I learned a great lesson from our youngest son a while ago. My wife and I used an unusual disciplinary tool in our family. We assigned our children essays when they did something wrong. The essays started out at one page, but if they needed discipline for the same thing again, then the next essay was doubled in length to two, then four, then eight pages and so forth. Also, they were to include at least two scriptures per page.
A while ago, I assigned our youngest son, then seventeen years old, an essay on the subject of challenges. He had a hard time finding scriptures dealing with the word challenge, so he looked up scriptures about trials. He found a scripture in the New Testament that says all trials can be blessings in our lives. After quoting this scripture in his essay, he wrote that there are two possible outcomes for every trial: pass or fail. If we pass, he mentioned all the typical things we frequently hear about becoming stronger by overcoming challenges, et cetera.
Then he asked, “What about when we fail?” He reminded me that the scripture says all trials are blessings. If that is true, then how can failing a trial be a blessing in your life? He then taught me a very important truth. We fail trials because we have a weakness, and failing helps us identify the weakness, which is the first step in overcoming it. So even when we fail our trials in life, it will be a blessing to us if we are willing to identify our weakness and then make the effort to work on overcoming it.
Unfortunately, most of us go through life looking for external causes for our problems in order to avoid facing the frightening reality that we individually need to change. In reality, many of our difficulties come from our lives being out of balance.
We take our strengths and carry them to an excess, so our strengths actually become our stumbling blocks. This unrecognized extremism often plays out in our relationships. I have a strong work ethic and organizational skills, so I became a workaholic. Consequently, my wife tried to balance our family life by pulling in the opposite direction, which in turn motivated me to become even more extreme. Needless to say, this put a strain on our relationship. I was shocked when the Lord revealed to me that I was leading this dysfunctional dance. We usually pursue our strengths, whatever they are, in an effort to fill our subconscious emotional needs because it is the easiest path to follow.
Conversely, God does not want us to live a “flatline” existence either. He wants us to live a full and abundant life. I am confident that it pleases God when we relish life―when we work hard and play hard.
However, anything, whether it is work or play, excitement or relaxation, that we pursue to an excess will knock our life out of balance. Just as our car shakes when its wheels are out of balance, likewise, we will live a bumpy existence when our life is not in balance. The source of many of our problems may be that our life is lopsided. It certainly is worth taking a serious look at this possibility when life seems to continually throw us curve balls.
The best way to put our lives back into alignment is by getting in tune with God. God maintains equilibrium in the universe, and the closer we come to Him, the more balance we will have in our lives. Consciously attempting to follow the Master’s example is a great way to start. If we keep at it, we will eventually get to where we are headed.
The following diagram is a wheel we handed out to our children at the start of each new year. It is based on the only scripture that describes Christ’s growth and development as a young man. It is found in Luke, chapter 2, verse 52, and says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and Man.” We accordingly divided life into four areas: mental, physical, spiritual, and social. We would all make three goals in each area while keeping in mind the objective of having our life wheel in balance so we can avoid a bumpy ride through life. Granted, this approach is an oversimplification, but it might be a good place to start.
As we strive to follow the Savior’s example, we should try to maintain balance between faith and works. Certainly, if we have real faith, then works will follow. Faith actually empowers us to act and do things we would not otherwise accomplish. However, it is also true that if we do not feel like praying, then we should pray until we do feel like it. So doing works can also help us increase our faith. That is because when we take action in an effort to do what is right, we are exercising our faith, even if it is just a particle of faith or a desire to believe. But if we exercise any degree of faith by taking action and continue, then the Lord will bless us with more faith to empower us to proceed. Even the phrase exercise faith denotes physical effort. However, we should not underestimate the enabling power of God’s grace.
Many people struggle with the apparent tension between faith and works, but they are reciprocal. I have heard several good examples to describe this interrelationship, such as that faith and works are like a pair of scissors or a bow and arrow. The example I personally like regarding maintaining balance between faith and works is that they are like two oars of a boat. If one relies too heavily on believing without taking comparable action, then he will go around in circles. However, if one relies too much on his own efforts and not the Lord, then he will go around in circles in the opposite direction. In order to move forward and arrive at your desired destination, one needs to row both oars in concert. Likewise, we need to trust God and then exercise our faith by taking action. But in all our doing, we need to remember that our own efforts really will not amount to much without the Lord’s participation.
As we navigate the path of life, letting the Lord’s spirit be our guide, we will find that life seems to slow down and we enjoy the journey more than before. We will enjoy relationships with other people more and will accomplish more with a lot less effort. It is as if the Lord directs us to avoid wasting our time and money pursuing shallow things or expending a lot of unnecessary effort doing many things that turn out to be rather meaningless. Instead, as we learn to recognize his voice, he will direct us to do the few things that really matter so we can enjoy a more fulfilling life.