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Paralyzed by Performative Pressure

Martha Jane is running a mile after school each day with varying levels of impressiveness. She is not a motivated athlete like her siblings but perfectly content to be sedentary 24/7. As her parents, we know her mental and physical health needs to include physical fitness. Some days that we have gotten her out there have been a slog but every time she has finished with a big smile from the sense of accomplishment. Her cheering fans (my parents come out each day for "track club" to clap and cheer as she passes by on each of her three laps) energize her efforts. We celebrate consistency and courage and completion.

Then Job replied to the Lord:
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.
“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has... Job 42:1-7

Job's friends weren't wrong in their observations of Job's faults and in their assessments of how he could have been more faithful or more dutiful or more righteous. Job, however, from the beginning credited God with his blessings being given and taken away. He wasn't entirely confused about who was in charge of his own story, but his friends, despite their holy intentions, were. They brought their accusations and remedies to Job and he received and processed them, though did not act upon them.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebews 12:1-3

Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. We do not get credit for initiating our good works, best intentions, or ambitions. We run a race already set before us with the courage that comes from knowing it has already been won for us.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

The work is the Lord's, the energy is the Lord's, the race is the Lord's. Job's friends forgot this and wanted Job to bear the responsibility for righteousness that only Jesus can carry. (I too want Martha Jane run faster, with better form, and have more of a competitive spirit.) They believed his blessings would be restored by his efforts and had been lost by his failures. They failed to believe that only Adam was asked to earn or lose blessings and had failed because only the second Adam could successfully complete that covenant of works.

So, I too am invited to get out and run God's race each day but not for a winning time or because my form is beautiful and most efficient. Like Martha Jane's mom and grandparents, God's delight and cheers in my "running the race" aren't because I've actually impressed Him but because He wants to impress upon me His great love and affection for me.

I, like Job, can be paralyzed by the voices telling me who I am supposed to be and what I should be accomplishing, especially when the things proposed are good and noble and admirable. I can become paralyzed by my own noble and ignoble motivations to be righteous, to earn righteousness and approval, to win the race. My natural disposition just wants to win and get all the glory. And in those moments, paralyzed between striving and grace, God reminds me: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"(Job 38:2). We are in an age of many words, so many words. Words that tell us that we are the servant who buried God's treasure instead of investing and multiplying it. We misunderstand God's rebuke to that "wicked and lazy servant" to be about our performance rather than about how we have mischaracterized Him as merciless and a liar. God is most upset by our lies about Who He is, not our failure to be self-righteous.

The first covenant required that man "be fruitful and multiply." When man failed, God took that on Himself saying, "I will make you exceedingly fruitful and I will make you into nations." (Gen. 17:6). Over and over again His story is not about us, we are not saving the day nor are we saving ourselves from well-deserved judgement. I stand in His righteousness and rest safely in the shadow of His wing. It is from this place of security I can launch out, like a child, to run around the park not to win but because I am already the delight of my Father and His joy energizes my work, regardless of what anyone else's eyes perceive or find impressive.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14


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