I’ve always been a teeth grinder, especially during times of high stress. Striving manifests itself physically through my teeth and jaw. I have even shifted several of my teeth from the grinding, moving my pearly whites to become crooked and a little unsightly. I should’ve known this morning that the night of grinding my teeth before was going to turn into a day of clenching my jaw. The spiritual warfare was intense, the temptations strong. I felt angry and burnt out.
After I finally laid my son down for a nap, I sat on the couch and told God,
“I feel angry, but I don’t think I’m really angry. I’m exhausted from constantly fighting against my sin, and then I mess up and it feels awkward trying to come back to You.” I stared out the window, watching a blue jay fly by. I could feel my heart softening and the internal war quieting as I talked with Jesus. “It’s not that I don’t want to follow You, it’s that I feel like I can’t. I always try to do it on my own instead of Your strength and it makes me so tired,” I continued.
God and I have had lots of these conversations this past year. Through them, He’s shown me something about myself: I don’t like trusting Him to fight for me. I’d much rather try to power through temptations on my own instead of believing God is willing and able to help me. In moments of despair, I forget that God can do more in me and through me than I could ever imagine.
My human nature is to proudly look inside of myself for the ability to stand against sin instead of turning to Jesus who conquered it on the cross. My fallen flesh would rather be introspective and turn inwards than humbly look to the One who has overcome all the powers of hell.
Even Paul the Apostle writes about this struggle in the latter half of Romans chapter seven—this desire to stop sinning but being unable to do so. Read it and I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to Paul’s grappling with his flesh. I challenge you to circle every time he says the words “I” or “me.” The passage ends with hope, though: Jesus Christ.
Paul realized that depending on himself and introspection was only leading him into deeper sin. The answer to his problem was to stop searching inward and instead look outward to Jesus. Jesus came specifically to set us free from sin. He wants to assist us in our time of need and do the heavy lifting for us. His heart is for us to be free so we can enjoy our relationship with Him. But He has to be the One to break our bonds, we are incapable of doing it ourselves. If we could free ourselves, there would’ve been no need for the cross.
When I’m in the mindset of believing God can’t, won’t, and doesn’t want to help me, I fall hard. The stress switch in me gets turned on, and I tend to lash out. Even worse, I distance myself from God. It’s a vicious cycle.
But when I’m trusting in the Lord with all of my heart and leaning on His strength, I’m much more at peace. The striving ceases. The shoulders relax and the jaw stops clenching. The battle doesn’t stop immediately, but I don’t feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. I am learning, and I hope you are too, that we can trust God to fight on our behalf. If we depend on Him, He will set us free from the chains of sin. And whom the Son sets free, is free indeed.