The Pressure to Strive
Written by: Meredith Miller
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Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.
- Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
By the time you read this, the COVID-19 pandemic will be roughly one year old in the United States, and older than that in many other places around the globe. At the time of this writing, I have no way of knowing what things will be like then, but I can almost surely say that whether or not things have ended by the time you read this, this pandemic has been exhausting.
For me, this pandemic has been a time filled with striving. I am a teacher, so my guess is you are somewhat aware of everything that has been piled on to educators’ plates during this time. I was also starting IVF when the United States began to shut down, and eventually finished a successful cycle with a rainbow baby (a baby conceived after loss or miscarriage) on the way. Fertility and prenatal care has been quite unique in a pandemic. These are the two biggest situations where I’ve experienced striving, but I am also experiencing what many others across the country are experiencing: general health concerns, financial worries, fear for the upheaval in my country, anxiety over what the future holds. I don’t know about you, but all of this striving has been exhausting.
When I began my search for passages in Scripture about striving, I ended up in Ecclesiastes 2:17-26. At first, I felt very discouraged by the words I read. “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17 NIV). Nothing can make you more exhausted than feeling like everything you are working for is meaningless! I questioned how I could find encouragement for others in a similar circumstance with a message like that.
But as I read further, God’s message peeled away from that of man. “What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22 NIV).To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:26a NIV). The key to our hope in no longer striving is who we are striving for.
The writer of Ecclesiastes focuses on the idea that, when we work hard to achieve earthly wealth and possessions, the only thing we can ultimately do with it is leave it to someone behind us. As they say, you can’t take it with you. This striving is only for man, and it is ultimately meaningless because everything on this Earth will eventually perish. But when we are focused on God’s Kingdom, He will bless us with wisdom and happiness: the wisdom of who He is and our salvation in His Son, and the happiness of knowing that what we have is eternal.
Now, I am all too aware that this is easier said than done. While we are on this Earth, we still have jobs to do, finances to take care of, and families to support. So how do we go about these responsibilities without feeling so exhausted from all the striving? “Stop striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a NASB). You may recognize this passage in its much more commonly quoted form: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10 ESV). What I love about the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation is that it tells me HOW to be still. When we stop striving so hard for what man deems important and allow God to work in all of these situations, knowing who He is and what He can do, we are able to access the blessings God intended for us: wisdom, knowledge, and happiness.
Jesus shares a similar message when He teaches the vine and branches parable in John 15. Jesus is the vine, and we are all branches stemming from Him. Without being rooted in the vine, we cannot do anything but wither up and be thrown into the fire. But when we remain, or abide, in Him, as verse 4 says, we are able to bear fruit and in this, our joy is complete (John 15:11).
The Hebrew word for “abide” in this passage means “to be held or kept, continually.” Allow Jesus to hold you continually as you face the pressure to strive in this world. Be still with Him and He will work in all the areas of your life so that you find eternal comfort and joy.
1. In what areas of your life are your striving for man, working for earthly things?
2. How can you abide in Jesus instead and focus on things that are eternal in these areas of your life?
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You that, in You, there is hope in no longer striving for man. Help us to recognize the places in our life when our focus becomes working for earthly things that will waste away, and help us to shift our focus to You and Your eternal things instead. In Your Son’s Precious Name, Amen.
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