Written by: Aaron Bradford
Ever heard this question? Or do you live in the shadow of its suggestion?
Professionally, one of my core responsibilities revolves around juggling client relationships. Whether I’m trying to persuade some client that our company offers the best value for an upcoming work venture, making sure we are meeting expectations, repairing past mistakes, or meeting current commitments, my undertone is always convincing others (and probably more myself) that what I do is relevant.
In our home the struggle is different, but plays out the in a similar way. Every day is unique, and yet I constantly feel the weight of the to-do list that ever mounts like I-10, 5PM west-bound traffic. Whether it’s the lawn needing to be mowed, delivery of one of our children to the next activity, carving out time to exercise, attempting to fix the garage door opener that is broken (again), spending quality time with my wife and kids, playing nurse to one or all of the kids that have the latest bug going around, or even just figuring out how to eat together, it seems with every accomplishment, two more “opportunities” fill the void.
The lie that “I am only worth what I accomplish" creeps in subtly, but spreads to all I do like lice in a kindergarten class (yeah, we’ve done that too). With that propaganda fully rooted in my mind, I become overwhelmed with each week’s to-do’s and discount any areas of growth or accomplishment. I then grow increasingly restless of my attempts to stay on top of it all, and justify whatever sinful reaction spews out as a result of the stress. That’s when Satan begins to whisper, “How could such a mess please God? How does this chaos and constant struggle demonstrate to others that I do life any differently with knowledge of the gospel?”
I am often reminded, or perhaps haunted, by the final scene that plays out in the 1998 blockbuster Saving Private Ryan.
After returning to the grave of the captain who sacrificed his life to save him from the World War II, the elder private Ryan has this dialogue:
Old James Ryan: [addressing Capt. Miller's grave] “My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn't sure how I'd feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”
Ryan's Wife: “James?...”
Old James Ryan: “Tell me I have led a good life”.
Ryan's Wife [in a state of disbelief]: “What!?”
Old James Ryan: “Tell me I'm a good man.”
Ryan's Wife: You are.
Just before this scene, Capt. Miller with his final dying words tells Private Ryan to “earn this.” By this, he meant “earn the right to live, knowing that six of the eight men who went in search of Ryan to remove him from the battlefield died in combat.” ( You can watch this clip HERE).
This scene always seems to put me on edge. It highlights in my mind the areas of life that I’ve failed as a husband, parent, sibling and employee. It reminds me of all the ways I’ve not met my own or other’s expectations. Immediately, I adopt the notion that God has told me the same thing:
Deserve your place in life. Produce as if your life depends on it. Earn my gifts. Try harder to fit it all in: time with me, leading your family, loving your wife, excelling at work, ministering to all.
I live as though I have a ledger that no matter how many credits are applied, there’s an outstanding debt owed. And just like with any other thought that creeps into the corners of my mind, I’m faced with a decision: do I continue to embrace the tide that sweeps over me telling me I only deserve what I earn or do I chose to believe who God’s word tells me I am as a follower of Christ?
Adopted Romans 8:15b – But you have received the Spirit of adoptions as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Chosen Ephesians 1:4 – Even as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
Forgiven Colossians 2:13 – God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
Seen as Righteous Philippians 3:8-9 – In order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.
Uniquely Equipped Ephesians 2:10 – We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Divinely Appointed Philippians 2:13 – For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
A New Creation 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
Fully Justified Romans 5:31 – Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.
I know what you’re thinking “chose door #2, dummy” and I agree! It hardly seems like a choice, yet far too often I trade the truth of my identity in Christ for a slice of seeking my own backwards, exhausting, unfulfilling version of control. I attempt to EARN what Christ has proclaimed was freely given to me. As I wrestle with why this is true, I’m confronted and convicted with what surfaces: I habitually love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God (see John 13:15).
The irony of this is that I know where both patterns of thinking lead me, and I still find myself struggling moment by moment to choose the freedom he intends for me and you— the freedom to live by faith in his gospel promises to us. In this struggle, I grasp how I systematically miss communion with my heavenly Father as I try to keep all the proverbial balls in the air, as if it were somehow really up to me.
So, those of you whose plates continue to pile up, those who struggle to relinquish control, those who are people-pleasers and over-committers— pray with me through the power of the Holy Spirit to filter the craziness of life through our Father’s words that we are loved, known, created with purpose, continually changed, forgiven and FREE as we repetitively yield to his design for our lives. Father, wake us from our efforts to try earn your grace, make clear to us the ways we seek glory outside of you, and teach us to choose joy in the hope of your promise to conform us in the image Christ.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12
Aaron Bradford and his wife, Kristen, have 3 girls, Aubrey (10), Taylor (7) and Livi (1). They have been members at Crossings Community Church for 5 years.