The following is a short devotional written for volunteers kicking off a local Christian retreat. Total runtime may be 20-30 minutes including the team discussion at the end.
When Pastor told me the word for this retreat was “strive”, my first thought was, “Yikes! Striving is not good!” Since coming to Christ, I’ve had to intentionally lay down striving; striving to be accepted, to be good enough, to receive grace apart from performance. I’ve had to unlearn striving. I used to strive to build my own kingdom which led to me being almost half a million in debt, bankruptcy, multiple foreclosures; a mess. Besides our finances, striving can lead to weirdness in our relationships, our work life, etc.
Striving can be a double-edged sword when motivations are impure and striving is not walked out properly.
The Word Says
The NIV has seven exact instances of the word, “strive” and the KJV has 23 (including a couple “striveths”.) Striving in the Old Testament, especially in the Torah, is usually contending against another, either in argument or action. In Exodus and Deuteronomy, we see laws for correcting fighting; in the book Job, we have arguing among Job and his friends. Striving is mentioned in Psalms and Proverbs. In some of the books of the prophets, there are warnings to the nations who have strove against God (namely Babylon and Israel.) Striving in the Old Testament is contentious; argumentative; hostile.
In the New Testament though, the heart around striving seems to shift. Here the term “striving” moves away from the more carnal, brutish striving and into a kingdom of God definition. Essentially, we see a shift from “striving against” others and God to a “striving toward” or a “reaching to” others and God. One notes conflict, the other notes union.
In Romans (KJV), Paul speaks of striving in prayer and preaching the Gospel.
In 1 Corinthians and 2 Timothy (KJV), we’re petitioned to strive, not for earthly mastery (achievement)—considered to be a corruptible crown—but to align with one another for the advancement of the Gospel (2 Timothy 2:14).
In 2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV), we’re called to rejoice and strive for full restoration, to encourage one another, to be of one mind and to live in peace.
Finally, in Luke 13:24 (see also Mt 7:13-29), Jesus tells us to strive to enter in by the narrow gate:
22 He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
23 Then said one to him, “Lord, are there few that are saved?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in and shall not be able. 25 When once the master of the house is risen up [Who rose? Jesus rose.], and has shut the door, and you begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open unto us’; he shall answer and say unto you, ‘I do not know who you are’:
26 Then shall you begin to say, ‘We have eaten and drunk in your presence, and you have taught in our streets.’ 27 But he shall say, ‘I tell you, I know not who you are; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.’
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south [Who is this? Gentile nations.], and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And, behold, there are last [Gentiles] which shall be first [greatest], and there are first [Jews] which shall be last [least].”
This is our Lord’s warning to Israel. Their position as God’s chosen people is not what saves them, but their repentance and acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. In John 10, Jesus refers to Himself as the gate.
Pray It Out
Take five minutes (it won’t be enough time) to hear from Holy Spirit to answer these two questions:
Are you currently striving in an Old Testament way or a New Testament way? Are you striving to be accepted? To be enough? Or are you striving toward the kingdom while enjoying the fruits of the Spirit?
How would He have you strive now? What does that look like?
Write out answers and discuss as a team.
After discussion, seal the time in group prayer.