here is the thing to be clear about. You need metrics to know that you are making every effort and trying your best. Metrics are key. Having the goal is great. Knowing that it is the will of God for your life is great. Now what? Metrics.
Some people call them “microgoals.” Others call them “tasks.” Whatever you call them, you need to get it down to actual things to do daily, weekly, monthly in pursuit of your goal. I did that with my goal of moving back to Canada by August 1, 2021. It may seem impossible but that is not my concern. If it is God’s will, it can be done. That doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, mind you. That is a shocker to a lot of people. That God’s will may not actually be done in my life.
We shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what sin is, after all. Rebellion against the will of God. Even Jesus had to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10). That is a scary idea for Christians, isn’t it? If you are convinced, as I am, that God has wonderful plans for my life and that His will is peace and joy and spiritual character and leadership, to miss out on all of that because I am too lazy? Well, that sucks….
But it is true. We can miss out on what God has in store for us because we are too lazy. We are in Spiritual Drift. We assume that it will fall from heaven like mana in the desert. We forget that who we become as we pursue God’s vision for our lives is the whole point.
Who We Become in the Process
Who we become in the process is God’s priority. He gives us some leeway on exactly what path we want to take but we know it has something to do with the dreams and godly desires that He put in us from our birth. It has something to do with the talents, skills and abilities that we are motivated to develop over our lifetime. But it also has something to do (or a lot to do) with the kind of person we are, our character, our values, our beliefs, our habits, our daily routines, our attitudes, our fortitude, our virtue.
Who we are and what we become are intricately woven together in the fabric of our life. Just like Jesus. Who he was (identity) was intricately bound up in what he came to do (purpose) and, in the fulfillment of that purpose through his spiritual effort, he created a godly result (significance for others and therefore for himself in God’s eyes). Those three things – identity, purpose and significance – built on a spiritual foundation create meaning in life.
So, in order to know whether or not we are on track to participate in the significance that God bestows on those who participate with Him in His great rescue operation of this world, we need metrics. That is the only honest way to do it. Just saying we are faithful is not good enough. What are the results of our faithfulness. Is anything actually happening? How do we know.
So I have broken down our goal of moving back to Canada into a plan to raise money (which is the key ingredient in making this happen). I have some freedom to decide what is the best way to do that (tentmaking strategy) but God still gives the blessing and the increase. My focus is on getting to work.
What does that look like? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have it broken down into things you do every day, every week, every month. And you keep track. You measure yourself against your tasks, your effort. That measurement is without judgment. It is simply a tool to help you stay focused and disciplined. Without discipline, nothing of any worth will happen. But it is the discipline of grace not the self-discipline of pride. It isn’t about building a tower of arrogance in what you can accomplish but rather a fortress of faith in what God will accomplish through you. Still, from the outside, the process can look quite similar.
You have goals. You have daily tasks. You make every effort to fulfill the tasks you have set for yourself that day. You push yourself. You become emotionally invested in the accomplishment of your tasks. You discipline yourself towards a godly goal. You limit your will to relax, to take it easy, to be lazy, to indulge yourself and you focus your efforts to get something done, that God is asking you to do. Is He not worthy of your best efforts? How do you know whether or not you are giving your best efforts if you have nothing to measure them with?
Because I have metrics and self-discipline towards a goal that I believe is God’s will for my life, I now know what my best efforts look like. Now I can say that I am trying my best when I am maintaining my self-discipline on a daily basis and completing the tasks that I have set for myself to do for that day. I have integrity between my attitude and my actions and I am becoming the kind of person that is “productive and effective” in my Christian walk (2 Peter 1:8).
Accountability is Key
But there is another step in this process as well. Every Sunday, I spend time with my wife (in my case) being accountable to her (and her to me) for our efforts this past week. No condemnation. No judgment. But still a godly accountability. And that is good. It helps us to fine tune what we are doing and stay in sync and work together whenever possible.
But there is another step as well. I need to make sure that my efforts are actually going to accomplish the goal. That is also part of the process. One thing is to make sure that the ladder you are climbing is set against the right wall. That has to do with your purpose and God’s plan for your life. Another thing is to make sure that all the rungs are in place on the ladder so that you can climb it to the top and accomplish the goal. The problem is that there are clouds above you (the future) and you can’t see very far up the ladder to know whether or not all the rungs are there. If one or two is missing, no problem. You can adjust as you go along. But if there are eight or ten missing (or more), you are stuck.
Businesses have this problem all the time. Whenever you attempt to do something new, you have to figure that it will cost you twice as much and take three times as long as normal. Why? Because you don’t know all the steps. You don’t know all the challenges. You don’t know the shortcuts and the wisdom that comes from experience and knowledge.
Get a Spiritual Coach
That is why most businesses will hire a consultant to help them through the process. A consultant is someone who has done it before. Someone who knows how much time and money and effort a particular goal will take. They are worth their weight in gold (and often charge it).
In terms of Biblical wisdom and experience, we can rely on the truth and experience of the people in the Bible, of course. But there are also wise leaders within the church that can sometimes be of help as well. But here we are talking about the creational side of things and, in that case, it is also wise to find business consultants who can give you the information and experience you need to accomplish your goals.
The point that I am trying to make, regardless of where you get that consulting advice, is that you check at least once a week that you are on track, that your daily efforts are indeed getting the results that you want and that the results you want are happening fast enough and working well enough for you to accomplish the goal that you have set for yourself.
This is not an easy process. Not by a long shot. Like many other highly effective skills, it takes some effort to learn it. But it is worth it. Especially if you are convinced that “making every effort” is the expectation of love that your relationship with God has laid on you. If so, then get to work. If not, then be aware that your life is in danger and, as was stated above by Peter:
“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8 NIV).
If you are fine with the idea that your life on this earth will be “ineffective and unproductive” then you have bigger problems facing you. Then you need to go back to your Spiritual Foundations and ask yourself whether or not you are even in the Lord or walking in the Spirit.
The Desert Warrior
Lord, I don’t want to be like the ungrateful servant who didn’t do anything with the talents you gave him. All he did was bury them in the ground and try to give it back to you at the end of the day. He was ineffective and unproductive and that was a reflection of his lack of love for you and a lack of concern for the salvation of others. I don’t want to be like that ungrateful servant. Help me to make every effort – every Spiritual Effort – in my walk with you to accomplish your purposes for my life. In your name I pray. Amen.