I know the feeling: I’ve surveyed the chaos of my life and thought…there really has to be a better way of doing this, there has to be a way I can bring some order into this mess. I really should be able to accomplish more than I’m accomplishing. I mean…I should be accomplishing something, shouldn’t I?
I also know the temptation of watching infomercials and thinking, “Yeah! That’s exactly what I need! That special secret gadget that will help me be all I was destined to be!” But I also know the disappointment of working hard to utilize that special key only to discover that I just can’t seem to fit it into the lock of success…at least not consistently. We look to Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, and to the latest self-help books hoping to find some helpful hint, some new rule that will enable us to tame our lives and get everything done that needs to be done and we keep coming away with arms full of nothing. It’s as Qoheleth, the Preacher, wrote after he considered all his work and toil, it was all vanity and “a striving after the wind” (Ecc. 2:11).
This desire to conquer the Sin-Cursed World Syndrome (see last week’s blog) isn’t anything new. In fact, it’s been around since the beginning, since chaos first entered the world after the fall of our first parents. It’s summed up in the words, “Thorns and thistles it (the ground, the world) shall bring forth for you” (Genesis 3:18). Seems like everything we try inevitably falls short, doesn’t it? We sin though we struggle against it. We fail though we fight to win. We think our motives are right until we discover that they aren’t. The world seems programmed to work against our best efforts. Even our own hearts are our enemy. As I said yesterday, We plant wheat and harvest poison oak. But that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying every year…Maybe if I try a different kind of wheat…Maybe if I plant two weeks earlier…three days later…Maybe if I water it more…We are chronic optimists: We just never quit believing that, with the right list, effort, ingredients, we can produce what we want: A life we can be proud of, a life worthy of approval. But we’re so very wrong. Our problem is a heart problem, not a list problem, and the chaos that the Lord has woven into the world is meant to reveal it to us and to conquer our self-confidence.
It was to the church at Colossae that Paul wrote the following about the rules that both populate and motivate our To-Do Lists:
…Regulations [such as]—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” [Go to the gym, eat only organic, iron everything immediately, be perfect homemakers, daughters, wives, employees]… have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion…but are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col 2:20-23).
Look at that verse again. Paul wrote that every rule we make for ourselves about what we will do and won’t do, all the laws that we write and that find their way onto our To-Do lists are completely worthless when it comes to real change, to true heart transformation. We want to be different people, women who are competent, successful, faithful. But Paul says that rules won’t get us there. Renewed determination won’t help. Accountability partners (though a good) won’t transform us. We need something entirely different.
Thankfully, Paul tells us what we need: We need Jesus: Someone who has lived as we should have lived, who died bearing the weight of all our failure and self-promotion, who rose again for our vindication and rules right now from above. After he writes that rules are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh he says,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on the things that are on earth (Col 3:1-2).
What’s he saying here? I know that in the past I read those verses merely as prohibitions about what shows I should watch, what goals I should desire. But that’s not what Paul’s getting at, at all! He’s not telling me to make a list of the right sorts of programs or what sorts of things I should never pursue. No, he’s saying:
Get your eyes off of yourself! Stop trusting in your self-salvation efforts. Don’t look to your list to help you find rest or a peaceful conscience or self-approval. Look to Jesus! He’s been through death and has been raised for you. He’s not only raised into heaven for you, he’s also seated at the right hand of God, interceding for you. You’re not alone in this fight…He’s already won it for you!
My dear weary sisters: We don’t need more rules or lists or steps. We need the good news that the lists have been obliterated by His perfect life and blazing love.