This is not one of those feel-good posts that everyone’s going to like.

But Paul’s parting words in Colossians 1 are crucial to our life in Christ. Without understanding the contrary wisdom in them, our faith might derail:

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:29

Did you catch it? Here is the topsy-turvy truth:

All God’s energy and the presence of His powerful work do not exempt us from struggle and toil.

We are tempted to believe that if God were just with us — if He were just working — that things would be easier, life would be less busy, we would have fewer demands or obstacles. We convince ourselves that a life of space and balance and lessened duty is the goal.

But Paul is drawing on all God’s energy. He is accessing the strength of God’s mighty power. The toil and the struggle remain.

And the words toil and struggle here are not pretty, polished ones. The Greek word for toil is kopiao, “to grow weary, tired, exhausted.” The word for struggle is agonizomai, and you can see clearly the English word we derive from that. It means “to enter a contest; to contend with adversaries, difficulties and dangers.”

The God-sustained life is still a fight.

I know. Our lives are crazy. Sometimes it seems best to lay down our arms and stop waging the battle altogether. But in the Christian life, true rest still involves labor — when Jesus says “my yoke is easy, my burden is light, come to me and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:29-30),” the rest is promised, but the yoke and burden still remain.

Throw them off entirely, and we end up in the dangerous dead-end of self-preservation and deception, believing in a false and self-centered holiness and ignoring Jesus’ words that come later in the book of Matthew: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25).”

We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, not the renewing of our calendars and relationship obligations and life coaching plans (Romans 12:1-2). We must ask God to help us think differently about the place where we are, and trust Him to direct our next steps.

We must stop seeing training and discipline and hardship — and regular days of rest (Isaiah 58:12-14) — as something that we schedule for sports but not for our souls.

Adversity is not evidence of God’s absence. Balance is not equal to holiness.

If they were, there would be no Christians in poverty, no missionaries in the slums, no servants in the Church and no martyrs around the throne. There would be no godly men standing in the unemployment line or at the foot of a grave — no righteous women in cancer’s bed or infertility’s waiting room.

There would be no denying yourself and taking up your cross to follow Him (Matthew 11:24).

Don’t push away all struggle and toil — stop struggling and toiling without seeking His will and pressing into His energy and presence and grace.

Know that even the hardest schedules or jobs or relationships or life battles do not say God is not with us.

Take courage, take a Sabbath, and fight on in His power and might.

So that’s it, chapter one of Colossians! More than six months of studying and writing so far. I may share some thoughts on the experience next week. But right now, I think I’m going to Disney World. Or maybe just to sleep…  (featured photo via earlyware). 

Read the next post in The Colossians Project. 


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