I have recently realized that I am a grade A “striver.” Yep…. I strive, hustle, work, and grind until the job is done. It’s a good quality most days, and one that has been rewarding. But recently God has helped me come to the realization that He desires so much more than our best human efforts.
Growing up, my parents taught me the importance of having a great work ethic. It is a valuable lesson and one that I hope to pass to my own kids. Becoming Miss Louisiana and training for Miss America was probably one of the greatest rewards I achieved through hard work. While training for Miss America, I would spend all day training, perfecting my talent, working on interview, and making appearances. The preparation was intense. I am a ballerina by trade and the process of perfecting my talent routine was called “maxing out.” I would do the routine full out, over and over until I physically could not get through it. This maxing out concept would get my endurance to a level that would make dancing look effortless when the time came to perform on the Miss America stage.
Training your body to max out is an intense but reliable process. It accomplished exactly what was expected. I could easily perform the routine making every leap, turn, and kick perfect without breaking a sweat. Unfortunately, I have carried this concept into many other areas of my life that God never intended.
Why do we strive? Why do we “max out” our lives in an attempt to be the best at everything? We are even deceived into thinking we can do more than one thing at a time excellently (multitasking) – but that’s not possible. We do this to ourself because society has conditioned us to believe that success is only achieved through intense effort – striving to be the best.
What are you striving for? A job? To finish school? A husband? Kids? Do you strive in your prayer life? Strive in Kingdom work? Are you striving for relationships? Or, do you feel like you have to strive in all things just keep your life together (ME! This is me!)?
Here’s the deal… you don’t have to strive anymore. God gives you permission to stop. In fact, He gives you permission to rest. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to make things happen that may not be ordained by God. Hard work is good; it does in fact honor God to have a solid work ethic. But our striving was never meant to replace our trust in Him.
So how do we break this vicious cycle of intense pressure and, ultimately, doubt that manifests through our valiant efforts? How do we allow ourselves to work hard while also putting our trust whole-heartedly in God’s plan? God has given me a wakeup call in this area. I pray these words will meet you right where you are in your current temptation to strive. Here is what God so gracefully taught me:
1. Stand firm in your faith.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14 NIV)
The Israelites had just been released by Pharaoh’s oppression and these were the words spoken by Moses as the Israelites cried out to God in fear. Pharaoh and his 600 chariots were racing towards them and they were trapped. The Red Sea was in front of them and the Egyptians were right behind them. In that moment Moses told them to “be still.”
I’m sure the Israelites might have thought, “Really? Pharoah’s entire army is headed towards us, and you want us to be still?” Instinct probably told them to prepare to fight. Grab your sword and pick up your shield and give it everything you have. Strive! Don’t rest. But God’s only command was to be still. He wasn’t going to let them strive their way through this. God was getting ready to do the impossible; they just needed to sit back and watch.
Just like the Israelites, you will eventually reach a point in your struggle where you feel trapped between the Red Sea and Pharoah’s army. You will want to pick up your weapons and fight or struggle your way through it. In these moments, God calls us to stand firm in our faith and watch Him work. That starts with the belief that God will work this out for you, even if He has to part the Red Sea. Relinquishing the temptation to strive your way through life begins with a strong foundation of faith and knowing that God will fight for you.
2. Replace task with devotion.
If you can relate to being a striver, then odds are you are also extremely task-oriented. Martha was one of those task-oriented characters in the Bible. I have a feeling she and I would have been great friends…maybe fellow strivers. You know the story: Mary and Martha were sisters that opened their home to Jesus. While Jesus was visiting, Martha gets obviously frustrated while making all the preparations because her sister was not helping. I too would have been totally annoyed by this. Mary chose to sit at the feet of Jesus instead. But here is what Jesus said: “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42 NIV). Jesus desires to spend time with us. Martha had focused on doing all the things for Jesus while Mary intended to be with Jesus. Martha had put task before devotion. I know that many times our efforts come from a truly genuine place in our heart, but sitting at the feet of Jesus is the posture in which our relief is realized. You can do all the tasks and check off all the lists, but the fulfillment you are actually looking for can only be found in Jesus.
I have recently been caught striving in ministry opportunities. I currently serve in my local church as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator and have a personal ministry to bring people to God’s word through the shared interest of sports. I truly want to serve God in as many areas as possible. I thought if I prayed hard enough, worked hard enough, or was more dedicated that maybe God would open the door of opportunity. But God kindly showed me that even striving in ministry should never outweigh our devotion and trust in Him.
3. Redirect your prayer life.
Chances are, if you are in a season of striving, then you are also pouring your heart out to God in prayer as well. I know this sounds counterproductive, but it’s time to redirect your prayer life. When your prayers are consumed with the one thing you are striving for, you have lost the true reason for prayer. If the struggle takes the place of thanksgiving, repentance and praying for the Father’s will, it’s time to refocus your prayer.
In my recent struggle, I had poured out my heart to God. He knew exactly where I stood and what my heart desired. So, in these moments, I made space in my prayer life for others’ needs, for repentance, and gratitude, and my children and husband. I laid it before Him and ultimately learned to trust His timing and will. And you know what?? God moved in ways I never expected when I shifted the direction of my prayers.
4. Ask a friend to pray for you.
While you are taking a break from striving in your prayer life, ask a friend to pray on your behalf. Ask them to stand in the gap for you. Our lives were meant to live in community with other fellow believers. God never intended for us to take on the weight of the world alone. In my experience, striving causes you to internalize all of this added pressure placed on yourself. Once I confided in a friend, the life she spoke to me was invaluable. Allow others to help carry some of the weight. It will be a blessing to them and you.
There are times in our life when God needs our absolute best effort. The Bible is full of stories of admirable people and their determination that we should all exemplify. However, one of God’s deepest desires is for us to find fulfillment in Him. He wants us to stand firm in our faith and rest on His promises. If you find yourself in a season of labor and struggle, the rest and relief your heart desires can only be found through connection with Him. God doesn’t want us to strive and max out to the point of exhaustion. He wants us to live in His wonderful presence.
Amanda May lives in West Monroe, LA, with her husband Brent and 3 beautiful kids. She works for Varsity Spirit as the Louisiana State Director. She currently serves as the Women’s Ministry Coordinator at Fair Park Baptist Church. She loves encouraging women to develop a deep passion for the Word of God. As a former sideline reporter, she has a love for all things gameday. Her personal ministry, “Play for the King,” seeks to bring people to God’s word through the shared interest of sports.