golf ball in the rough

Wasting Effort on the Wrong Goal

Study days are always a challenge. I’m an extrovert, so forcing myself to be alone for many hours without conversation is a challenge in itself! But this week, I had an experience that I have never had before. I’m not a golfer, but this is the closest parallel I can conceive.

I’m playing golf, and I have hit the ball into the rough, into the worst weeds. I go to find the ball and start trying to hack my way back out of the weeds. The first swing produces a shower of weed clippings, but the ball remains where I found it. I try again, but with greater effort, even more weeds are lofted in front of my face, but as they settle, I find that I have missed the ball again. With a third, very determined try, just as I’m swinging through and connect with the ball, I realize that it’s not MY ball! I have worked and slaved, but all my work has been focused on the wrong ball!

Once you realize that error, everything changes. I think of that analogy as I consider how many ways churches get it wrong. In England, the church was subjugated to government oversight and role. The church lost its influence because, as hard as it tried to be orderly and respectable and entrenched in the culture, the “ball” ceased to be Jesus’ pleasure and renown. Instead, the clergy came to serve estates and the Monarchy and all the traditions of “being religious.” It reminded me of Paul’s warning to Timothy in the first century: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”

I know that too much of my life was spent in an effort to “act religious” without yearning for Jesus’ power in my life. It’s the most natural “counterfeit” for faith. Religion is our reliance on what WE do; faith is our reliance on what JESUS did, does, and will do.

In my study, I swung again and again at a subject until I realized that I was researching the wrong question, the wrong subject. It was like standing in the rough–and I started laughing at myself. I literally slapped my forehead and laughed. But at that moment, I squared my shoulders for the REAL task, and it became delightful to me.

Let me ask you: are you wasting effort chasing the wrong goal? If so, stop. Confess it, face it, and square your shoulders for a refreshed goal that IS the right one.

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