For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I don't know if anyone else is like this, but when things don't go like I planned, my every instinct cries out to take charge… to make something happen. I'm driven like that. If nothing is going right, I want to force it to go right.
The problem with acting out this way is that it often gets you into trouble. You end up using force (usually just emotional force, or force of will), but people rarely respond well to force of any kind. Also, you end up doing things out of your own power. When you use your own power in this way, you usually have to sustain it or else the effect wanes. Sustaining using your own power this way gets pretty tiring and you've usually set yourself up for a crash. I'm not sure how many times I've emotionally crashed and been exhausted because I've tried to push too many things in my own strength.
I hit another decision point like this earlier on this week. This week is the 5th anniversary of my church, RockHaven Church, being founded. When we started, I had a whole bunch of ideas and dreams in my head of what it would be like, what timeline everything would happen in, and how glorious everything would be. Reality tends to be a bit more sobering than that. We're 5 years in and I rejoice in a lot of the things that I do see, people growing, a sense of community, and God using people to minister to others. However, I also thought that we'd be a lot bigger by now and facing different kinds of challenges. I was hoping for challenges like "we don't fit in the space we were meeting in and need something bigger" and "how do we mobilize people to minister to our community more". Instead, I'm dealing with things like "how do we meet together or minister to anyone with all of the COVID restrictions" and "how do we resolve conflicts that have come up with love and maintaining connection".
As I was talking with my wife about all of these things earlier on this week, there was an almost overwhelming urge with both of us to do something different. Not to give up ministry or anything like that, but to shape it in a different way so that we'll get the results that we want. We started to bat around ideas about different outreaches or creative ideas we could implement. Thankfully, I've learned to submit these sorts of things to God and listen to what He has to say before I run headlong into pursuing them.
As I was talking to God about all of this, I realized that I was striving for success in my own strength, just as I explained earlier. I was trying to make something happen, trying to force success. I had to drop every idea I came up with because God doesn't work that way. God works through grace and submission to His plan, not striving and working in your own strength.
We often approach salvation like this. We want a simple formula. If I do X (X being a bunch of religious rituals that I think will satisfy God), then God will give me the result Y (Y being success or a positive outcome like salvation). The problem is that God doesn't like being used like a cosmic slot machine this way, where we put in our good deeds, pull the lever, and He gives us salvation. God is a relational God. He's not looking for subservience and religion, He's looking for willing relationship pursuers.
Besides, He knew that nothing we could do would ever bridge the sin gap between us and Him. Nothing we do could ever be good enough to earn forgiveness. No amount of striving can overcome our failures. That's why He sent Jesus to be a sacrifice in our stead, to pay for our sin. One perfect sacrifice to reconcile us to God, not by what we've done, but by what He's done. That's what grace is, us receiving salvation by what God has worked, not by what we deserve.
So, I had to throw out my plans for church success and get back to just being a son of God, in relationship with Him. I got back to praying and listening to what He has to say. I got back to worship and spending time in His presence. When I move forward again, it's going to be in His power and His plan, not my own strength. Sometimes I just have to remind myself of the basics of Him saving me and get my life back in line with that.