12 December 2013

Don't "try"

by Dan Phillips

I imagine that every pastor (and most Christians) runs into this. Someone is dealing with a significant, longterm issue — depression, marital friction, scary children, what-have-you. The person sketches out his woes in moving, saddening detail, with great feeling and emotion. You listen with compassion.

Then you interact, sharing your concern and care, and communicating God's word. Let's say for the sake of a post's length (which, after all, is not a doctoral dissertation) that the issues involved are fairly clearcut, and directly addressed by Scripture. You bring the Scripture out, you discuss it, you discuss implementation and application.

And either at that moment, or at the next conversation, you hear it: "I tried that."

If you're geek enough, perhaps you silently think...

Of course the green Muppet has a point. I liked the story I heard of the psychologist who, confronted with the "I'll try" response, would throw a $20 bill on the floor and say "Try to pick that up." Point made.

Except that isn't my point.

Here's my point: in a situation such as I've described — and remember, this is my situation; I created it for illustration purposes — the "I've tried" response is very revealing, and not in a happy way.

Walking with God isn't something you try. Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might is not something you try. Loving your neighbor as yourself isn't something you try. The fear of Yahweh, living in the fear of Yahweh all day, living as in the presence of God, continuing in the word of Christ, abiding in Christ — these aren't things we try.

These are the calls of God on us. They reflect the way the world really is. To have a relationship with God is to go in those directions; not to do so is to live a doomed lie. All of these are facets of the life to which God calls us. They are descriptions of where we are going, where we must be going, if we are in Christ.

What I am afraid the "I tried that" response often reveals is a fundamental misunderstanding of all that. I am afraid it reveals that the person thinks of Christian living as a technique, a means to achieve an end. Particularly, in many of the specifics I have in mind, it is a means to achieve the end of making others treat me in a certain way.

So take the husband with the shrewish, emasculating wife. Say you counsel with him to love his wife as Christ loves the church, regardless of her behavior. Say you open up in Biblical depth and breadth all that means, and you relate it to the Gospel as you should.

Sometime later, he once again begins listing off to you a long and lurid narrative of his wife's crimes and misdemeanors. He goes on and on. The subtext seems to be: she's so awful, I'm so mistreated.

You stop him, and remind him of the call of Scripture on him. The conversation you already had.

"Oh, yeah. I tried that," he says.

Well then. There you go. You see? He thought you were giving him a way to make his wife behave, to make her treat him the way she should. He tried it. She didn't. What now?

That's the misunderstanding, and it's a deep one. As I read the Gospels, as I read 1 Peter, as I read the whole Bible, a Gospel-grounded, Christ-centered life is what we're called to live no matter what anyone else does.

Specifically, as a pastor, preaching the Word is definitional and non-negotiable for me, in fair weather and foul, open ears or itching ears, crowds flooding in or crowds bailing out. It isn't something I "try," and then if my church doesn't get big quickly, I reach around for something else. As a husband, loving my wife as Christ loves the church is definitional and non-negotiable. It isn't something I "try." Ditto my calling as a father, a church-member, a friend.

So, the next time you hear (or say) "I tried that," don't shrug it off. It may be a telling symptom of a major maladjustment in orientation.

We're not called to try. We're called to die, and to live again.

Dan Phillips's signature


Michael Coughlin said...

Amen to the post. I have been very broken for my friends whom I have exhorted in some way, only to hear "I've already tried that."

G. Flowers said...

Good post. Reminds me of the movie Fireproof.

Jim Pemberton said...

It's a valid point. All Christians are called to do precisely what God has enabled us to do. I like the Yoda quote and use it myself from time to time. It should be recognized that there are instances where people apply it to unreasonable expectations. In the case of the therapist, for example, I doubt a quadriplegic would be able to pick up the $20 bill no matter how hard he tried. Complaining, "but I tried," would be perfectly legitimate for such a person. A dead person wouldn't even try. But that's the point. God not only made us as Christians alive in Him, but he also made us able to live sacrificially for him no matter what our circumstance.

Vinod Anand S said...

Great Post. It was timely and immensely helpful.

Vinod Anand S said...

Great Post. It was timely and immensely helpful.

Christina said...


Even So... said...

Dan, this will be an insert in our bulletin this week.

Cb22 said...

This will preach. Thank you for the reminder that my faith is not merely a tool to fix a broken life, but a resurrection from the dead, a whole new life!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"We're not called to try. We're called to die, and to live again."

Pure exhortational gold.

Aaron said...

"So take the husband with the shrewish, emasculating wife. Say you"...tell the man "I told you that marrying the girlfriend from Dan's last post was a bad idea."

Daveschatology said...

Pure, simple brilliance! I'm reminded of the self-centeredness of my so-called Christian walk when I weigh how following the precepts of the Bible will benefit me in any given situation. Thanks for the reminder!
Who knew Yoda was so Biblical?!?

Davo said...

First comment, but long time reader of Pyromaniacs. I generally agree with what you guys write. Conceptually, I even agree with this specific post.

However, I would say it is easy to write when you haven't been there yourself.

I am in the place you describe. Your last sentience is very interesting ...

"We're called to die, and to live again."

"die" I understand .. that's where I'm at.

"live again" .. the only hope I have for that is the next life. My life has been like this for decades. If this is the way it is going to be (which it will unless God does something), then sorry, I can't do that.

Vinod Anand S said...

Great post. It was timely and immensely helpful.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose." Galatians 2:20-21

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

Rachael Starke said...


This post in general and your comment in particular have been on my heart ever since I read them. I've been in a similar situation to you, perhaps not as great in length or degree, but there have been days when I have asked God to take me home because the pain has been too great and the fight for faith too hard and the failures too discouraging. The challenge with this post is that Dan is emphasizing one aspect of a skewed perspective on the Christian life. And he's right on. As Christians, we are no longer "tryers". But what he left out (likely due to not wanting to get into Turk-ish "pack a lunch" territory with a fifteen page post), is that , in Christ, we are dead to trying because we are alive to being. We love, not to be loved, but because we are loved, in Christ. Our obedience, our fight to obey, is fueled by the Holy Spirit, as He brings to mind who we are in Christ. And inasmuch as many days it, yes and amen, feels like utter death, we get a glimpse into what Jesus experienced, from the day of his incarnation, for us.

I'm praying for you.

Cathy M. said...

Sometimes "I tried" is another way of saying, "Can I have option #2 please?"

But, sometimes it means, "I am doing that and will continue to do it, but (heaven help me) I'm about at the end of my rope! Where can I get more rope!

There have been a few prayers where I pleaded with God to stop "deferring my hope" because my "heart is sick" nearly to death. The only comfort we have in some trials is to believe Him and trust Him. Either we do... or we don't.

donsands said...

Thank you brother for the good work and word in your giftedness as a called pastor-teacher of Christ our Master and Friend.

I fall a lot. I look to the Cross a lot. I look to fellow Christians who love me a lot. Most of all I look to Jesus Himself, who abides in me, and i abide in Him, so that I can look by faith through grace, and ask for more grace by His grace.

Jesus loves His own, and to grow in knowing this is such a joy, that it gives me strength.
Thanks again bro. You are a genuine blessing to our Savior's people, whom he die for.

donsands said...

Oh, and Merry Christmas!! Glory to God in the highest! (Dr. Luke 2)

rberry said...

I'll try to take this under advisement.