I attended a church in our neighborhood this weekend as I was feeling under the weather and an hour round trip drive just wasn’t in the cards. I appreciated the service and appreciated, too, what the pastor had to say. None of it was un-biblical and everything that came out of his mouth, I needed to hear. But there was something missing and its lack rang loudly in my ears as I gathered up my notes which contained a stunning “to do” list of things that I felt incapable of accomplishing before I even left the doors of the church.
Do you ever feel that way? Whether you are a Christian or not, I imagine that if you’ve ever heard a sermon preached you likely wound up at some point thinking, “Give me a break. Who can really live like that? I know I can’t. And I doubt any of these people sitting here can, either. And if they say they are, they’re probably hypocrites.”
And you’d be right. Even as a Christian I must on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis answer truthfully if anyone were to ask, “I have failed.”
When we are focused this way, as I was with my “to do” list on Sunday, it’s hard to find the hope.
But then, I happily was reminded as I went to pick Eamonn up from Children’s Church, my hope is not in myself. It’s in Jesus and in what he’s accomplished. If my hope were in myself, and if my salvation laid in the things that I accomplished there would be little room for hope at all. But it is not my work that saves me, it is Jesus’ and it is out of thanks for this that I dare not to despair and to try to live a life that is pleasing to him.
It is amazing the difference you feel when you go from living a life of vain effort in the hopes that it will be good enough, to living a life of thanks for what has already been accomplished for you, secure in the outpouring of love and mercy rather than trying to earn a reward for which you are not worthy anyway.
I bring this up not to criticize the sermon I heard on Sunday. I was worshiping with a body of believers who love Jesus. I bring it up because that understanding — that Christ is your hope and that he is the one who has accomplished what you clearly could not — is so incredibly important, and yet it is so easy to lose sight of. We lose sight of it time and time again.
If you need to be reminded of that hope, or even if you don’t quite believe it’s real but you want to know more about it, I would encourage you to listen to “An Unjust Judge and a Persistent Widow,” preached by Pastor Ted Hamilton at New Life on the first of this month. In the last few minutes of the sermon, Ted takes all these floating points and draws them together in such a way that, upon the hearing, I wished a little bit that we spent more time shouting “Hallelujah” from the top of our lungs in Presbyterian circles.
And so I repeat to myself today, on a day when I felt like such a failure in so many ways as a mom, as a Christian, and with an insight on all of the sad things that go on inside of me every day as I struggle with my baser desires, pettiness and selfishness: I hope in Christ, not in myself. I am cherished because He is the first born. I am loved because He is loved. It is finished because He finished it. It is forgiven because He paid. For what He accomplished I am rewarded. And with the relief of that I can rest and pray to do better on the new day. Not to earn anything, but to say thank you for what He earned and gives freely to me.